Kale and Potatoes

This simple, hearty recipe is a perfect side for pork. The Irish call it calcannon, but you don’t have to.

For two servings, use one large starchy potato (russet) to a packed cup of raw, chopped kale. Cut potatoes into chunks, boil vigorously until very soft, and whip with milk and butter. These don’t have to be perfectly smooth; in fact, they’re better a little lumpy, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t).

Stew greens, drain, and toss with a melted butter. Mix potatoes and kale; season with salt and white pepper. Some people cook green onions with the kale, but they’re better as a garnish.

You can thin this basic recipe with milk or broth to make a soup, or you can spoon it into a casserole and bake with crumbled bacon and some type of dry cheese.

Collards at Tara

Fiction writers  concern themselves more  with the turmoil of the human condition (often theirs) than (like the rest of us) what’s on the table, but it’s inevitable that you’ll find food in many important novels; food is, after all, essential of existence itself.

Margaret Mitchell was born to an upper-class home in Atlanta at the turn of the last century, and her family roots sank deep into antebellum Georgia. Given the social dynamics of her upbringing, she was certainly well-informed when it came to that period’s Southern table, so we shouldn’t be at all surprised to find a notable description of an antebellum spread in Gone with the Wind.

When Ashley came home from the war for Christmas, the table was still graced with Aunt Pittypat’s Sèvres, but the only things to eat were sweet potatoes–a perennial staple of hardship from any quarter–and a skinny rooster Uncle Peter had put out of its misery, Scarlett remembered Tara’s groaning boards:

There were apples, yams, peanuts and milk on the table at Tara but never enough of even this primitive fare. A the sight of them, three times a day, her memory would rush back to the old days, the meals of the old days, the candle-lit table and the food perfuming the air. How careless they had been of food then, what prodigal waste! Rolls, corn muffins, biscuit and waffles, dripping butter, all at one meal. Ham at one end of the table and fried chicken at the other, collards swimming richly in pot liquor iridescent with grease, snap beans in mountains on brightly flowered porcelain, fried squash, stewed okra, carrots in cream sauce thick enough to cut. And three desserts, so everyone might have his choice, chocolate layer cake, vanilla blanc mange and pound cake topped with sweet whipped cream. The memory of those savory meals had the power to bring tears to her eyes as death and war had failed to do, the power to turn her ever-gnawing stomach from rumbling emptiness to nausea.

While most of these dishes seem apt for a wealthy, socially prominent Georgia plantation meal in the 1830’s, some people (admittedly me among them) might find the presence of collards in a porcelain tureen jarring because I’m such a stuck-up redneck, but stewed collards fit on the table in any damn thing that will hold them.

Delta Chinese Collards

This recipe comes from an article in The New York Times by Joan Nathan, “East Meets South at a Delta Table” (June, 2003) profiling the Sino-Southern cooking of the Chow family in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Wash and trim three bunches of collards and cut into more or less bite-size pieces. Heat wok or a very large skillet, brown a teaspoon of salt, and add about a quarter cup of canola or peanut oil. When oil is hot, add 6 sliced cloves of garlic and stir until lightly toasted.

Add greens and a dash of pepper, stir constantly until wilted and tender, then blend in 2 tablespoons oyster sauce and a scant teaspoon of sugar. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.