When I was 11 years old, my role in the kitchen changed. I was promoted from dish washer to sous-chef. It was a great day really…I still held the title of head dish washer though, lucky me… oh the pains of being an only child until I was 15. ( yeah, fifteen)
I remember daddy coming in the back with what we call “a mess a collards”, actually a ‘mess’ of anything just means you have enough or a little more than enough for a meal.
“John brought us a mess-a fish for supper.”
‘I have some cucumbers in the garden, how many y’all want?’ “Oh, just enough for a mess.”
We have our own language for sure…our brouge makes us who we are.
My family has two heritages, fishing and farming. My daddy was a farmer for years, mostly cabbage. His daddy farmed land and water, Granddaddy had clam beds near the North River Bridge and they are still there today, it makes me smile to see them, even though we have since sold them… you can’t buy water property anymore… so for those that have it… either hold on to it or sell it to those that you know will farm it. My mother’s side is from Harker’s Island… all fishermen. The only other profession on that side, for years, was the military. I am very proud of both. I am adding a link to show you just a bit of the heritage, we are a very prideful community and it shows in everything we do. I can not see living anywhere but Down East NC!! This video gives you an idea of who we are, how we work and yes, how we sound.
Yeah, I know everyone of them folks….lol
Where was I? Oh, collards…. those green bunches of yumminess are a huge part of our life here too… they go with everything from fish to beef! No holiday is complete without a mess-a collards…. now that mess that daddy brought in that day was just that, a mess.. just enough for supper and maybe a bit for the next day. The heads are huge, but they cook down very low. Almost to nothing..so for a family of 4 you need at least 3 heads.
I had never cleaned collards before, daddy always did it… so this was a learning experience for me. He showed me how to pull the leaves from the stalks and how to rip them… now you can cut them with a knife, and I have done that many times, I ripped the mess I cooked today, just cause I was thinking of daddy. I do not like the thick stalks… some people do and that is fine…but I am not a fan, so I discard them. If you have chickens…they will love you for those stalks… ask me how I know… #farmgirl
We wash our collards in the sink… a double sided sink is best, cause you can switch them back and forth and it gets all the sand to settle down and wash away.
“Daddy, how long I gotta wash these collards?”
“til they’re clean”
Now, I did add some cabbage to these collards, don’t confuse that with recipes for cabbage-collards… it’s not the same… I just had a half a head of cabbage that needed to be eaten, I can’t stand wasting food. They kinda just blend in and don’t really change the flavor at all .
You will need:
For the Collards
2 large heads of fresh collards
1/2 head of a small cabbage ( optional )
4 cups warm water
4 med potatoes peeled and diced
3 small bone in pork chops
6 tablespoons bacon fat ( divided) or veggie oil if you don’t save your bacon drippings
1 large yellow onion peeled, and cut in half moons
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tsp each salt and pepper
For the Cornmeal Dumplings ( optional )
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp granulated onion or onion powder
1 tsp light brown sugar ( packed )
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup pot likker ( which is the juice from your stewed collards) allow it to cool a bit.
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Start by cleaning and washing your collards and cabbage ( if using) I transfer them back and forth from each sink until I see no sand or grit in the sink. Then transfer them to a colander and let them drip in the sink while you go on to the next step.
Peel and dice your potatoes and let them sit in cold water to remove some of the extra starch. Set aside.
Slice your onion into half moons and add to a large dutch oven or pot. Cook over medium high heat in half of the bacon fat ( or veg oil) and cook down just a bit, about 5 minutes .Add the salt and pepper at this point.
Add the collards and cabbage ( if using) and the sugar and water.
Cook on med heat for 10 minutes, then fold in your drained potatoes, and let them cook, stirring often.
Lightly salt and pepper your chops and then lightly brown them in the other half of the fat or oil. Then add them to the top of the collards , grease and all… get all those brown bits, cause you need that flavor. I can’t apologize for all the fat in these greens…its just how it has to be round here …haha.
Continue to cook on med to med low heat for about an hour and a half . Stirring often. Keep an eye on your water level. If it gets too low you can add more, about half a cup at a time. You will want the collards very tender. Remove the pork chop bones after the first hour.
( Optional )
When you begin the dumplings the collards are nearly done. You will want to start the batter for the dumplings after about an hour of cooking the collards. A few minutes either way will not make a huge difference.
Mix the cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper and brown sugar in a bowl. Slowly stir in enough potlikker to make a smooth batter that is stiff enough to hold its shape on the spoon, you may not use the whole cup. Add the egg and mix well.
Using hands dampened in cold water, form the batter into dumplings into bite sized pieces, you can make them bigger if you want.
Arrange the dumplings on the surface, spacing them evenly on top.
Cover the pot and cook until the dumplings are firm and cooked through, about 11 minutes.
Sprinkle with extra pepper if you want, I happen to love them with a lot of coarse ground pepper.
When the dumplings are done, and only after the 11 minutes, I give the whole pot a little toss with the spoon and then turn off the heat. I put the lid on and let it sit for 30 minutes or until ready to serve.
Serve with homemade hot pepper vinegar and remember…. they will be even better on day 2!