But I have never tasted meat, nor cabbage, nor corn, for beans,
nor fluid food on half as sweet as that first mess of greens.
James T. Cotton Noe (1912)
Collard greens are vegetables that are members of the cabbage family, but are also close relatives to
kale. Although they are available year-round, they are at their best from January through April.
Collard greens date back to prehistoric times, and are one of the oldest members of the
cabbage family. The ancient Greeks grew kale and collards, although they
made no distinction between them. Well before the Christian era, the Romans
grew several kinds including those with large leaves and stalks and a mild
flavor; broad-leaved forms like collards; and others with curled leaves. The
Romans may have taken the coles to Britain and France or the Celts may have
introduced them to these countries. They reached into the British Isles in the 4th century B.C.
According to the book, The Backcountry Housewife - A Study of Eighteenth-Century Foods, by Kay Moss and Kathryn Hoffman:
The 17th century Lowland
Scots had greens or potherbs "from the yard" along with their oat cakes
or oatmeal. The switch to corn cakes or mush along with their greens in
18th century American was most likely not too difficult a transition for these folk.
John Lawson remarked on the many green herbs, wild and cultivated, growing in Carolina in the
early 1700's. These greens included lamb's1quarters, plantain, nettles,
rhubarb (dock rather than garden rhubarb), comfrey among "abundance
more than I could name." The "abundance" most likely adds
dandelion, sorrel, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, endive, cresses, and purslane to the list.
Collard greens have been cooked and used for centuries. The Southern style of cooking of greens came with the arrival of African slaves
to the southern colonies and the need to satisfy their hunger and provide food for their families. Though greens did not originate in Africa, the
habit of eating greens that have been cooked down into a low gravy, and drinking the juices from the greens (known as "pot likker") is of African
origin. The slaves of the plantations were given the leftover food from the plantation kitchen. Some of this food
consisted of the tops of turnips and other greens. Ham hocks and pig's feet were also given to the slaves. Forced to create meals from these leftovers,
they created the famous southern greens. The slave diet began to evolve and spread
when slaves entered the plantation houses as cooks. Their African dishes, using the foods available in the region they lived in, began to evolve into
present-day Southern cooking.
Collard greens became the official vegetable of South Carolina when Governor Nikki Haley signed Senate Bill No. 823
(S823) into Law on June 2, 2011. The proposal to name collard greens the official state vegetable was prompted
by a letter from Mary Grace Wingard, a 9-year-old Rocky Creek Elementary School student. Mary Grace said that
she was inspired by a talk given by Governor Haley during a field trip her class made to the Statehouse.
A BILL TO AMEND THE
CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA,
1976, BY ADDING SECTION 1-1-681 SO
AS TO DESIGNATE COLLARD GREENS AS
THE OFFICIAL STATE VEGETABLE. Whereas,
the State of South Carolina ranks
second in the nation for collard
green production; and Whereas,
Lexington County ranks first among
counties in South Carolina for
collard green production; and
Whereas, collard greens are a
healthy addition to any Southern
meal. Now, therefore, Be it enacted
by the General Assembly of the State
of South Carolina: SECTION 1.
Article 9, Chapter 1, Title 1 of the
1976 Code is amended by adding:
"Section 1-1-681. Collard greens are
the official vegetable of the
State." SECTION 2.
This act takes effect upon approval
by the Governor.
Southerners love their greens. A time-honored
tradition in southern kitchens, greens have held an important place on the
table for well over a century, and there is no other vegetable that is quite
so unique to the region. Greens are any sort of cabbage in which the green
leaves do not form a compact head. They are mostly kale, collards, turnip,
spinach, and mustard greens.
In the Southern states, a large quantity of greens to serve a family is commonly
referred to as a "mess o' greens." The exact quantity that constitutes a
"mess" varies with the size of the family.
The traditional way to cook greens is to boil or simmer slowly with a piece
of salt pork or ham hock for a long time (this tempers their tough texture
and smoothes out their bitter flavor) until they are very soft. Typically,
greens are served with freshly baked corn bread to dip into the pot-likker.
Pot likker is the highly concentrated, vitamin-filled broth that results
from the long boil of the greens. It is, in other words, the "liquor" left
in the pot.It is said by southern grandmothers that "Pot
likker will cure what ails you and if nothing ailing you, it will give you a good cleaning out."
In spite of what some consider their unpleasant smell, reaction to the smell of cooking greens separates true southern eaters
According to folklore, collards served with black-eyed peas and hog jowl on
New Year's Day promises a year of good luck and financial reward, hanging a
fresh leaf over your door will ward off evil spirits, and a fresh leaf
placed on the forehead promises to cure a headache.
Collard Greens Recipe - How To Cook Collard Greens
This is a family recipe from my friend, Andra Cook of Raleigh, North Carolina. Andra says,
"It is difficult to measure weight and size for each serving. My mother-in-law, Belle Cook, says she buys a grocery bag full and can serve
four with that. Collard greens are available eight months out of the year in the South. I don't include June through September because the greens are
much better after they have a 'good hard frost.' That's not to say you can't get them in the other months (June-September), but the taste is much
better after the frost."
Yields: serves many
Cook time: 45 min
Collard greens (whole collard heads or leaves)*
* When buying collards, make sure to choose dark green leaves with no wilting or
yellowness. Remember collard greens cook down, so purchase enough for your family.
Fresh collard greens may be stored in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to 5 days.
2 to 3 ham hocks
Salt to taste
Toppings (suggestions follow)
Wash greens thoroughly, approximately 3 or 4 times to ensure they are clean and free of insects. It is best if you rinse each leaf individually.
To prepared the greens, tear each leaf from its thick
center stems; discard stems. Remove the stems that run down the center by
holding the leaf in your left hand and stripping the leaf down with your right hand. The tender young leaves
in the heart of the collard greens don't need to be stripped. Discard all stems. Set collard greens aside until ready to cook.
Place ham hocks in an extra-large pot with enough water to completely cover
them. Add salt and cook ham hocks 30 to 60 minutes before adding the collards greens. You want the ham hocks to be falling apart before you
add the collard greens.
Add prepared collard greens, large leaves first (let the water start boiling
first), then add remainder of greens. Note that young collard greens
will cook up rather quickly. and the older greens may take upwards of 45
minutes to tenderize. Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring once about midway
to ensure thorough cooking. Throughout the cooking process, check the water
level and add more as needed to replace what's lost through evaporation. Test for tenderness at 45 minutes by
piercing with a sharp knife. Cook additional time if necessary.
Remove from heat and drain in a colander, reserving the juice (pot likker).
Chop collards with a collard chopper or a knife, leaving no large leaves or
pieces. Add some of the pot likker if the greens are too dry. Salt to taste.
Serve hot or at room temperature with your choice of toppings.
- Onions and vinegar (chopped onions and vinegar mixed together)
- Small whole tomatoes
Comments from Readers:
On your web page devoted to collards, you say to strip out the
ribs/stems and throw them away. Now maybe a "true southerner" does that,
but I'm not from the south and I don't throw *nothing* away if there's a way to use it:
Strip out those ribs, cut them up and cook them like green beans. Throw
in some caraway seeds and chopped onions for flavoring. Got too many?
freeze or can them like green beans also. I freeze them loose on a cookie sheet and then bag them in the deep freeze.
In addition to eating them as a side dish, use canned ones instead of
green beans in a 3-bean type salad. (I also use canned carrots and beets
cut up like French fries in this type of salad). Traditionalist? Not me!
LOL - Don Calkins (6/21/12)