At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am a born and bred Georgia girl. I love the South and am very proud of my culture. Not only are “our people” polite but we know how to eat. I no longer partake of “pig pickings” or “fish fries” but my upbringing was also centered around all the fresh seasonal produce grown in either my Nanna’s garden or a neighbor’s. While summer produced lady peas and butter beans which I love, Fall produce “greens”. Folks, I am not referring to artisanal lettuces, micro greens or any of that trendy stuff. I am not even referring to kale. My grandmother grew some kind of very dark green cabbage, but I have yet to find that anywhere. It must be heirloom. To be honest, I never actually met any southerner growing up that grew kale. But collards, turnips, and mustard greens abounded. My favorite of the three are collards, but I love the others as well. I enjoy not only turnip greens but the root too. My Dad makes an amazing turnip soup for Thanksgiving and that recipe will be forthcoming. Greens are the most nutrient dense foods on the ANDI scale. The only problem with the “Southern Trinity” of greens is they are typically cooked for a long time until tender, thus leeching all the nutrients into the broth. And that my friends is potlikker. Before I had teeth, I was being fed a mush of potlikker and cornbread. When my dear Granny was in her final days, all she asked for was for my Nanna to make her some potlikker. Potlikker is the Southern equivalent of the “Jewish” chicken soup. It comforts and nourishes your physical health as well as your soul.
The real irony in the history of “potlikker” is that during slavery, the plantation owners would eat the greens, and allow the slaves to have only the juice left over. It happened to be the most nutritious part of the dish! In 1931 there was even a debate that gripped the country, The Potlikker and Cornpone Debate pitted Julian Harris, an editor at the Atlanta Constitution, against Huey Long, U.S. senator-elect from Louisiana. The traditionalist Harris argued that Southerners crumble cornpone into potlikker. The insurgent Long countered that he preferred to dunk. What began as lighthearted aside to the hard news of the day quickly became one of the primary news stories of February and March of 1931.”
The Potlikker and Cornpone Debate of 1931 began when Julian Harris, an editor of the Atlanta Constitution, verbally assailed Huey Long, governor of Louisiana and United States senator-elect, over the question of whether cornbread should be dunked or crumbled into potlikker. The debate quickly escalated, and, for approximately twenty-three days, between February 13 and March 8 of 1931, engaged most of the South and much of the nation. Extensive newspaper accounts and correspondence from the time illuminate the primary themes of gender, race, class and regional chauvinism that inform this debate.
Long story short: Julian Harris’s position on crumbling held true to the views of the long-standing southern establishment. Huey Long, from the backwoods of northern Louisiana–and very much the populist–dunked. He stuck to his dunking guns to prove his populist point. Of course, as John T. wrote, there was a lot more to this than just how to handle a piece of cornbread.
Potlikker is more than the sum of the juices at the bottom of a pot of greens. It may be one of the more plebeian of Southern culinary creations, but never let it be said that potlikker is without import. Enshrined early in the pantheon of Southern folk belief, potlikker was prescribed by doctors and conjurers alike for ailments as varied as the croup and colic, rabies and fatigue. Though claims of its curative qualities may be farfetched, potlikker is indeed packed with nutrients, for, during the cooking process, vitamins and minerals leech out of the greens, leaving the collards, turnips, or mustards comparatively bereft of nutrients while the vitamins A, B, and C as well as potassium suffuse the potlikker.
For the record, I crumble. Either way, it is some good eating. Please try it. Please use my basic greens recipe, Healthy Southern Greens. It is key however, to use real southern style cornbread. Please try my Vegan Southern Style Cornbread,If you use some kind of Northern sweet stuff, it will be weird, like putting cake into it. Eeww.