Collard greens

My father was an amazing cook. It’s a good thing, too, because my mother was not. She’d be the first to admit it. Their agreement was simple: Dad did all of the cooking. Mom cleaned the kitchen. In my opinion, she had a sweet deal.

I loved nearly everything my father made including his collard greens. They had a silky smooth texture and were packed with flavor from smoked ham hocks. The nutrient-laden liquid that remained in the pot was delicious too. My dad called it “potlikker” (or pot liquor). It turns out that he wasn’t the only one.

Collard greens are actually a kind of cabbage. Cooking them with salted meat stems back to slaves who used pieces of the pig that their masters did not want (such as ham hocks) to flavor greens. The broth that was left in the pot came to be known as potlikker. And, yes, I’ve been known to drink it right out of the pot!

I kick myself for not writing down my dad’s collard greens recipe. Mine is below, based on memories, and some trial and error. My kids often ask for seconds (and even thirds!). That would make Daddy proud.

Smoked turkey wings
I used turkey wings but prefer smoked pork shank.

Uncooked collard greens
These are what collards look like when you buy them. Try to get leaves without yellow patches or holes and that aren’t withered.

Recipe: Southern Style Collard Greens

  • Prep Time: 30 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 60 min(s)
  • Total Time: 90 min(s)
  • Servings: 6 - 8

These Southern style collard greens are packed with flavor from smoked meat.

Ingredients

  • 4 batches of fresh collard greens (about 3 - 4 lbs)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Two medium smoked turkey wings, ham hocks or pork shank
  • 11 cups of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) The smoked meat may be enough.
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

Instructions

  1. Put 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot. Once the oil starts to ripple, carefully add the water. (Step back a little, in case the oil pops.) Add 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Let it come to a boil.
  2. Make several cuts into the meat. Add it to the boiling water, cover and let cook on medium high heat for 30 minutes. The meat will start to spread where the cuts were made and the water will turn into a broth.
  3. In the meantime, remove the collard leaves away from the stems. If you see any thick veins in the leaves, pull those out too. Rip the collards into smaller leaves. Wash them in cold water to get rid of any dirt or insects. Drain the excess water.
  4. After the meat has cooked for 30 minutes, add the collards into the hot broth. They will cook down, so don't worry if it seems like you're shoving too many in the pot.
  5. Use a large fork to make sure all the leaves are under the water. Cover and continue to cook.
  6. After 20 minutes or so, you'll notice that the greens have shrunk. Add salt, the rest of the pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Move greens around with a fork. If it seems like you don't have enough liquid in the pot, you can add chicken broth or more water to cover the greens.
  7. Turn down the heat to medium low and let cook another 15 minutes.
  8. Take out one leaf and let it cool. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly.
  9. Note: The broth that's left over is known as "potlikker." Some people use it to make soup, to dip cornbread into or to drink.

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  • Robin Green

    You are actually perpetuating a myth. Adding salted meats to greens was a food delicacy that dates back to the Roman era.

    • John Perdue

      That’s not Southern. My family’s been in Georgia since at least 1790, and not only do we prefer no meat in the greens, growing up I don’t remember anyone from neighborhood, church, or work who did. The people doing the cooking in my Southern life themselves either grew up in the depression or learned from someone who had and so maybe that’s why, I DK. So I object to these being called Southern.

      Isn’t there a better way to celebrate African American Heritage than using that word Southern as code for something else? And, what seems to be missed here is that quite likely, the ONLY meat some slaves ever got was unfit for anything but seasoning! Nowadays we have people potentially doing something unhealthy (adding too much salt and fat to their diets now largely based around meat products) because people years ago were forced to be deprived? and the unnhealthyness is being overlooked because of a tradition which doesn’t give proper credit where credit is due.

      You may recall recently that a food-show-pop-star-grease-monger who likes to call her cookin’ Southern too, demonstrated some historical ignorance, and used hateful words unnecessarily. That wasn’t Southern either. Now of course I expect lofty standards from PBS. This seems to me to be on the slippery slope back down to that level. Y’all can do better.