John T. Edge, cultural raconteur, historian and potlikker drinker is on the road again. This time he is in town, if only for a short while to show a few of his home movies, Southern Foodways Alliance style. Edge holds a master’s degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi. He is also a director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. The SFA has completed more than 450 oral histories and 20 films, focusing on the likes of fried chicken cooks, row crop farmers, oystermen, and bartenders. John has been featured in Saveur Magazine, writes a monthly column for the New York Times and is an editor of Garden and Gun Magazine (which is sort of the Martha Stewart Living magazine of the NEW South, pumped up on buckets of barbecue fueled steroids) He writes about food, culture and bourbon fueled dreams. Each year, for the past eight years, JT makes his way up to NYC to participate in the Barbecue Block Party. The Barbecue Block party is a raucous affair. Fifteen Pit Masters from all over the South gather together to share their pecan wood fired dreams of perfect barbecue with several thousand, very hungry and grateful New Yorkers.
The Barbecue Circus comes to NYC! What is barbecue? Well for one thing, it’s all about that darned wood. The right tree makes the right charcoal. Ah, what kind of trees make good charcoal? I’ll tell you that Hickory makes darned fine barbecue charcoal, as does Pecan and of course good ole’ American Oak. That tree must be old. Standing dead is what I was taught. I heat partially by wood, so I know what that means. Standing dead means dry fire wood. Good wood for burning. Soft wood like pine makes your barbecue taste like the insides of an old pine box, if you were to lick it. I wouldn’t, nor should you, splinters y’all know come from wood. Good barbecue is all about the wood. You can’t make barbecue over gas heat. Low and slow is what the pit masters call it. I call this food love in a cast iron kettle. Call it what you will- you must cook it long, and cook it at low temperatures. Do not use a gasoline based starter either or your barbecue will taste like a can of gas.
The best barbecue is? Well that’s up to you. Some people like beef brisket, others like my friend Eddie O. in Vancouver, BC loves barbecued salmon. I demand the skin of the Wild Alaskan Salmon, grilled until crunchy and crispy, napped in a touch of vinegar and mustard. It’s the Pacific Northwest meets the old South.
I always have enjoyed barbecue in Columbia, South Carolina. Mustard and vinegar makes a fine barbecue sauce for grilled salmon or a rack of ribs, your choice, beef or pork.
Recipe: Mustard Vinegar Barbecue Sauce
1 cup of French’s Yellow Mustard
3 Tablespoons of Brown or Cane Sugar
1/4 cup Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon each of Black Pepper, Salt and Cayenne Pepper
Mix together and let sit a while at room temp. Use on pork or chicken.
Always when using this sauce cook off the direct flame. The sugar will burn up faster than a fox finding some plump chickens in the hen house.
John T. Edge wrote me a short note thanking me for sending him this photograph. He called me Sir. Not in a presumptuous way, but in the quiet way of a real gentleman. A Southern Gentleman.
Thank you John for infusing my writing with your wisps of hickory smoke.
John: I promise you a glass of 1950’s era Bourbon should our paths cross this way again… Up here in Yankee-land there still is fine Bourbon to share amongst friends. Especially those who share interests of Potlikker. Estelle Ellis taught me to make potlikker. She used real Country ham from Smithfield. This was the base of the concoction. Some use potlikker to stave off a cold or heal a sour stomach. Whatever your use is, potlikker is a great way to start your day with the taste of collard greens, earth and pig.
Cover, turn down to a simmer, and cook 3 – 4 hours. Taste and add sugar and pepper as desired. Adjust seasoning with a bit of cayenne pepper.
Serve greens with their juices or serve “pot likker” separately as an inexpensive meal with freshly made cornbread.
Our first cocktail of the night at the Potlikker Film Festival was a shot glass full of potlikker!
Pig ears used to cost 5 bucks a box. Now they cost 50 bucks. Why? The pet food industry buys them all up for dog treats. Damn, those country dawgs sure love pigs ears, as do I. Cooked long and slow in a Dutch Oven, pig’s ears are certainly not for the meek. Slivered into threads and quickly pan seared then fried- this is true Head to Tail cooking.
A few pig’s ears
1 onion, cut up and skinned
1 carrot, washed well
1 Bunch of Celery
Some garden herbs like thyme and oregano or whatever you’ve got.
Approximately 1 tablespoon salt and a scant tablespoon of hot pepper flakes
Freshly cracked pepper to taste
Fixin’ to enjoy some pig’s ears
1. Bring bunch of water to boil. Place the pig’s ears in the water and par-boil for a few minutes to remove any dirt. Throw out that water, it’s nasty looking and tasting.
2. Remove the pig’s ears from the water and add them to a medium cast iron Dutch Oven. Add enough water to cover. Add the onion, carrot, and aromatics, and bring the Dutch Oven to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 hours, occasionally checking to see that the ears are immersed in the water. The ears will be very soft–a fork should easily pierce through the skin. This is not pretty to look at, nor will they win you any awards right now. But be patient, one bite and you’ll never eat pork belly again!
3. Let the ears cool for a while. Save some of this stock and freeze it for another use. It’s full of Piggy goodness.
Heat a Cast Iron Griddle to smokin’ hot.
4. Sear that ear, turn and sear it again. It will smoke mightily, make sure the hood fan is on BEFORE you start cooking.
5. Serve immediately, like steak, for the diners to cut and eat on the plate. Serve with the Columbia, South Carolina Barbecue Sauce.
Hungry for ears? This is so easy to make. Serve with some Firefly Sweet Tea. (Vodka and Sweet Tea mixed together, after a few, you’ll swear you see Fireflies!)
My friend Annelle Williams submitted this piece to me several weeks before I even had plans to attend the Barbecue Block Party or write about hog.
Hit it Annelle!
Cabbage, Collard Greens, Burgers on the Grill
Driving across the Blue Ridge Mountains from Martinsville to Galax, Virginia, the hillsides are stripped with green fields as far as you can see–fields of cabbage and collards ready to cut. Collard greens haven’t become a big menu item up north, but they’re being shipped from here to Indiana, and all points south. Companies come in and buy the crop of an entire field before it’s even planted. Once the greens are mature, they determine a specific harvest date, and then within an hour of being cut they have to go on ice and are shipped out the same day to waiting markets.
Collards are the ‘money’ crop this year, or so says the owner and proprietor (Judy Smith) of the produce and antique market on Highway 58. She’s open from April to October, and has local, freshly cut cabbage waiting on the porch along with some tomatoes imported from further south. Today for the first time this season there are local ‘half runners’. Life is GOOD!
Judy is also the canner of the Mild Chow Chow, Hot Chow Chow, Apple Butter, Pickled Beets, and Tomato Juice on the shelf. Soon she said she would be bringing in fresh Peach Butter. I’ll be stopping on my next trip across the mountain to have a taste.
Last year pumpkins covered the hillsides, another money crop I’m told. It’s a guaranteed buy whether the fields make it to harvest or not, so a sure deal if the farmer chooses to go that route. Not as lucrative as being able to sell privately, but sometimes a dollar in the hand is worth two on the frost-bitten vine.
I love this time of year in the mountains. The sun is warm on my skin, and the mountain air smells fresh and clean. I’m a fan of many parts of the world, but none is more beautiful than here—lovely in many different ways, but never more beautiful.
I grew up in Galax in the 50’s and 60’s. Cold in the winter, slow starting spring, and it was usually July before we could swim without shivering. No air conditioning then or now. While the mid-summer days could get hot, the evening air was cool. A perfect combination.
It’s almost like going camping to spend the night in my old bedroom at home. The birds are early risers and begin tuning up around 4:00 AM. There’s a skunk that sneaks in every night and eats the cat food on the back porch—with the window open I can smell him coming. I watch him from the window. He waddles off when he’s full, and with him goes the smell. How does he stand himself? As the first daylight comes through the window, the cool night air is replaced by warm and it’s time to get up and start moving.
When I was a lot younger, our transition from spring to summer included a week long wagon train, winding through the countryside and landing in town just in time for the 4th of July parade. Needless to say, there was a feast each night at the end of the trail. My Dad owned the chuck wagon. We did some fancy cooking over an open fire and some innovative dutch oven cooking, but our most popular meal was fried potatoes and onions cooked in a huge iron skillet with doctored up hamburgers directly on the grill. My mind goes back to those days each time I throw burgers on the grill, and it’s a really nice memory place to visit.
So, jump right in and enjoy this summer. Take advantage of the local fresh vegetables—new ones coming to market every day–and keep that grill ready to create summer memories of your own!
1 ham hock, excess fat removed
2 quarts water
1 tsp. Sugar
Salt to taste
2-3 lbs. Fresh, local collard greens
1 T butter
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 hot chili pepper, seeded and chopped
Heat water to a boil and add ham hock. Lower heat and simmer for about an hour, or until ham is tender and broth tastes delicious. Remove ham and set aside.
Add sugar, and some extra salt to broth if needed.
Wash collards several times, removing all dirt and grit.
Remove any large, tough center stems.
Roll bunches of collard greens, and then slice into strips.
Add butter to saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, and cook stirring until onion becomes translucent. Add garlic and chili pepper and saute another minute. Then add this to the ham liquid, along with the collard greens.
Simmer about 20 minutes, stirring as the greens wilt down. Add extra hot water if needed to keep greens covered and moist.
Place lid on pan, slightly ajar, reduce heat, and continue cooking at a low simmer until greens are tender, probably another 30 minutes. Add ham back to pot before serving.
Serve collard greens in a bowl with a little added potlikker. Garnish with Hot Chow-Chow. Buttered cornbread is the natural accompaniment, dipped in the potlikker–it just doesn’t get any better!
Kicked up Bacon Burgers
2 lbs. (grass fed, no antibiotics, no hormones) 92% beef
1 tsp. Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. Thick cut bacon, from no hormone, no antibiotic pork, divided
1 egg, beaten
1 T thick barbecue sauce
1 tsp. Salt and 1 tsp. Freshly ground pepper
One-fourth cup chopped flat leaf parsley
One-half cup shredded parmesan cheese, or cheese of choice
Prepare your grill for medium heat. In a small iron skillet, add olive oil and place on grill. Reserve six slices of bacon, and chop the rest. Add chopped bacon to skillet and stir occasionally until browned. Add onions and cook for another 2-3 minutes until beginning to soften. Pour off excess bacon fat.
Place reserved bacon strips on grill, close lid and grill on each side for about 2 minutes, until done. Careful—the bacon can burn quickly! Remove bacon strips and reserve to garnish burgers before serving.
Place beef in large bowl. Spread beef evenly over bottom of bowl with a fork. Add cooked chopped onion and chopped bacon pieces, spreading evenly over beef. Add egg, barbecue sauce, salt, pepper, parsley and parmesan cheese. With a fork, toss the beef and other ingredients gently to combine. Divide into six equal patties. Don’t press too tightly or over compact. Place on sheet pan in frig until ready to grill.
Grill over medium heat (with lid closed) for about 4 minutes on each side for medium burgers, or until your desired doneness.
Add cheese slices on top if desired, and then top with bacon slices. Be sure to grill your buns for a minute before placing burger on buns.
Garnish as desired.
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Wild River Review/ Wild Table editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ. A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year of college as a research assistant in visual thinking. (CAVS @ MIT)
To learn more about Warren, click here: Wild River Review.