All these little “adultisms” handed down from generation to generation. Where do they come from and do they have merit? Well, greens it seems hold a wealth of nutrition in some very large leafy, almost plant-like leaves that embody a whole subculture of eating. There are collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, spinach, chard, kale. It’s endless, the variety of greens you can buy and eat.
We in the middle of the United States may not have grown up with greens. Spinach, maybe, but never collard greens, unless you came from a Southern heritage. The Midwest, to this point, has always been meat and potatoes, “pass the butter, please, and don’t forget the bread.” In recent years, words like “all natural” and “organic” and “healthier” have crept into our vocabulary and our society bringing a whole array of “new” fruits and vegetables and recipes to -go with them.
Collards have always been part of the Southern tradition; but did you know they actually date to prehistoric times and were well regarded even then as staples in the family larder and believed as we confirm today to be chock full of vitamins, minerals and to contain a sort of healing property to ward off disease?
Greens originated in the eastern Mediterranean, but it wasn’t until the first Africans arrived in Jamestown, VA in the 1600s that America got its first taste of the often bitter dark green leaves. History tells us greens were among the limited vegetables black slaves were allowed to cook on their plots connected to the plantations. Over time, the smell of cooked collards became all too familiar. Today, Southern whites and blacks alike prepare a “good luck” New Year’s dish of simmering greens, ham hocks and blackeyed peas, and just the smell of that good luck charm boiling in broth sends the Southern mouth watering.
In the deep South, a large amount of greens served to the family is commonly called “a mess o’ greens.” The traditional way to cook them is to boil or simmer them slowly with salt pork or ham hock to soften up the leaves so they’re not so chewy. Southern families serve up big slabs of corn bread to go with the greens and it’s not uncommon to see the men in the family pour hot sauce on their greens to give them more flavor.
It’s been recorded that, “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. Pot likker is quite nutritious and delicious, and contributes to the comfort-food aspects of the dish.”
When the slaves were emancipated in the 1800s, they took with them long years of cooking skills and recipes, and today, in the 21st century, many a young cook is just discovering what Southerners and Africans knew for years, “there’s a powerful nutrition in those greens.” And, it behooves us all to take note.
At GreenAcres, we incorporate organic greens into many of our daily menus. Spinach, chard and kale are our favorites, but almost every variety of the green family is finding its way into green drinks and smoothies. The adventuresome find that drinking their salad through a straw is the best and fastest way to build energy and to get live nutrition into their systems.
So how do you cook greens? Here are two recipes from the Food Network to get you started:
Brown 4 slices diced bacon in a pot; drain on paper towels. Add 1 cup diced onion to the pot and cook 3 minutes. Add 1 pound collard greens, 1 cup chicken broth and water to cover; simmer 20 minutes. Stir in the bacon; mound with a couple dollops of butter; salt and pepper. Serve.
Food Network Cook Guy Fieri’s Collards and Pork
2 pounds collard greens, rinsed
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup 1/4-inch diced salt pork
1 cup diced onion
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, plus more for serving
Cut off and discard the tough stems and discolored leaves from the greens. Cut across the leaves into 2-inch ribbons.
In a large stock pot, over medium-high heat, add the canola oil and the diced salt pork, and cook until light golden brown and just crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and let cool.
Add the onion to the pot and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes, then add the red chili flakes, black pepper, and the collard greens.
Stir every few minutes, or until greens have wilted down. Add the chicken stock and the water and cover. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, then remove the lid, increase the heat to high, and add the vinegar and a teaspoon of hot sauce. Adjust the seasoning, if needed, then put it into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the salt pork and serve with additional hot pepper sauce on the side.
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