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The Potlikker and Cornpone Debate of 1931 brought the question of how to properly eat one’s greens into Louisiana politics. Huey Long, from the backwoods of Northern Louisiana, dunked his cornbread like a doughnut into coffee. Julian Harris, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, preferred to crumble cornbread into his brew. The great election debate continued for 23 days in homes, on streets and in political gatherings as the readers discussed their candidates and culinary preferences.

Greens are a staple of the South that dates back to slavery, when collards were stewed in a savory liquid dubbed potlikker. While greens are still cooked this way, fresh-picked winter greens are so tender they can be briefly wilted in olive oil for just a few minutes before they’re table-ready with their nutritional storehouse fully intact.

Greens are simply any plant that produces a tasty leaf that can be eaten stewed or wilted. Most of these plants are members of the kohl or cabbage family, which includes collards and kale, as well as leaves of broccoli and cauliflower plants. Other greens are the tops of root crops such as turnips, with beet leaves so popular there are varieties developed simply for their foliage rather than the beet root itself. Perhaps the most commonly grown is Swiss chard, a fast and easy beginner crop to start and maintain. All of these can be fresh-picked and prepared quickly or stewed over hours in potlikker.

Greens in general do not fare well over the summer in hot climates, but they thrive in the fall and spring. Where winters are mild enough, when grown in greenhouses or under protective row covers, many greens will continue producing through the winter, too. This ready source of fresh, organic pot greens for winter meals is one of the best reasons to tend a second season garden.

Summer’s end is the ideal time to sow your greens from seed in ground or in pots on the porch or patio. Try sowing beneath declining tomatoes and peppers that help shade the seedlings until temperatures are cooler. Later on, remove the older summer plants to let the greens mature in mild autumn full sun for easy picking as soon as leaves are large enough.

Because greens are leaves, they need nitrogen, and it’s common to grow these plants in the wake of peas and beans, both nitrogen-fixing legumes. Otherwise apply organic fish emulsion fertilizer to your greens to compensate for nutrients lost from the soil over summer. If you’re growing them for a first time garden, utilize plenty of compost and manures to make sure nitrogen is available for the coming months.

To wilt your fresh picked greens, remove fibrous stems to separate out the softer tasty parts of the leaf. Chop these and drop into olive oil and cover to steam for a minute or two, then turn the “mess” and steam briefly before serving with sea salt. For a more complete meal, sautee small bits of ham or cooked chicken and sliced mushrooms before adding greens.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at mogilmer@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.

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