- Nov 26, 2016
- central NC
Jeremy Keith from Brighton & Hove, United Kingdom [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps nowhere in the United States have greens been so beloved as in the South. I grew up watching my grandmother and mother cook greens—typically collards, turnip greens and some wild leaf greens, but now they’re showing up in “fancy” restaurants as a featured side item. Of course this got me thinking about the “good ole’ days.”
Greens came to the South from around the world. Collards are widely believed to have arrived from Africa via the slave route. Turnips made their way from Asia. Some greens, such as poke (properly pronounced 'po-kay') salad (my grandmother called it “poke - as in “I will poke you” - sallet,”) and dandelion greens grow wild. The leaves and stems of poke can both be eaten, but they must be boiled three times in three separate changes of fresh water for safety. Others are the tops of a vegetable (beet tops and turnip tops) while some varieties of turnips have no root vegetable. Cabbage is not commonly included among “greens” in the South. Interesting tidbit, turnip and collard greens are considered better after a frost.
The traditional southern method of cooking collards and turnips is to make a broth with fatback, streak o’lean (salt pork) or bacon and water (sometimes hot peppers are included). The greens are added to the boiling water. After the heat is reduced, the greens are left to simmer for up to two hours. They are then cut into small pieces and served hot, often times with the fried pork. Seasoning is important so vinegar, chopped onions or hot sauce is usually offered. Red wine vinegar is quite popular now.
It is said that greens and salt pork were important to the diet of southerners following the Civil War because meat was scarce. Greens are a great source of riboflavin, calcium and iron as well as vitamins A and C. My grandmother served them both because they tasted good. Check out the great tasting recipe below for preparing roasted turnips.
Betts, Edwin Morris, ed. Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, 1766–1824, with Relevant Extracts from His Other Writings. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1944.
Randolph, Mary. The Virginia House-Wife. 1824. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1984.
Roasted Turnips with Brown Butter
3 pounds turnips
2 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse sea salt
1 stick unsalted butter
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
Fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
Preheat the oven to 400°. Trim and peel the turnips. Small turnips can be left whole; cut larger turnips into 2-inch chunks.
Place the prepared turnips on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle them with olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt.
Roast the turnips for 45 to 60 minutes, or until they’re tender and browned. Remove from oven.
While the turnips are roasting, cut unsalted butter into small pieces and place in a pot or pan. Heat over medium and let the butter melt, whisking constantly, until it becomes a light tan color. Remove the pan from the burner; the butter will continue cooking even after you remove it from the heat. Once it turns nutty brown in color, pour into a separate bowl to keep it from cooking further. Note: If the butter is overcooked, it will have a bitter taste.
Place the roasted turnips in a serving bowl or platter, and toss with the brown butter. Just before serving, drizzle with honey and garnish with fresh chopped parsley and black pepper.
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