Saturday, March 17, 2007


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's quarters, 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 people in slavery 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 African peoples 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. Their diet began to evolve and spread when they entered the plantation houses as cooks. Their traditional African dishes, using the foods available in the region they lived in, began to evolve into present-day Southern cooking .

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.
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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 (the salt 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.
In spite of what some consider their unpleasant smell, reaction to the smell of cooking greens separates true southern eaters from wannabes.

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.

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