Collard Greens

When we visited South Carolina, it was wintertime, and by the side of the small roads between the highway and our rented house on Edisto Island, there were vegetable stands loaded with stacks of dark green collards. One day, on the advice of Hoppin’ John (John Martin Taylor of Charleston), we turned down a small dirt lane off the Edisto road to find Pink’s. Pink is an institution around Edisto. She has a small produce shop beside her house, full of ultrafresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. A few days later, just before New Year’s, we stopped in again at Pink’s for a huge armload of crisp collards, then rushed home to cook them.

Collards are tough-stemmed vigorous greens with smooth leaves. They belong to the brassica family and are related to kale. Collards grow in a bunch from a central stalk. In the South, bunches are tied in groups of four to eight and sold in big bundles. Allow half a bunch of collards per person, or a little more, since by the time the greens are cleaned and the leaves stripped from their tough central stalks, quantities shrink. And anyway, leftovers are delicious.

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Ingredients

  • ½ pound smoked pork, ham, or Canadian bacon, in one piece
  • 8 cups water
  • 4 bunches collards
  • 1 or 2 hot chiles
  • Salt and Freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

Place the pork and water in a large nonreactive pot and bring to a vigorous boil. Lower the heat and let simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, while you prepare the greens.

Fill a large sink with cold water. Pull the stalks off each bunch of collards, then, one by one, strip the collard leaves off the tough stalks and discard the stalks. Place the leaves in the cold water and swish around well, then remove from the water. Tear each leaf into 4 to 5 pieces, or slice as follows: Make a stack of about 6 leaves, roll up tightly, and slice across the roll into 1-inch strips.

Transfer the sliced greens to the pot and stir and turn to wet and compress them. Raise the heat and bring back to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, at a medium boil for 15 minutes, or until tender. You can serve the greens, once they are tender, by draining them, or you can follow tradition and continue to simmer them, over medium-low heat, until almost all the liquid has evaporated and the collards are a very cooked dark green. (We have prepared and eaten collards both ways. Not having been raised with long-cooked greens, we prefer them cooked until just tender. However, the long-cooked tradition produces an intensely flavored dish that is ideal with plain rice.)

Season the cooked greens with salt and pepper. (The length of cooking time affects the intensity of the flavor from the meat and hence the amount of salt needed.) Slice the meat and serve beside or mixed into the collards. Pass the chiles in vinegar so guests can drizzle them on as they wish.