Unusual Foods People Used to Eat All the Time

  • Cream chipped beef toast
Cream chipped beef toast
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In American culture, food is a lot like slang and pop music, in that it’s changed drastically over the years. Several American foods from the past come from a time of such different cultural, technological, and generational sensibilities that it can be hard to imagine encountering them today, let alone understanding their appeal. The following foods were once popular staples in the U.S. — but they might be difficult items to convince modern diners to try.

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Poke Salad

Not to be confused with the differently pronounced Hawaiian dish of marinated raw fish, poke salad (sometimes spelled “salet” or “salud”) was made of pokeweed, a wild leafy green that has grown in Appalachia for centuries. It was a simple dish containing the boiled leaves and stalks of pokeweed, along with bacon grease, and its preparation was crucial: Pokeweed is poisonous, so boiling the plant at least twice (with new water each time) was necessary to render the greens safe to eat. 

Because of the abundance of wild pokeweed and its association with toxicity, poke salad was primarily eaten in impoverished communities, and it endured as a staple well into the 20th century. In 1969, Tony Joe White’s hit song “Polk Salad Annie” positioned the dish as an emblem of rural toughness and resourcefulness in the face of poverty. Nowadays, the easier-to-prepare and similarly seasoned collard greens have endured in place of poke salad, though there are some who predict that the local foraging movement may lead to a resurgence of cooking with pokeweed.

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