Throughout the Deep South and much of Appalachia, pot likker is essentially no more than the vitamin-rich broth left over in a pot of boiled greens or peas cooked with a smoked ham bone, and it is always—I repeat, always—served with cornbread. Arguments flare up about pot likker: Is it one or two words? Can salt pork, bacon, or ham be substituted for the ham bone? Should the cornbread (or cornpone) be dunked or crumbled into the hearty broth for best results? Is it acceptable to serve the greens or peas in the broth, or must the broth stand alone? Do mustard greens, collards, turnip greens, or kale produce the most flavorful pot likker? One of the few restaurants left in the South where you can still order a bowl or cup of plain, old-fashioned pot likker is Mary Mac’s Tea Room, in Atlanta, but I’ve learned while traveling in rural Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi that almost any diner or roadside café that serves greens will manage to come up with a little pot likker only for the asking. This elaborate pot likker soup, on which I was virtually weaned, must have been my maternal grandmother’s invention, since I’ve never encountered it away from home. Obviously, it’s a meal in itself, and utterly wondrous. If you can’t find crowder peas, just double the quantity of black-eyes.
Tear the turnip greens into small pieces and place in a large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to moderately low, cover, and cook 15 minutes. Drain the greens and set aside.
Heat the oil in a pot over moderate heat, add the ham, onion, and garlic, and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add the turnip greens and all remaining ingredients and stir till well blended. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let simmer about 1 hour, stirring from time to time. Serve hot in wide soup bowls.
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