The story behind the broth that supported plantation slaves
WSoutherners can be very picky about our food traditions; even if they don’t intend to write a letter to the editor, you won’t find someone from the South without strong opinions on something. Sugar in corn bread (no), the right ice cream to use in a Mint Julep (crushed) and the appropriate version of a given recipe (either Mom’s or Grandma’s). So if you ask a southerner about the potlikker, expect to be in your ears.
Like so many southern foods, the potlikker comes from the desire to use every bit of an ingredient. In this case, it’s also healthy and tasty, making it a Southern super food.
What is Potlikker?
In short, the potlikker is the liquid left after simmering a pot of greens and ham or salt pork shanks. Vegetables cook for at least an hour, which means the cooking liquid is infused with all the goodness of vegetables and pork. Traditionally, potlikker uses collard greens, but mustard greens, turnip greens, and even kale all have potlikker.
Instead of throwing away the tasty liquid, full of iron and vitamin C, along with other vitamins and minerals, people drank it in the form of broth. Or they dunked or collapsed corn bread in the liquid for a kind of soup.
You cannot consider the place the potlikker has in our kitchen without recognizing the place it occupies in our the story. The slaves who cooked in the kitchens of the South knew the value of broth. While the jar of greenery was being served to the family, they could take the discarded pieces and use them (much like with chitlines). Knowing that the broth had nutrients in it, they saved it and made it a meal.
The Great Potlikker Soup Debate; Pot Liqueur Vs. Potlikker
In the South, there is no debate over the spelling of the word. It’s not jarred alcohol, it’s potlikker, and we recorded it. In 1989 Georgia Lieutenant Governor Zell Miller wrote a letter to the New York Times after the newspaper ran an article referring to the pot liquor:
I always thought the New York Times knew it all, but obviously your editor knows as little about spelling as he does about Appalachian cuisine and soul food.
Only a damnyankee illiterate in cooking (a word) who cannot tell the difference between beans and green vegetables would call the liquid left in the pot after cooking the vegetables “pot liqueur” (two words) instead of “potlikker” (One word) like yours did. And don’t cite Webster as a defense because he didn’t know any better either. Sincerely, Zell Miller, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Georgia. “
The big debate is whether you soak your cornbread or crumble it in the broth. In fact, this debate was the subject of a public dusting in 1931 between Julian Harris, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, and elected Senator Huey Long of Louisiana. Harris wrote about how Long made the deal on the road bond sale by serving potlikker and cornpone supper, but he went on to denigrate the way Long had dipped his cornpone instead of crumbling it. as it was.
Long, never someone to back down from a fight, strongly supported the dunk method. And while it may have been an interesting diversion from the news of the day, people in the United States got involved in the debate. John T. Edge, chief of the Southern Foodways Alliance, wrote his graduate thesis on the Potlikker and Cornpone debate of 1931 in which “viewers of the film reel joined in the conversation, women’s groups joined together. come together to dunk and collapse, and the Constitution has received over six hundred letters to the editor “on the subject.
If you’ve never tried the potlikker, you should. You can drink the potlikker as is, try your favorite method of applying cornbread, or you can turn it into potlikker soup by adding other ingredients like sausage and black-eyed peas.