A Pig in a Poke

 

The dryer went out last night.  This morning I’ve already ordered a replacement heating element and watched a video on how to replace it.  I can do this…if I can stay away from one of the voices in my head.  It’s Natasha Negative, she’s reminding me that I’m a f@#$ up when it comes to home repairs.

The element won’t be here until tomorrow and it is pouring rain outside.  I have plenty of time to follow the pig trails my thoughts have traveled this morning…like ordering a heating element sight unseen from a very large and rich internet company.  I have ordered a ‘pig in a poke’…and it ain’t my first time.

It’s a saying I’ve heard all my life but for some reason, in the darkness of this rainy pre-dawn morning, I decided to search the whys and the wherefores…which led me to some other why and wherefore…and then to another why and wherefore…just the “pig trails” my mind sometimes follows.  Kind of like the free history lesson you didn’t want but are going to get if you keep reading.

After the Scot-Irish portion of my ancestry made the trip from across the big pond to Pennsylvania or Virginia in the early 1700s they meandered southward until happening upon “the Indian Lands” bordering on the Catawba River sometime after 1750.  They brought words and sayings with them as they came…and probably made up a few new ones too.

Located in the tiny panhandle of South Carolina, between the Queen City of Charlotte and the Red Rose City of Lancaster, my ancestors found the land fertile and the natives receptive.  So receptive were the natives, they gave up their rights to their own ancestral lands believing it was not theirs to sell and that no one really could own it.  That belief was a mistake until they were awarded a settlement that kept the city of Rock Hill from falling into their hands.

A thriving agrarian society was founded and those remaining Native Americans who didn’t cross the river to live on their reservation, assimilated into white society taking Scot-Irish names such as Pettus, Rodgers, Griffin, Wilson….

My grandmother, a Rodgers who became a Griffin, continued to use words and sayings brought from the ‘old countries’ from years ago along with others acquired by our forefathers as they trekked southward through the mountains of Appalachia in Virginia and North Carolina.

We were never children, we were ‘chaps’ who wore ‘britches’.  We ‘hollered’ up the ‘holler’ and were ‘fixin’ to go someplace or do something.   We had paper bags called ‘pokes’ and burlap bags called ‘croaker sacks’ (croker sacks?) which are the pig trails my mind chose to follow.  Pokeweed, poke sallet or poke salad, poke a hornet’s nest, paper poke.

‘Poke sallet’ (poke salad) has nothing to do with paper bags…and having eaten it, little to do with salad either.  It would be more closely related to a ‘mess of turnip greens’ or a cooked salad (sallet) of greens.  Even the use of the word poke is different.  The poke in ‘paper poke’ comes from the French word poque, meaning pouch, while the ‘poke sallet’ poke is an Algonquian or Powhattan word meaning blood or dye.  Pokeweed has red berries that will produce a blood-red dye and red stems that will produce…I have no idea.

Poke a hornet’s nest is pretty self-explanatory and should be avoided.

Pokeweed grows wild in the South and despite being poisonous, its tender immature leaves can be cooked, carefully, in the same manner as turnip or mustard greens.  Carefully means that you should bring the chopped leaves to a boil and drain off the water, repeat four or five times before finally preparing them as one might prepare turnip greens…you know with fatback or ham hocks, some vinegar and red pepper flakes along with a slab of cornbread runnin’ in butter…sorry I got carried away.

As usual, I drift.  My ‘pig trail’ began with a ‘pig in a poke’ and took a sharp left at ‘letting the cat out of the bag’ before colliding with the unrelated ‘croaker sack’.

Some English farmers, a deceptive group it would seem, attempted to pull the wool over the naïve eyes of some unsuspecting souls by substituting a cat for a purchased suckling piglet.  The old bait and switch, I reckon.  The unsuspecting mark would take the poke home and not discover the switch until ‘he let the cat out of the bag.’  I was this day old when I realized the two sayings were related.

I was also this day old when I learned ‘pulling the wool over one’s eyes’ has nothing to do with sheep…and why would it?  It dates from the days when English judges began to wear wigs.  The saying came from pulling the wool or wig over the judge’s eyes so he could not see the truth despite it being right in front of his face…the truth was as clear as the nose on his face.  Maybe not.

I have gone far afield from pigs and paper bags.  A symptom of my affliction?

My meanderings came to a screeching halt with ‘croaker sacks’ which has nothing to do with pokes unless it relates to a paper poke I guess.  My ancestors were masters at recycling, reusing or repurposing and heavy burlap bags were no different.  Burlap bags usually contained feed but after their primary use had been realized, are great to contain other stuff that needs containing, especially those that need to stay wet…like fish or frogs.

There is a croaker fish, several versions found off the Atlantic shores.  I’ve caught them but never put them in a burlap bag before cleaning, battering, frying and serving with tartar sauce and lemon slices.  It’s still early but I’m getting a hankerin’ for fried fish with some hush puppies and cabbage slaw.

I have used burlap bags to store frogs in.  Frogs croak…croaker sack.  It can’t be a coincidence.

Been frog gigging?  I have but it has been a while and my guess is it will be in another life before I go again.  In the dead of night on a pond bank or in a shallow draft boat, shine a strong light ashore which both freezes the frog and causes his little eyes to light up, gig him, and put him in the bag…a ‘croaker sack’.

Sounds cruel and I guess it is, but fried frog legs are sho nuff good.  Battered or unbattered, served with stone-ground grits smothered in pan gravy, maybe a salad and a glass of sweet Southern tea. They do taste like chicken and also kick around when they hit the hot grease.  Hum.  “Jumpin’ like a frog leg in hot grease.”  Not sure I’ve heard that one before, but I’ll go have a ‘look see’ on Google.

Ya’ll don’t take no pigs in a poke now…or wooden nickels.   I’ll see you on down the road a piece.

Don Millers Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/265938/what-does-it-s-always-a-pig-in-a-poke-so-why-not-a-pig-who-pokes-mean

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