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The Origin of Collard Greens

May 02, 2012

Collard greens are cool cruciferous vegetables, wherever, whenever.

Think about it.

They are country cousins when tossed into the pot with fatback, smoked neck bones or any other down-home ingredient we choose. On other occasions, they easily transition into city socialites when paired with otherwise peculiar partners, such as omelets and sandwiches.

Let’s face it – collard greens are popular plants with a hip history that begins way, way back in time.

Food historians tell us collard greens are the dinosaurs of vegetables because their origin is rooted in prehistoric times. According to Linda Stradley of What’s Cooking America, ancient Greeks grew collard greens and kale. Romans, she said, produced several varieties, including one with large leaves and stalks possessing a mild flavor.

Vermelle “Bunny” Rodrigues, an oral historian and owner of The Gullah O’oman Museum and Gift Shop in Pawleys Island, SC, said some folks mistakenly believe African slaves brought collard greens to America.

“A lot of black folks and white folks think the slaves brought collards greens here, but we didn’t,” Rodrigues said. “Collard greens were already here.”

African slaves and Native Americans shared ideas on how to cook a variety of food, including collard greens, Rodrigues said.

“We had that mixture of culture,” she said.

Although a genuine staple in American South cuisine, collard greens show up in pots around the world.

Gomen Wat, for example, is a traditional, vegetarian Ethiopian dish made with collard greens, exotic herbs, olive oil and other ingredients. It is often featured on the menus of Ethiopian restaurants across America.

Collard greens, which are members of the cabbage family, are also no strangers to Portuguese cuisine, making an appearance in such delights like Portuguese green soup. Still arguably, Southern cooks get the highest accolades for their creative touch when cooking a mess of greens. Connoisseurs of collard greens, close kin of kale, make certain to utilize every aspect of collard greens, including the pot liquor (the nutrient-laced liquid made when boiling greens) as a soulful au jus for dunking their cornbread.

They are chock full of iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and other nutrients.

No wonder it is listed as one of “The World’s Healthiest Foods,’’ in the book of the same title by George Mateljan, a nutritionist, biologist and businessman.

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