I’ve had my mind on these for a while. Pokeweed is just that – a weed that sprouts up in waste land all through North and South Carolina. It gets a bad wrap becuase it becomes more and more poisonous as the growing season progresses. You can eat the shoots when they first come up but you have to boil the greens and change the water once. The reputation is enough to keep people away, even though reports of poisonings are hard to come by. There’s also a history of people making Pokeberry wine, pokeberry pies and pokeberry ink. The Foxfire books report on one woman who made pokeberry wine so she could take a spoonful a day for arthritis. The Amateur Cocktail Spouse advises that lots of things are reported to be good for rheumatism. The point I took from it was – it doesn’t kill you. It might stove you up, but not fatally.
I was set to try my hand at some pokeberry wine a few years back when a family friend advised against it. He was a retired botany professor. His knowledge of the risks was not first hand though. With the blog geared up (and my life a little more settled) I decided to revisit the poke. A little searching around turned up that the offending chemical is quite concentrated in the roots and stems. There is reportedly also some in the seeds, but no mention of any stuff in the fruit pulp or juice. My plan then was to make some wine without breaking any seeds-
Pokeberries have been ripening for about three weeks now. There are a handful of bushes in our neighborhood and a few more near my office. I made about 4 or 5 collecting trips as the bunches starting ripening. That gave me around 2 and 1/2 pounds of fruit. Since I didn’t have enought from any one trip, I destemmed and froze berries as I went. They accumulated in a Ziploc bag until I thought I had enough. My only injury was a yellow jacket sting about halfway through my gathering.
Once I had a enough, I poured what I had into one of my infusing jars (a “cracker” jar from Wal Mart, 6 bucks). I had frozen all of the berries, becuase I wanted them to rupture as they thawed (think of a frozen watermelon). That way I wouldn’t have to crush them and risk bruising or breaking a seed. The berries along with a 1/2 cup of sugar dissolved in 1 cup of boiling water were allowed to defrost overnight. The next morning I had a soupy mush. To this I added one package of Montrachet wine yeast. That last was because I wasn’t sure if the wild yeast that should be present on the berry skins had survived the freezer. By the end of the day it was bubbling along.
So why go through this for something you probably shouldn’t drink? Here’s why: The color of these things is outrageous – a brillant magenta color. I’m trying to make a liquid with a stable color that I can use as ink. Reports are that the first copy of the Declaration of Indepence was written in fermented poke juice. We will find out if that’s possible.
One other thought: A dash or two would give a pretty cool color to a gin drink. As a test I popped a berry in my mouth. I survived. The flavor is extremely vegetal. I think a dash or two would be plenty in any drink.