Intermediate, Side Dishes, Southern, Vegetables

How to Cook Turnip Greens [Southern Turnip Greens]

Learn how to cook turnip greens just like they do in the South. Greens are slowly simmered with pork jowl, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper for a tender, tasty soul food side dish.

Learn how to cook turnip greens just like they do in the South. Greens are slowly simmered with pork jowl, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper for a tender, tasty soul food side dish.

This post is sponsored by Clifty Farm. The opinions contained within are my own.

I recall a conversation I had with my husband our first New Year’s after we were married. I was relaying to him what I planned to cook on New Year’s Day. I don’t remember what I told him, only that my menu was all wrong, because he interrupted me and said, “No, on New Year’s Day you eat hog jowls and turnip greens or it’s bad luck.”

I’m pretty sure I looked at my new husband like he had just lost his mind. Please remember, even though I was born in the South, I was raised by two Mid-Westerners. We had New Year’s Day traditions, but they definitely did not involve hog jowls or turnip greens. At that time, I didn’t even know what hog jowls were, much less where to buy them or how to prepare them. That first year, we came to a compromise — cabbage and ham.

What are pork jowls?

I’ve come a looong way since then. I eventually taught myself how to cook turnip greens. In fact, I make them quite often. Traditionally, greens are slowly simmered for several hours with some type of smoked and salted meat for seasoning.

unopened package of Clifty Farm pork jowls

Until recently, I used smoked ham hocks or a leftover ham bone for my greens. Then Clifty Farm, my favorite producer of smoked pork products, offered to let me try their line of pork jowls, which are rolling out in grocery stores across the country. Immediately, my mind went back to that conversation I had with my husband so many years ago.

Vintage pork butcher diagram

Hog jowls are a cut of meat from the pig’s cheek. It tastes very similar to thick cut bacon. In fact, in other parts of the United States you may hear it referred to as jowl bacon. Clifty Farm pork jowls are dry-cured and smoked over natural hickory wood before being sliced and packaged. Fried on its own, the pork jowls crisp up nicely around the edges, but maintain a delicious chewy texture. When simmered with a pot of greens, the leaves naturally absorb the smoky, salty flavor.

What is the difference between turnip greens, collard greens and mustard greens?

Turnips are a root vegetable closely related to kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Turnips grow under the ground. The “greens” refer to the green leaves that grow above the ground. Coincidentally, the leaves are also where all the nutrients are. Turnip greens are loaded with various vitamins and nutrients that prevent osteoporosis, maintain healthy skin and hair, reduce iron deficiency and help with digestion.

fresh turnip green leaves on a white marble background

Collard greens are a variety of cabbage. Mustard greens, considered to be an herb, are the leaves of the mustard plant (that yellow mustard you squirt on your hot dog comes from the seed of the mustard plant).

Each has a different texture and taste when cooked. Turnip and collard greens in their raw form are very tough in texture. It is not something you want to toss into your salad. Both are simmered for long period of time to soften them up, which makes them idea for this recipe.

Mustard greens are more tender. You can eat them in their raw form or cook them down similar to spinach or kale. Because of their more delicate texture, mustard greens tend to cook down to mush if cooked in this manner.

How to Cook Turnip Greens

Preparing a pot of old-fashioned Southern Turnip Greens only requires a few ingredients – One 16-ounce package of Clifty Farm pork jowls for seasoning, ¼-cup of apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and four large bunches of fresh turnip greens. Keep in mind, greens are just like spinach. You buy what looks like a truckload, but then after you cook them down you’re left with something that could fit into the palm of your hand. Three to four bunches may look like A LOT, but in the end it won’t be.

Wash the leaves and remove the stems

Because turnips are a root vegetable that grows in the ground, it’s a good idea to wash the leaves first to remove any grit and grime. I fill my kitchen sink with cool, clean water, then completely immerse the leaves in the water. I let them soak for about 15-20 minutes to let any grime sink to the bottom, then carefully remove the leaves and drain the water.

turnip greens soaking in the kitchen sink

The center stem of a turnip green leaf is very tough. You want to remove this before cooking. You can do it with a sharp knife, but I find it easier just to tear the leaves from the stem by hand. If you are a gardener, toss the stems in with your compost. Afterwards, roughly chop the leaves into manageable pieces.

removing the stems from the leaves

Preparing the pork jowls

Clifty Farm pork jowls already come presliced, but I do chop them up into smaller bite-sized pieces before tossing them into a large stock pot that has been heating over medium heat. Cook the chopped hog jowls for 3-5 minutes to render out some of the grease. But don’t drain the grease. Simply pour one quart of water over the jowls, bring to a boil, cover the pot, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

rendered chopped pork jowls on the left, boiled pork jowls on the right

Add the vinegar

Next, add the apple cider vinegar. This ingredient helps to further break down the fibrous leaves. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar on hand, regular distilled white vinegar will also work. I’ve even had a reader recommend using salsa!

One common complaint I hear about greens is that they are bitter. In addition to the vinegar, add one teaspoon of sugar, one teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. This will help remove any bitter flavor. Bring the water to a boil again.

Bring to a simmer

Finally, add the washed and chopped greens to the pot. You may need to add them in batches, stirring between each addition until they wilt a little to make room for the next batch. Once the greens have all been added, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, then wait.

uncooked turnip green leaves in a stockpot

For more tender greens, let them simmer for 1-1 ½ hours. For more tender greens, cook them two hours or longer. I like somewhere in the middle, about 1 ½ hours.

Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving. I like to eat my turnip greens with a slice of hot homemade cornbread for sopping up any juices. The Husband likes to add a few sprinkles of hot sauce for heat.

pot of cooked turnip greens

Speaking of juices, don’t dump those out! The broth, known as potlikker or pot liquor, is the best part. I use them as the base for this hearty, healthy potlikker soup.

How to store turnip greens

Allow the turnip greens to cool completely before transferring them to an airtight container with a lid. Turnip greens should be eaten within four days.

Freezing cooked turnip greens

Believe it or not, cooked turnip greens can be frozen. My preferred method is to spoon the greens and the potlikker into a freezer bag. Leave several inches at the top for expansion. Carefully fold the top of the bag down to squeeze out all the air, then seal. Lay the bag flat to freeze. Once frozen, you can stack it. Frozen greens should be eaten within 3-4 month. Allow then to thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.

Where to Buy Clifty Farm Products

I can honestly say, these were my best pot of turnip greens to date! The Clifty Farm pork jowls added so much more flavor compared to my old method. Clifty Farm is in the process of rolling this product out to more and more stores over the next few months. I am very excited, as this will be my go-to way to season a pot of turnip greens from now on. In the meantime, you can purchase Clifty Farm pork jowl and their famous country ham online.

cooked turnip greens topped with bacon and a wedge of cornbread in a white bowl

More Greens Recipes:

More Clifty Farm Recipes:

Tater Tot Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole
Southern Green Beans with Ham and Potatoes
Ham and Corn Casserole with Cream Cheese
Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy

cooked turnip greens topped with bacon and a wedge of cornbread in a white bowl
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4.88 from 8 votes

Southern Turnip Greens

Learn how to cook turnip greens just like they do in the South. Greens are slowly simmered with pork jowl, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper for a tender, tasty soul food side dish.
Calories 28kcal

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Remove the center stems from the greens. Discard the stems and coarsely chop the leaves.
  • Heat the pork jowls in a large stock pot over medium heat. Cook for 3-5 minutes to render off some of the grease, but so not drain the grease.
  • Add one quart (4 cups) of water to the pot. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the cider vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the pot. Bring the pot to a boil again.
  • Add the greens. You may need to work in batches, allowing the greens to wilt down to make room for more.
  • Cover the pot again, then cook for 1 -2 hours. The longer the greens cook, the more tender they will become.
  • Season the greens with salt and pepper if needed.

Notes

Allow the turnip greens to cool completely before transferring them to an airtight container with a lid. Turnip greens should be eaten within four days.
To freeze, spoon the cooled greens and the potlikker into a freezer bag. Leave several inches at the top for expansion. Carefully fold the top of the bag down to squeeze out all the air, then seal. Lay the bag flat to freeze. Once frozen, you can stack it. Frozen greens should be eaten within 3-4 month. Allow then to thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 28kcal | Carbohydrates: 6.3g | Protein: 1.6g | Fat: 0.3g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 382mg | Potassium: 292mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 0.8g | Vitamin A: 10982IU | Vitamin C: 39.5mg | Calcium: 197mg | Iron: 1.2mg

24 Comments

  1. I make turnip and other greens all the time, and I seldom have 5 hours to do it your way (which sounds delicious). I usually use a healthy dollop of cider vinegar, which helps break down the fibrous leaves faster, so they only need to be cooked for about 45 minutes. My favorite fall greens dish is to sautee cubed bacon (jowl bacon if you can get it) and diced turnips until the turnips soften, then add the greens and cider vinegar and simmer 45 minutes or so. Mmm, that’s what I want for dinner tonight!

    • The Cooking Bride

      Thanks for that tip, Paige! My husband has requested this several times since, but the five hour cook time has been a bit of a deterrent for me as well. I will have to try the cider vinegar next time.

  2. My sister uses a cup or two of salsa. It also helps break down the leaves faster and gives it great undertones of onion and peppers, but it doesn’t _taste_ like salsa when they’re finished. It just tastes like good greens.

  3. ONE pecan? That’s such a funny tip! I’ve never noticed a bad stench when I cooked greens either…strange.

    This sounds like a great recipe!

  4. I’ve never made and/or ate “greens” that I know of, I’m going to have to try it, just once!!!

  5. Only 1 quart of water?

  6. My grandma taught me how to make turnip greens she was from Mississippi we would cook 9 Bunches of turnip greens to 3 Bunches of mustard she loved her salt pork for me I kind of like bacon and I put in baby back ribs I slice each one by the bone and put them in there I love them and don’t forget about the turnip bulb I peel them and slice them like a potato and put them in there salt and pepper bacon grease and about a tablespoon of sugar when it’s done I love them with some good cornbread and I do cook them for about 3 or 4 hours I hope you all do enjoy this recipe I’ve always enjoyed it since I was a little girl helping my grandma cook these excellent turnip greens

  7. 4 stars
    I am too lazy (orhungry?) to wait so long for my greens. Especially if I am including some with breakfast because I need the minerals they provide.
    Generally just fry up some bacon or Sausage, fry onions in the fat & then Iower the heat & saute / stir fry the greens in the skillet. Sat & pepper and maybe a pinch of brown sugar. Scoot the greens over to the side of the skillet when they are done and cook some scrambled eggs on the other side. All done in 15 or 20 minutes.

  8. 5 stars
    This sounds like a great side dish for fall. I have never tried turnip greens but will have a look at the farmer’s market the next time I go.

  9. 5 stars
    This is such a great read. I’ve never made greens and really don’t know much about them (being an Ohio girl). The pecan tip was unexpected. And your story about your house smelling like a fart made me laugh. I might have to try some greens!

  10. Bintu | Recipes From A Pantry

    5 stars
    I love my greens and this sounds delicious – I love the idea of slowly simmering with apple cider vinegar, so tasty!

  11. 5 stars
    How to posts like this are what I love! I need that extra help sometimes and this has some great info on it! I love the recipe that you have the bacon grease and ham hock in there! Cannot wait to try it!

  12. 5 stars
    I am dying about the smell in your house when the football player came over! These greens look delicious. I’ve had collard greens, I’ve had turnips, but never turnip greens. Thanks for all the info!

  13. 5 stars
    Scrambled egg added to greens is what we always called Polk salad. Polk greens grow wild usually along fence rows or hedge lines. It’s a hillbilly way to eat especially with green fried tomatoes, cornbread sweet onion and ice tea. You can feed the whole family for less than $5.00

    • I’ll take hillbilly eating! All that sounds delicious.

    • Your comment brought back good memories. My father would take me & my 2 sisters for a ride in the country on a Sunday afternoon. We were there to pick Polk salad. We would make a game out of it to see who could pick the most. I haven’t had Polk salad since I was a kid. My mom would also scramble eggs in her’s too. When money was tight we would have Polk salad, pinto beans, a pan of cornbread & sweet tea. It still sounds good to me,,

  14. Peggie Rhodes

    5 stars
    I’ve never made turnip greens before. This post was very helpful. The greens turned out great!

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