After five years of marriage, I discover that my husband loves turnip greens. Loves them so much that he ate the first batch I made before I even had time to photograph it. So you are looking at my second attempt at preparing greens. I threatened The Husband within an inch of his life if he laid a finger on them before they got their close-up.
My knowledge on how to prepare greens was extremely limited. I knew you cooked them with a bit of pork, but other than that I was at a loss.
I also wondered how they became a part of Southern culture and found this little excerpt from whatscookingamerica.net:
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.
I started by flipping through my cookbooks for some direction on the proper way to cook greens. I thought it would be an easy recipe to find, since greens are such a popular dinner table dish. Much to my surprise, after scouring four books I came up empty-handed. Was this something I was just supposed to know how to do? Was it something only a Mamaw could tell me?
I finally found some instruction from Martha Hall Foose’s Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. I was surprised that the recipe listed a cooking time of five hours! And the ingredient list included one single whole pecan.
Just one? Left whole? Why?
According to Martha, the whole pecan prevents the smell of cooking greens from permeating your entire house. I didn’t have any pecans and I wasn’t even sure I could find whole ones (much less a single one) since they don’t come into season until the fall.
I decided to venture on without the single pecan, preparing myself for an awful stench that would linger throughout my house for days. I had flashbacks of when I was a kid and my Dad would make sauerkraut. You could smell it before you even walked through the front door. Do you know how embarrassing it is to be a fifteen-year-old girl, a member of the football team shows up to take you on a date (a guy I really, really liked, by the way) and the inside of your house smells like a giant fart?
My mother is going to be so embarrassed that I just used the word fart in a blog post. She may not speak to me for a while.
Luckily there was no awful stench.
I’m proud to say they turned out way better than expected. My Southern boy (aka The Husband) said they were some of the best he’s had.
I used turnip greens for this recipe, but you could substitute with any variety (mustard, kale, collard, etc.).
Update: Since this original post, I have made greens quite a few times and (thanks to some great tips from my readers) have modified the recipe along the way. The recipe below reflects those changes.
- 1 smoked ham hock or ham bone
- 3 large bunches of greens (collard, turnip, mustard), washed
- 3 tablespoons bacon grease
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅛ teaspoon sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Fill a large stockpot with 1 quart of water.
- Add ham hock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. In the meantime, remove the stems from the greens.
- Discard the stems and coarsely chop the leaves.
- Add the greens, bacon grease, cider vinegar and sugar to the pot.
- Cook, uncovered, for 2 hours for firmer greens, longer for more tender greens. My experience is, the longer they cook the better they taste.
- Season greens with salt and pepper.