Another season is behind us. I harvested the last of my collard greens today. As excited as the prospect of spring makes me, I get a little melancholy at the same time. In the spring we will gather tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, cantelope and radishes and onions from our little kitchen garden. The glad and sunflowers will make everything bright and sunny. The orange blossom’s perfume will be carried throughout our yard. Bees will be buzzing. Birds will be chirping. The spring season in Florida is glorious, no doubt about it. But the turnips, mustard and collards are gone for another season. Certainly, they are available almost all year round in the freezer cases, but I will be missing them from my garden.
Greens make me feel connected to my ancestors several generations back. As far back as we know, my ancestral line lived in the southern US and were poor people just doing the best the could to stay alive. Greens are well suited to southern climates. They grow rather quickly, produce prolifically, have a moderately long growing season and give up their seeds easily. In addition, they produce a nutrient rich green leafy, fiber filled vegetable. You can cook them with some smoked meat in large quantities to feed a whole passel of hungry folks at one time. Add some Hot Water Cornbread and you have a complete meal that contains all the essential amino acids. After the greens are gone, the life of the meal can be extended by feasting on the pot likker, the nutrient rich soup that’s left in the pot. I imagine my ancestors had access to corn meal because corn was, and still is, a major crop in the south. Farmers would raise pigs for the meat and smoke cure the biggest part of it. Then, they all shared with their neighbors. Sharing and helping each other out was a way of life. They had a different mindset back then. Often times my grandparents would speak of the notion of being neighborly and sharing when they barely had food to eat themselves. My grandaddy once said, “You might have a gracious plenty one year because your crops come in good. Next year, you could go through a spell of bad luck, sho’ as the world.” For people who lived such meager lives, greens were a perfect food source.
Tomorrow, I will clean the greens, make a good rich stock from ham hocks and throw in the greens for the last time this season. I will be cooking the same food that sustained several generations of my ancestors. My kitchen will have the same grassy smokey aroma that their’s did. And I will eagerly await a bowl of fresh greens, just as they did. We will welcome the spring and say goodbye to the winter as we eat the last bowl of greens. And I will give thanks for our good fortune, sho’ as the world.
Y’all come see us.
Collard Greens and Ham Hocks
The last of the collard greens harvested.
Before you even start messin’ with your greens, get your ham hocks started. Cover them with water, add a little salt (not too much just yet), and let them cook for a good hour.
Whoo-whee! Those are some nice ones!!
Now, you can start on your collard greens.
See that big vein in the center? You gotta get rid of it. It’s tough and bitter.
You can fold each leaf in half, then cut the big vein with a sharp knife.
This leaf has been deveined.
I just tear my leaves off the vein. I can do that faster than cutting. You can do it either way. Now, the greens are ready for the triple washing. That’s right. Triple washing. Don’t cheat. I’m watching.
After the triple (three times) wash to remove all the grit, chop the greens. Just roll them up and chop in ribbons.
Add to the pot of boiling ham hocks and stock. Cover. Let them start to cook down. Don’t be afraid. They won’t completely disappear on you. They just cook down an awful lot.
After the greens have cooked down and are starting to get soft, then you start tasting for seasoning. I like my greens cooked in a simple fashion: in a good rich ham hock stock with salt, black pepper and honey as needed to cut the bitterness. I have a friend who says, “I just go on and put everything but my foot in my greens.” I LOVE THAT! Some people, including my friend, add vinegar, hot peppers, prepared mustard and who knows what all else. I do like to eat my greens with pepper vinegar after they are done. But that’s about it. Oh, and cornbread, of course. It just a taste preference. And I happen to have one.
Once you’re satisfied you’ve got the balance of flavors just right, pour up the greens in a bowl. Shred the meat from the ham hock, eat some and throw what’s left in the bowl with the greens. Make you some good hot cornbread. Sit down at the table.
Collard Greens and Ham Hocks
Instead of exact proportions, I’m giving you the list of ingredients and the cooking instructions. Cooking greens isn’t precise. The proportions go up and down easily depending on how much you want to make.
2 or three large ham hocks
1 or 2 bunches fresh collard greens, triple washed and big vein removed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Place ham hocks in a large stock pot and cover with water. Add about a teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and let cook for one hour until they are good and tender.
After an hour, uncover and bring stock back up to a boil. Add greens, a little bit at the time. They will cook down rather quickly. Continue until all greens are in the pot. Reduce heat and cover. Continue cooking until greens are cooked to your degree of doneness. This is purely a matter of taste preference. I pretty much cook mine to death, but that’s how we like them.
Keep tasting for seasoning and degree of doneness. Adjust seasoning as necessary. If the greens are too bitter for your taste, add honey or your favorite sweetening.
Before serving, remove ham hocks from pot. Take off any of the good meat, shred it and put it back in the greens pot. Stir and serve.
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