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Poke Salat

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Arab Poke Salat Festival set for May 15-16

By Whitney Adrienne Snow

Nestled in the heart of North Alabama, Arab is largely known for its Mayberryesque small-town aura, high school football, and poke salat. Wait, what was that last thing?

Pokeweed is a wild, poisonous plant, but when detoxified by boiling a few times, its young shoots make for a tasty dish, especially when mixed with scrambled eggs.  Sponsored by the local L’ Rancho Café and the Chamber of Commerce, the annual Arab Poke Salat Festival honors this leafy green with arts and crafts, eating contests, pet parades, children’s activities, and live music.

It all began with the “Liar’s Club,” a group of men who frequently dined at and eventually purchased the L’ Rancho in 1984. Around that time, member Curtis Williams Sr. witnessed a poke salat festival in Blanchard, Louisiana, and upon returning home, suggested forming a similar event in Arab to promote the city and bring notice to the downtown area.  Thus, the Poke Salat Festival was born.

Over the years, certain aspects have come and gone.  At one time, the festival included a political forum in which politicians like Fob James, Bill Baxley, Jim Folsom Jr. and George Wallace Jr. spoke. There was an “Ugly Woman Contest” in which men would dress in women’s clothes and parade down the street. Other past activities included a Confederate reenactment, fish tales, golf tournaments, impersonations and hat competitions. Poke salat cook-offs were particularly noteworthy and ranged from quiche and dip to casserole and pie, all made from poke.

POKEPLANT
The young shoots of a pokeweed plant are used to make poke salat.

In 2011, there was an effort to transform the Poke Salat Festival into the Poke Salat Bluegrass Music Festival in an attempt to attract more out-of-towners.  Groups like Dailey & Vincent, Canaan’s Crossing and Boxcars performed at the amphitheater in the city park. While the name of the festival reverted back to plain old Poke Salat in the following year, music has always played an important role.  Last year’s performances included Alabama’s Jeff Cook and his All Star Goodtime Band, Kyle Wilson and Clark Walker’s local band AZ.

Attendance has wavered over the decades, but rain or shine, folks come from far and wide.  In fact, last year, Arab celebrated its 30th Poke Salat Festival and this year, the celebration will take place on May 15-16.

While the L’ Rancho is under new ownership, the future of the festival is not in doubt.  As one Liar’s Club member once said, “As long as the L’ Rancho is in business, we will always have poke salat and the Poke Salat Festival.”