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Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:04 am

Soul food staples

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Collard greens braised with bacon and ham and onions and garlic produces a tasty potlikker or broth.

Southern-style music and soul food are inseparable – Springfield’s own Blues & BBQs festival attests to that. The legendary Thelonious Monk, who hailed from North Carolina, wore a collard leaf in his lapel when playing in New York’s smoky jazz clubs.

Sunday afternoon, March 24, Springfieldians will have another chance to enjoy the melding of Southern food and music when Speakeasy House Concerts* presents the Roots Duo, a guitar and harmonica combo that one reviewer said, “transport[s] listeners back to the 1920s Delta.” Tom Irwin writes about the musicians in these pages; I’ll stick to the food – a buffet of soul food classics:

•    Grilled chicken
•    House smoked BBQ beef
•    House smoked pulled pork
•    Mac and cheese
•    Collard greens and cornbread
•    Three pepper coleslaw
•    Sweet potato pie
•    Apple pie
•    Rum raisin pie

Collards are less well known to Northerners than other greens. But making their acquaintance is rewarding. One of the best parts – maybe the best part – of braised collards or other sturdy greens is their potlikker, that unctuous and utterly delicious broth rendered by the slow melding of the greens, smoked meat, onions and seasonings. Potlikker can inspire great passion: 1931 newspapers and movie newsreels breathlessly described an ongoing battle between longtime Louisiana governor Huey Long and Julian Harris, son of the Uncle Remus stories’ author. Cornbread, greens’ inseparable accompaniment, was at the heart of their argument: Long insisted the only way to consume potlikker was to dunk cornbread in it; Chandler crumbled his.

The Roots Duo Downstate Release Party hosted by Speakeasy House Concerts* at RealCuisine Catering, 15th and Ash streets, begins Sunday, March 24, with the Soul Food Buffett at 4 p.m.; the music starts at 5 p.m. Suggested donations: $25 for the Soul Food Buffet, $25 for the Roots Duo Concert. For more information or to make reservations, email www.glatzclinic.com, or docglatz@gmail.com or call Peter Glatz’s dental office at 525-8444.

*A house concert is a performance in which suggested “donations” are collected and all proceeds are given to the performers. If donations do not cover the performers’ minimum, the host covers the balance.

My husband, Peter, is the braised greens cook at our house, following instructions he was given years ago while sitting on the ramshackle porch outside actor Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss. After a late lunch, I explored the town that’s considered the birthplace of the blues, while Peter talked to the cook who was stretched out in a rickety rocker, smoking and nursing a beer as he took a break before starting dinner prep:

“Cut out the big middle ribs on a mess of collards. Cut ’em into ribbons, and then warsh ’em.

Git yourself some bacon and cut it up into little pieces. Fry it up in a big pot but don’t let it get too crunchy. Then take those pieces of bacon out, but don’t throw ’em away!
Slice up a bunch of garlic and onions. Cook ’em in the bacon grease in the pot ’til they’re shiny and you can almost see through ’em. Put the bacon pieces back in the pot.

Put the greens in the pot – they should still be wet from the warsh water. Cover the pot and cook for 2 hours or maybe even more. The heat shouldn’t be real high—the pot should just be making little bubbles; for sure don’t let it boil hard.

When the collards is cooked down real good, taste and add as much salt, black pepper, cane syrup or brown sugar, cider vinegar, and hot sauce or hot pepper flakes – or leave out the hot peppers if you want to. Don’t put too much seasonings in right away. You can always add more, but once they’re in the pot, you can’t take ’em out! Cook everything down a little more, then taste ’em again to see if they need a little more of this or that.”

In case you need them, here are Peter’s more exact measurements:

Braised collards
•    3 lbs. collard greens
•    4 thick slices smoky bacon, cut into approximately 2-inch squares
•    1 smoked ham hock, optional
•    2 c. coarsely chopped onions, not super-sweet
•    3 cloves garlic, minced (approximately 1 T.)
•    2-3 T. dark brown sugar, or to taste
•    2-3 T. cider vinegar, or to taste
•    Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
•    Hot pepper flakes or hot sauce to taste, optional

Remove the thick ribs from the collards’ centers and tear or slice into largish bite-sized pieces. Wash well and drain excess water, but leave on any water clinging to the leaves.

In a large pot, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until it has begun to brown and render some of its fat, but not until it is crisp. Pour off all but a thin film of the fat and reserve for another use, such as making the cornbread below. Return the pot to the stove, add the onion and garlic and stir to coat the vegetables completely. Cover the pot and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have soften and become translucent.

Add the collards and reserved bacon to the pot along with enough water to come up about an inch below the greens. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and reduce the heat to low so that the mixture is at a bare simmer.

Cook for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally, then uncover the pot and season to taste with the brown sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper and hot sauce if using.
Return the pot to the stove and simmer another half hour or longer. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. The collards can be served immediately or cooled and reheated. As with most braised dishes, collards are even better the next day. Serve with cornbread hot from the oven. Serves 6 or more.

I’ve never had better cornbread than this recipe, my riff on a recipe from Betty Crocker. Southern cornbread is often quite sweet, more suitable for dessert than as an accompaniment to greens or other savory dishes. This recipe has just a touch of sweetness and incredible contrasting textures, with its steaming tender interior and crispy-crunchy crust. Any grind of cornmeal will work, but I prefer coarsely ground (Bob’s Red Mill coarse-grind cornmeal is widely available locally) for maximum crunch. Using bacon fat is key to making this simple recipe extraordinary.

Whether sweet like Southern cornbread or not so sweet, cornbread is a tasty accompaniment to many dishes.


Cornbread
•    1/4 c. bacon fat or lard, plus additional for greasing the baking vessel
•    1 1/2 c. buttermilk, at room temperature
•    1 egg
•    1/2 tsp. soda
•    1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
•    1 1/2 c. cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
•    1 tsp. sugar, or more to taste
•    1 T. baking powder, preferably Rumford or another brand without aluminum salts
•    1 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Grease well a 9-10 inch iron skillet, preferred, or other baking dish. Put the skillet in the oven to heat while making the cornbread batter.

Melt the fat in a microwave-proof mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk, then beat in the egg until it’s thoroughly combined.

Mix the remaining ingredients together and quickly stir by hand into the liquid mixture just until combined. Be sure to not overbeat.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean and the cornbread’s edges have pulled away from the edge of skillet and are browned and crispy. Serve hot.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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