Listen to concerts! Enjoy the carnival! Buy local products! Eat poisonous plants? The first weekend in June brings thousands of visitors to Downtown Harlan to celebrate an unusual event: the return of poke sallet to the mountains! Poke sallet is recognized by its broad green leaf, magenta stalk, and purple berries. It is most tender in late spring and early summer. This wild plant has been a staple of Appalachian diets for generations. The plant is poisonous producing symptoms ranging from upset stomach to death. The leaves and stalk can be safely eaten if boiled three times before consuming.
In Appalachian kitchens, poke sallet is thoroughly soaked to clean it before being boiled three times to remove the toxins. It is then cooked in bacon grease to achieve its signature flavor. Toss in some onion and hard boiled eggs as it cooks for the most delicious results! You’ll find it on your plate alongside other Appalachian favorites like potatoes, soup beans, salt bacon, cornbread, and green onions. This meal is provided for the festival each year by Sports Cafe just steps from the festival grounds!
In 1955, Drew Smith and a group of friends decided to meet up and enjoy poke sallet at Cranks Creek Lake. The following year, that get together grew into a full festival. In the 67 years since then, the festival has been hosted in various spots throughout the county including Pine Mountain Settlement School and the Harlan County Courthouse. The festival is now held in downtown Harlan on the grounds of the Harlan Center during the first weekend of June. Today, the festival includes a carnival, vendors, a car show, pet show, Run for the Hills 5K, and three days of music. Fans of genres from bluegrass to heavy metal will find bands they’ll love in the lineup!
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic canceled most events throughout the world. The Poke Sallet Festival Committee presented a hybrid festival with in person events like a food court, a drive in movie, a 5K run, and fireworks alongside virtual events like pre-recorded concerts, online pet and car shows, and a Miss Harlan County Pageant streamed online. This dedication to persevere even during uncertain times has made The Poke Sallet Festival one of Kentucky’s longest continuously running festivals.
2022 is looking like another exciting year with performances by Sidewalk Prophets, Jameson Rodgers, Dressed to Kill, and Ohio Valley Wrestling! Visitors will love the stunt jump, carnival rides, laser tag, inflatables, and more. Shoppers won’t want to miss locally made items. And foodies will love the food court! Find more details at www.pokesalletfestival.com