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Villa Victoria
Archived Food Notes

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Why I Put Collard Greens in My Burritos

I recently joined the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization dedicated to the culture of Southern food.  If I had the time to take off I would make my way to Oxford, Mississippi on August 22, 2008 and attend their Potlikker Film Festival.  The promotional poster is a photograph of a man pushing a supermarket shopping cart stuffed beyond belief with ready-to-clean collard greens.  Potlikker is the liquid that forms at the bottom of the pot of cooked collard greens -- or collard green squeezings.  Depending on how one seasons one's greens so one's greens taste.  The "likker" is the essence, the esters of the wide-leafed, snow shoe-shaped green.  This liquid can be tasted on it's own or included as a broth which co-mingles with the other things one has on one's plate -- preferably grilled steak and rice.

I was introduced to collard greens by my Mexican mother, Eva Maria Andrade Ramos de Smith.  Born in the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, she was 33 years old when she met and married my father across the country in Tampico, Tamaulipas.  My father, James Garfield Smith, was in Tampico as a direct result of the strident Jim Crow laws adopted by Oklahoma Territory at the turn of the century.  His entire family, parents and eight siblings, moved to Tampico Alto in 1920 in order to live freely and with autonomy.  There they lived, farmed, went to school, worked, acquired another language and culture.  They also maintained their own culture and cuisine and satisfied their longing for Oklahoma by growing their own collard greens, making cornbread, churning their own butter and baking their own biscuits.

It was in this environment that my mother learned to cook from my father and her sisters-in-law that most iconic of American dishes -- collard greens.  But she cooked them her way -- with garlic, onions and tomato, a triumvirate which is the basis of many a good meal.  Later, when I began to cook my own collard greens, I switched from corn oil to olive oil.  I use this recipe in my burritos at Villa Victoria because the collard greens are flavorful, irreproachable  and delicious!

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