Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
A Mess of Greens
Spinachby John Raven, Ph.B.
When you speak of greens in Texas, you always refer to "a mess of greens". There's no such thing as a serving, or a portion. It's always a "mess". Be it enough for one person or a whole pickup truck bed full, it's a mess.
Greens are most anything eatable that is in leaf form and not a grass. We have collard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, Swiss chard, pig weed, dandelion and poke salat greens.
Greens can be eaten raw in a green salad or cooked is several ways. The young, tender leaves and stems are best for eating raw, the more elderly leaves benefit from cooking.
SpinachTo celebrate Texas Spinach, there's a big statue of Popeye the Sailorman in Crystal City, Texas that honors our seagoing friend and his favorite green. As I remember, Popeye gained super hero strength from ingesting the leaves of spinach. He preferred canned spinach as the situations he found himself in demanded immediate action. There was not time to cook up a mess of greens. Popeye also liked Olive Oyl with his spinach. (Miss Oyl was his girlfriend and later, wife).
In recent times "baby spinach" is getting a lot of attention. It's the immature leaves of the spinach plant. They don't resemble the mature leaves in that they lack the crinkled effect of the older leaves. They are smooth and nearly round. Baby spinach shines best in a green salad.
Collard GreensCollard greens are a member of the non-heading cabbage family. That is, they don't form a head. Actually collards are a cross between cabbage and kale, the oldest cultivated member of the family.
KaleKale is the grand daddy of all greens. Records of it being on the menu date back some 2000 years. Kale is also non-heading. Kale is dark green with tinges of purple and deep blue along the lower part of the leaves. This color trait has been developed into ornamental kale, which can be lavender. You see a lot of it in pots used for decoration. Baby spinach is getting a lot of attention.
Chard (Swiss chard)Chard is a member of the beet family. It has dark green leaves and a sturdy stem. There is a variety with reddish stems that is known as Rhubarb chard. In either case, the stems are a bit chewy for salads but can be cooked like asparagus. Whether you cook the chard or use it in a salad, it's a good idea to remove most of the stems. You can cook them on the side.
Turnip greensTurnip greens come loose or attached to the turnip root they bear. The more mature leaves like the chard have rather tough stems. Best to discard them. If you choose to cook your turnip greens with the turnips, you want to detach the turnips and peel them. They should be cooked separately as their cooking time is longer. When they are tender you can add them to the greens.
Other greensThere is a large selection of greens not usually found on the modern menu. The pioneers ate nearly anything that didn't eat them first so they experimented with a lot of different greens.
Poke salat is the pokeweed. It's the one pioneer green that has held its own in lore and legend through the years. From Texas through the Southeastern United States there are cults of poke salat eaters. The pokeweed grows wild along streams. The young leaves are harvested and mostly eaten cooked. The raw leaves are bitter as all get-out. Lore says poke salat has to be boiled three times to remove the poison. I suspect it has more to do with getting out the bitter taste than detoxing it. Anyway, you boil the greens, throw out the water, add fresh water and boil them again and then repeat the process.
Poke salat is so popular that several companies put out a canned version. Serving directions on the can say to scramble up four eggs, add a can of well-drained poke salat and mix.
The dandelion, that obnoxious little weed that is forever popping up in our manicured lawns, is a big menu item with the Mother Earth folks. The dandelion is the most nutritious garden vegetable. It contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and D. All parts of the dandelion are eatable. The stems and leaves are a mite bitter, but double boiling should remedy that. The flowers are a colorful and tasty treat. The tuber root can be used like water chestnuts. So, don't put Round Up on your dandelions, harvest them and serve them to the family.
(See also the recipe for Dandelion Wine in Grandma's Cookbook.)
There are many other greens that are eatable, such as Pig Weed or Wild Amaranth, but we just don't think they are used enough to get space here. Onward, to the table.
All your popular greens are cooked in the same fashion. You can either boil them covered with water, as was preferred by the pioneers, or sauté them as the modern chefs prefer.
Plain boiled greens
Most of the folks who eat a lot of greens insist on having pepper sauce to go with them. This is usually in the form of a little bottle of chile petins or Tabasco peppers in vinegar. This stuff can be HOT! So watch it if it's offered to you.
Creamed greens (my favorite for turnips with greens)
There you have it. Eat your greens. They are good for you. They are low in calories, high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. And be sure and wear a sprig of your favorite green behind your ear for St. Patrick's Day. An old custom I just made up.
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