Delicious pot of greens, very southern!
As New Year’s Day approaches, and our minds turn back to traditional foods, we may wish to be auspicious about the coming year and choose to eat foods which are symbolic of good luck and prosperity. Regardless of whether we are superstitious or not, it can be about starting off remembering our culinary roots. For this type of Southern braised green, which can be symbolic of money or cash, in particular culinary heritage, it is also traditional, and I am a person steeped in tradition. Besides just those having southern roots, it can go further for others, as part of the culinary history of our nation. Most of us come from very humble roots, and in the south, where those who descended from African ancestry endured untold hardship down to the foods they ate, eating these type of foods now, in a time of prosperity, can remind us all of our own family pride, our new places in life, and that we can now choose to eat what was once forced upon people in hard times. Everyone has gone through hard times at one point or another, regardless of the road they traveled or from which they came. Perhaps more than hoping for money in the coming year, which really does seem like a kind of shallow wish, we can all hope for the prosperity of mankind to do what is best and not be forced to make choices we would not otherwise choose.
And I have to thank all those of African descent whose ancestors brought a great wealth of culinary knowledge and ability to our nation, to add it to our collective heritage, to become a part of all our families. The manner in which it happened was a great price to be paid to be sure. But the wealth of knowledge and the joy each and every one of us can have when preparing foods like these and sharing it with those we love is priceless beyond measure. It is food for the soul, both figuratively, and literally.
I have to be honest with you. I was *not* born in the south. I have some cousins who like to think of me as a *Yankee*. I guess.
But I am here to tell you that the south is not a place you are born, it’s a place you live, a place inside the heart. I *do* come from good southern roots, with Dad’s family hailing from Kentucky, and Mom’s family hailing from Texas. As for myself, I have also spent time living in Mississippi and Florida, and felt right welcome and at home. (now don’t go off on me saying Florida is not the south, even though it is the primary “nesting grounds” of northern “birds”). And it wasn’t living down there that put the south in my heart- it was already there.
I guess I am just born this way. And I do believe my grandmothers who have lived in Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee all smile down on me approvingly from above, knowing their culinary heritage has indeed been passed on. Because it has. It’s in the blood, in the heart, and in the soul.
It’s the American way to be part of the melting pot. In the end, we are all one, and we can all choose to sit down and break bread together at the biggest barbecue this side of….the Old World.
I have been making greens in the crock pot for over ten years. Before that, I was a slave to the stove. I’d had an *attitude* about crock pots and had no use for them. But, as I came around to it, I found they do very well making certain soups, chili and stews, besides long-braised meats like pork shoulder or chuck roast and the occasional pot of beans. And…
They make an amazing mess of greens.
I still have an attitude about them regarding the cooking of other cuts of meats, like pork chops or chicken. That may never change, but…in the meantime, let’s make a pot of collards!
For greens like collards, I like them Southern style, which requires a bit of cooking. I have to admit I don’t like having to tend that many pots on the stove that much, so when I make greens and have time, I like to start them in the morning for the evening meal.
I often make several different kinds of greens together, mixing collards with kale or mustard or turnip greens. I don’t use spinach or chard in the braised greens because I don’t think their tender character stands up well to braising.
The seasoning I use varies a little bit as well. My greens usually aren’t made vegetarian, although they can be. Usually I will add some type of smoked meat for added flavor and among these are things like smoked turkey wings or drumsticks, bacon, smoked pork shoulder, smoked pork neck bones, smoked ham, ham bones, country ham, or ham hocks. You can even add things like salt pork or side pork, but it won’t add any smoky flavor. What I use depends mostly on what I have already on hand, or if I have to buy something, whatever seemed the best buy at the time. Most things work well, so I am not apt to buy something when it is not priced to sell.
The amount of seasoning I use meat-wise varies a little bit as well. I will throw in a ham hock or turkey drumstick or wing and not bother to weigh it. It will “just do“. As for the other things, I often use between 4-8 ounces of something except for the country ham or salt pork which I will use a little less to make sure the greens don’t come out too salty. You can mix the meat seasonings if you have a “little of this” and a “little of that“, especially where ham bones and cut up ham is concerned.
In general with my Southern cooking where I use meats as seasonings, I follow pretty much the same idea as i do with the greens. So if you are braising cabbage or making country style green beans, or cooking up a pot of beans, the same ideas of using meats this way will apply. As you become adept at southern cooking you may find you keep a regular supply of these kind of meats around for these purposes. The best thing about that is that most of the time, it is very economical. Well, except the times when the market wants way too much and you must pass it by. It’s not always a matter of having the money to pay- it’s the principle behind it.
The crock pot I use in this recipe is a large oval 5-quart one. I call for about 8 cups of greens which is 1-2 bunches of greens or maybe three, depending on how big the bunches are. Once you have made this a couple of times you will know how much will work for you. You won’t have to use a 5-quart crock for this as there is nothing special about that. It’s just that is how much it takes for me to loosely fill up the crock before it begins to wilt down. You can easily use other sizes of crocks and just fill them up. The amount of meat seasoning will be “more or less” meaty depending on how much you add. The amount of cooking liquid is really approximate and isn’t going to change how the greens cook (unless all of it somehow evaporates) and will just give a different amount of pot liquor (cooking juices) at the end, which are wonderful in themselves spooned over a piece of corn bread. I have actually heard some people claim that the pot liquor is just marketing hype but no. It’s not. And it is really quite healthy, chock full of vitamins. So if you don’t use it on your corn bread, by all means, please do save it for cooking soup or anything else you can drop it into. It freezes well.
- 1-2 bunches of fresh collard greens (about 8 cups prepared) or also can use kale, mustard or turnip greens
- 4-8 ounces smoked seasoning meat
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth, or water
- salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste
- couple splashes vinegar (maybe 1/4 cup)
- couple splashes hot sauce (if you like it really spicy)
- Fill the sink basin with cold water and submerge the untied greens and swish them around a bit, and even let them soak 5-10 minutes. (why? they can have mud on them, or worse, especially if they are organic). Rinse and repeat until the drain water is perfectly clear; drain.
- Fold each leaf in half at the center and slice out the thick stem.
- Stack the leaves as you finish them, then roll them up in a stack like a cigar, and slice crosswise about 1 inch apart.
- Take the curls and toss them then place in the crock with the other ingredients.
- Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours, turning occasionally as the leaves shrink down, until greens are tender.
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