Collards: A Southrn New Year’s Tradition

Nothing compliments a dish like a big helping of greens. So it’s no wonder why collard greens were named the official state vegetable in 2011. Collards have been eaten for at least 2000 years, and have been a South Carolina fixture in our landscapes and kitchens for as long as anyone can remember.

It wasn’t until African slaves started to prepare collard in a unique way that the leafy vegetable became popular. The term potlikker (not to be confused with pot liquor or pot licker) is the residue that is left from the heating and evaporation of the greens. In short, it’s what’s left in the bottom of the pot. The stock of potlikker would usually be made up of chicken broth, onion, salt and pepper, and a ham hock. This method changed what otherwise was a simple green to a time-honored traditional South Carolina staple.

The tradition of eating collard greens and their accompanying foods can be found in many different versions, but all boil down to luck and blessings in the coming year.

First, black eyed peas are thought to be lucky because during the Civil War, after General She,rman’s troops ripped through Confederate food supplies, they supposedly took everything but, you guessed it: the peas and salted pork. These leftovers, however sustained the Confederate soldier through the winter, and they considered themselves lucky to have been left the two otherwise undesirable foodstuffs.

What’s more, the first day of January 1863 marked the Emancipation Proclamation, but all slaves really had to eat were the peas. Still, they celebrated their freedom and the tradition continued and the peas are still eaten on the first day January.

Now, let’s get down to the real star of the show. The fact that collards are a late crop causes them to be a large part of the New Year’s Day meal and take the place of other cultures’ fermented cabbage. But in addition to the luck that black eyed peas bring, collards, which represent green, as in money, is eaten on the first day of each year. The southern tradition: each bite of greens you eat is worth $1,000 in the upcoming year. But collards must not be eaten alone. Cornbread, which represents spending money, is another soul food for New Year’s Day. This is because the color of the bread, gold, represents money, making the two go hand in hand.

Incidentally, collard greens are rich in and of themselves. They are rich in vitamins K. C and E, calcium, B1, B6, Iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and more. So, even if you don’t get rich with paper money despite eating collards, you will continue to be healthy!

How to Prepare Collard Greens for New Year’s Day
(Recipe from Discover South Carolina)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup white onion, chopped
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
Smoked turkey (fully cooked leg, tail or neck)
32 oz. collard greens (thoroughly washed, stems removed and cut into strips)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, deep pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender. Add in chicken broth, garlic and smoked turkey. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Add collards to pot, pushing them down if necessary. Add salt and pepper to season if desired. When the greens begin to wilt down, cover and simmer for about an hour or until your desired tenderness/texture is reached, stirring occasionally.

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