This year, LB, my parents and I celebrated New Year’s Day with my in-laws in Florida. (MM had to work, and BB was away with his dad’s family.) Before arriving my mother-in-law and I talked about having New Year’s Day dinner. Her family is from above the Mason-Dixon line, and her New Year’s Day menu is somewhat different from that I grew up with. She grew up with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. I grew up with black-eyed peas, collards and rice. We both always have pork on New Year’s. We divided the menu up, and she cooked her traditional favorites and the pork, and I cooked the greens and peas. Greens and peas are required for wealth and good luck in the New Year, so I was determined to have them!
My mother-in-law is an experienced cook, but didn’t grow up cooking Southern style, so she asked me about cooking greens and peas. For these foods, I don’t really cook with a recipe, but go by feel, the way my grandmother taught me! However, I showed her how to cook them, and took photos along the way. I figured there might be a few non-Southerners who might want to try their hand at greens and peas, so here’s what my grandmother taught me:
Greens (Turnip, Collards, Kale, etc.)
Sometimes you might be tempted to buy your greens in a bag. Around here, they sell bags of “Glory Greens.” The time you save isn’t worth the quality of the product. Those bags include lots of stems. Stems are tough and don’t taste good (at least that’s what my grandma taught me!) We generally cook collards at my house, but sometimes we could kale. For New Year’s Day, I cook a bunch of collards. I bought a lot, but they are like spinach– they cook down to nothing.
When I was younger, I used to carefully trim and cut the collards with scissors, but I’ve learned that ripping them is faster and the end product is just as good. I rip them into good sized pieces and work around the stem. Throw the stems away. Collards are a lot of celery– there are itty bitty little leaves in the center of the bunch. When they start getting pale green, and are smaller than my hand, I don’t include them.
After I’ve torn off all of the leafy parts, without the stem, into chunks, I soak it for a bit in cold water. This wilts everything just a bit so that it fits better in the pot, and also helps rinse the dirt off the leaves.
Then I cut up my fat back or hog jowls. My grandmother always cooked with hog jowls on New Year’s, but sometimes I just use salt pork. My mother-in-law asked if she could use bacon. I don’t see why not. When it’s not New Year’s, I usually just pick up a bag of salt pork for seasoning in the meat section of the grocery store. I cut it into smaller slivers. My father, grandfather, and aunt all like to eat the hog jowls– they are supposed to bring you extra luck in the New Year! (Personally, I think they are kind of gross, but add a wonderful flavor.)
I use only Chicken Broth and/or Chicken stock when cooking greens. (See “About Me.”) If I am trying to make the dish lower fat, and using less of the fat back, I’ve used Better Than Bullion Ham Flavoring. I fill the pot until the entire collection of greens is covered by chicken broth. I toss in the hog jowls/fat back and turn the stove onto low-medium. It looks like this when you start cooking it:
My father teases me about how long I cook collards, but it generally takes 2-3 hours for them to taste just right. I don’t think you can overcook them. Based on my grandmother’s recommendations, I toss a heaping teaspoon (or two I’m cooking a big pot of greens) of sugar into the pot and stir about 20 to 30 minutes before I take it off the stove. I recommend tasting the greens before adding the sugar to make sure they are flavorful and tender.
These are prepared much the same way as the greens, at least in my house. I’ve read that some people bring the fat back and broth to a rolling boil before putting in dried peas. I’ve never used dried peas. This New Year’s Day, my mother-in-law had frozen peas, and that tends to be what I serve unless they are fresh in the summertime. If you are buying dried peas, you might want to use the rolling boil trick. Otherwise, the peas look a lot like this when you start cooking them:
I don’t generally cover the peas, unless the broth is almost gone. The broth does cook down to almost nothing. I get the peas cooking on high until they soften up for 15-20 minutes, and then I cook them for about another 30-45 minutes.
By the way, if you want to make Hoppin’ John, which is a Southern delicacy that includes mixing black-eyed peas and white rice. It is supposed to bring sure luck for your New Year’s. We didn’t serve rice this year, as we had potatoes, but it is delicious when mixed with your black-eyed peas.
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