Lucky me…my parents moved to Charleston for the month of November. This meant showing them around campus, boating on the Ashley and Cooper River, and most importantly, taking them to all the Charleston restaurants and watering holes. My dad took particular interest to one staple Southern dish: the Collard Green. Below is his memoir and expert opinion on the leafy vegetable.
I don’t think I ever tried collard greens or even heard of them until I was about 40 years old. But once I tried them, about 12 years ago, I kept getting pulled back, to try them again and again, each chance I got. I got a lot of chances recently, on a month-long culinary tour of Charleston’s finest. I like the idea that collard greens probably start out as tough and leathery, and only become palatable through long, patient, and expert cooking. Somehow this makes them seem more healthful, and reminds me that I am on vacation, especially since I tend to find them more and more, the further I go south from my hometown in New York.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen probably had the heartiest and most flavorful collard greens I have tried so far, and this is not a surprise because it would be hard to find a place with more old-time southern flavor. Our waitress seemed filled or overflowing with southern flavor and soul. I am pretty sure the greens were loaded up with all manner of meat and bones, to provide a rich and smoky flavor. At The Glass Onion, the collard greens were noteworthy mostly because they came to the table steaming hot, in a big quantity for the price, and they kept their heat until finished. They were notably less rich than the ones at Martha Lou’s, but they were also cooked to precisely the right balance between leathery and mushy. All in all I probably had collard greens about five times over the course of my Charleston tour, and these are the ones that call me back to Charleston, a few weeks later. At the Charleston farmer’s market I was briefly tempted to purchase a bunch of the steering-wheel-sized leaves — but I assume it takes at least half a day to cook them right, and I lack the patience, let alone the expertise.
The blog hostess is pressing me to declare who had the best collard greens, of those I sampled. But as she should know, better than most, I have trouble declaring favorites, especially when so many were so good. Perhaps she will settle for my declaration that collard greens are the best accompaniment to a southern meal, and Charleston is the best town in which to enjoy that meal.