Collard Greens and Potlikker!
This will get your New Year off to a good start.
“A mess of greens” is the way to go this time of the year. I’m not really sure why grandma always referred to them as a “mess” but that what most folks down South call ’em.
Who would have thought, the best way to eat collard greens is to sip them? You may have tossed that broth away in the past, but no more! Collard greens are a humble food and potlikker is that liquid left behind after cooking the collards – loaded with vitamins and minerals. Perhaps best of all, it’s incredibly delicious. It’s a Southern superfood.
Charleston artist Sandra Roper paints a farmer and his dog getting ready to go out into the fields to collect the harvest.
Potlikker and Our History
You can’t consider the place potlikker has in our kitchen without acknowledging the place it has in our history. Dark hands stirred the pots, hands of the enslaved and indentured cooks who labored on the plantations of the 1800s were forbidden to eat anything from their pots. However, nothing was ever said about that delicious, nutritious elixir left at the bottom. While the pot of greens was served to the family, the slaves could take the discarded bits and use them with the broth knowing the liquid contained nutrients. They made a meal packed with vitamins and minerals from the leftovers.
Some drink it as a tonic or use it as a soup base. In the old days, country doctors would prescribe it as a rubdown to cure aches and pains; it was considered to be both an inner and outer cure. Potlikker and cornbread was the medicine of the South. It’s demonstrably nutritious,
crazy delicious and folks believed it could cure everything from croup to nervous exhaustion.
Traditional, potlikker uses collard greens, but mustard greens, turnip greens and even kale all have potlikker. It’s full of iron and vitamin C, along with other vitamins and minerals. Try dunking cornbread in the liquid for a kind of soup experience.
Braised collards in rich potlikker, simmered with smoked pork and onions until it is all meltingly tender, is a classic Southern dish. Sip, slurp, or sop
The art of making a true Southern pot of greens requires two things for certain: collards must be farm fresh, sturdy and healthy, and the cooking liquid must be rich and smoky. Those are the two basics, beyond that the add ons are simply a matter of personal preference. Hot pepper vinegar, pepper pods, crushed hot red pepper flakes, and deep dark delicious sorghum are often used. Go with whatever you crave.
Cornbread and potlikker are about as Southern a combination as you can get.
Use anything you like that is suitable for sopping: hoecakes or dumplings work fine. I’ve loved collards since childhood days in North Carolina watching my grandmother stir the pot and smelling its pungent aroma. She’d go out back to her small garden plot near the kitchen door, gather up a mess of ‘em, and slap ‘em on her arm to get the sand out. “I think these will make a gracious plenty,” she’d often say as she started the water boiling in her biggest stockpot.
There are many delicious ways to cook collard greens but all require doing it low and slow with plenty of bold, smoky ingredients to amp u the flavor of the greens. They can be made ahead and reheat just fine. In this recipe, chopped bacon is cooked and the drippings are used to saute onions which form the foundation of the dish along with chopped smoked ham and garlic. Don’t forget the apple cider vinegar to add some welcome tag that brightens the dish and balances out the salty, savory flavors. Finish with some hot pepper vinegar or hot sauce on the side.
Here’s how she did it.
Kickin’ Collard Greens
Serves 10 to 12
Cook bacon in a large stockpot over medium heat for about 10 minutes until almost crispy. Add onion and saute for 8 minutes. Add garlic and ham, and saute for 1 minute. Stir in broth, collard greens, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Cook 2 hours or until tender.