The Hunt for Pokeweed

The true story of the foraging behind the photo

Photo: Johnny Autry

A bowl of fresh-picked pokeweed.

When it comes to photographing food, few do it as well as Johnny and Charlotte Autry. The pair (he’s behind the camera; she prepares and styles the food) has been responsible for some of the most mouthwatering images to run in Garden & Gun, from the heroic tomato sandwich that appeared on the cover (August/September 2015) to our award-winning wild game feature (October/November 2019) to the dishes in this issue’s “Southern Recipe Revival” story, including the stunning caramel cake on the cover. But not every shoot is a proverbial cakewalk. 

photo: Jan Balster
The Autrys at work in their studio.

There was one slight problem with photographing the poke sallet dish in the feature. The Autrys needed some fresh pokeweed and had no way to source it. That’s where the author of the piece, Latria Graham, stepped in. Graham is no stranger to the pages of G&G either. Her story on the loss of her family’s farm (“A Dream Uprooted,” April/May 2020) has generated more reader reaction than any other in recent memory. Her first taste of pokeweed came at the age of eleven, when her father had added the boiled leaves to his eggs with some onions. “I destroyed it,” she says. Later, her grandmother taught her where to find the plant. “Pokeweed was that first green vegetable that came up in spring,” Graham says. “It was a sign you had survived another cycle, that it was the end of the Hunger Games.”

Writer Latria Graham in the field.

Graham had a patch of pokeweed scouted out, but the day before the shoot, the area was closed off due to COVID-19 restrictions. And that’s how she found herself searching a new area in the dark early the next morning, wearing a headlamp and walking ankle-deep in the mud along the edge of a stream near her home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Once she had the prize in hand, Graham stashed it in the back seat of her car and drove to the Autrys’ studio in Asheville, North Carolina, where torrential rain had caused a leak in the roof. The pokeweed arrived as the Autrys ran about deploying tarps and protecting the electrical panel. Soon it was on the stove as Charlotte whipped up Graham’s traditional recipe, the same way her late grandmother prepared it. 

Slogging through the mud in the dark wasn’t much of a deterrent for Graham; she saw it as an homage to the knowledge her grandmother had handed down to her. “I think she would laugh so hard,” Graham says of the adventure. “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.”

That’s just one of the many stories that happen behind the scenes as each issue of G&G comes together, thanks to not only the editorial team but also the photographers and writers. It takes a village, and I’m honored to work with the finest folks around. 

David DiBenedetto
Senior Vice President & Editor in Chief
@DaveDiBenedetto on Twitter & Instagram

This article appears in the August/September 2020 issue of  Garden & Gun. Start your subscription here or give a gift subscription here.