A "mess" of greens, as cooked greens are called, is an armful of bundles of turnips or collards that cook down to a quart of greens in addition to the broth.
Regarded as a comfort food, greens can be a meal, eaten just by themselves or with cornbread or biscuits, as well as part of a larger meal.
When meat was a rarity, the seasoning meat in greens was an important dietary supplement, with the fat giving energy for long days and cold nights.
Greens are best when picked after the first frost, customarily around hog-butchering time, when there is a snap in the air, or in early spring; but there is hardly a time anymore when they are not available.
They are traditional for New Year's, as they are a promise of "greenbacks" all year long.
Nathalie Dupree, from "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking"
Mess of Greens and 'Pot Likker'
Serves 6 to 8, including "pot likker"
1/3 pound sliced, rinsed salt pork or streak o' lean, hog jowl, smoked neck, or other cured pork
1 to 2 slices onion (optional)
1 small hot pepper (optional)
5 pounds collard, turnip, pokesallet or kale greens, washed
Freshly ground pepper
Hot sauce (optional)
Tip: If time is short, slice the greens into small pieces to cook faster.
Bring 1/2 gallon of water to a boil. Add the pork, optional onion and hot pepper and return to a boil. If time is available, cook half an hour or more to flavor the broth.
Meanwhile, tear off and discard from the greens the stalks and any tough veins. Tear or cut the remaining greens into pieces and add to the broth.
Return to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, pushing any bobbing greens down into the liquid, and cover. Cook 50 minutes to 3 hours, as desired.
Take a pair of large scissors and cut any pieces larger than bite size. Taste and season with salt, pepper and hot sauce as desired. Serve with the broth (pot likker), or strain, reserving the broth for another time or to serve as "pot likker" with the greens. Cooked greens will last covered and refrigerated for several days. They freeze up to 3 months.
When the greens have returned to a boil, add peeled and cut-up turnips or beets, and cook until the vegetables are done, about half an hour, depending on size.
Add small pieces of potatoes to the boiling greens and cook until the potatoes are done, about 30 minutes, depending on size.
Break up pieces of cornbread and add to bowls of pot likker as desired.
Many Southern homes used to keep a bottle of vinegar infused with peppers on the kitchen table (the closer to Louisiana, the hotter the concoction). Greens were sprinkled with vinegar or hot sauce before eating.
Nathalie Dupree is the author of 13 cookbooks, most recently the James Beard award-winning "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking." She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.
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