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This is the third in a series of weekly farm reports from our own Tom Hirschfeld, complete with recipes, cooking and gardening tips, and wisdom dispensed.
Today: Tom on potlikker, growing greens, and Swiss Chard Panade.
- If you ever need to locate the Whiskey Tree, it is the tall one in the middle, sort of like trying to find a speakeasy during Prohibition.
Bona Fide Variety Hour
I am guessing my Whiskey Tree might be the finest single stool bar in the entire county but that might be because it is the one and only. Then again, this isn’t something I have spent much time looking into either.
Nevertheless, I have bellied-up on an upside down feed bucket at the Whiskey Tree and am pondering the great questions in life while sipping a nice rye in the quiet solitude of a soft breeze, arcadian enough that dust isn’t rolling in from the fields but tempestuous enough to be cooling. The leaves of the upstanding and upright ash tree rustle in quiet distraction, all the while nicely shading my brow from the early evening sun.
The ash tree didn’t choose to have a bar in the neighborhood, but it was nice enough to succumb to the idea and lets things alone, going about its shade tree business in a kind and stoic manner.
The entertainment is good too. The chicken burlesque and comedy hour is surprisingly entertaining and legal in all the lower forty-eight states as far as I know.
So it is just after the chickens make a ruckus that I take a sip of rye and wonder, then realize, some might say rationalize, if I have a potlikker problem, as opposed to a liquor or pot problem, although I am having a drink, under a tree, and, um, well, watching chickens.
Yep, there it is, I did it again. I caught myself thinking about potlikker and cornbread. It’s definitely a problem. A problem of the kind where if you don’t have something, you want it, crave it in fact.
Potlikker, being the unctuous swamp water-looking stuff left behind in the pot after the greens have cooked, is usually soaked up with big buttery pieces of cornbread. Simply put, it is to greens what the dark meaty oyster from the bottom of the chicken is to roast chicken, which is usually scarfed down by the cook. More often than not though this likker ritual is enjoyed by a group of folks standing at the stove, dipping, and doing a lot of mmmm, mmmming before being shooed away by the cook so as not to spoil the rest of their dinner. The liquid is full of vitamins and minerals, and most importantly, a tremendous amount of flavor.
This quandary isn’t so easy as it may seem. Just getting up and making a pot of collards and cornbread is not the answer. It is mid-summer. There are rules that need to be followed, just like no sweet potatoes before Labor Day, then there is that whole thing about wearing white clothes or knowing that collards are really best after the first frost. Not only that, but collards in summer are just sort of, blech. At least in my mind.
Generally speaking it seems potlikker is more often associated with collard greens than other greens but then that is like making a distinction between wines. All greens have qualities that make them distinctive and delicious and each has its own pairings.
My greens season, mind you I said “my”, goes something like this, baby mustard greens in spring, mature mustard greens to mid-summer, which overlaps with Swiss chard, which runs into early fall, and finally collards and all the kales in late fall through winter.
A little clear thinking and the problem is solved. Sip. Chard it is.
I couldn’t be more excited about chard since last year for some reason it wasn’t very good, awful in fact, but I think that was due to my taste buds being out of alignment more than anything. A few weeks after I ripped it out, I wished I hadn’t and I have been craving chard ever since. Last night we had a long gentle rain that perfectly plumped everything in the garden so the chard should be perfect.
Tom's Tips for Growing Swiss Chard
1. Swiss chard is a garden workhorse, which means it is long-standing and great to have around. It isn’t fleeting like peas or asparagus. You can eat a little, leave it, eat other things, and then come back to it.
2. Cut Swiss chard; don’t pull it. It will continually grow back, which means you can plant less, leaving room for other things -- although you want to plant enough that when you cut it it makes a full serving for your family, which for greens is usually more than you think.
3. Chard looks good in the garden, because it is fairly bug resistant and disease tolerant. Mind you, it is not chicken tolerant but instead chicken crack. They love the stuff. The stems also come in colors yellow, red, and white.
4. I prefer to cut it young and when the leaves are smaller and the stems tender but it is also delicious when it is mature and it needs a longer braise time in a pan to become tender.
Onion and Swiss Chard Panade
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 to 8 as a side.
Having made it many times before, I have been thinking about this recipe for most of the spring. The beauty is its versatility. It can be served as a one pot meal, the bread in the panade being loaded with the potlikker, or as a beautiful side dish, depending on how you make it. I have found it is important, as Judy Rodgers says, to use a 3-inch deep casserole if you want lots of potlikker but if you use a shallow casserole it can also be made more like a strata or savory bread pudding, in which case I would cube the bread.
16 ciabatta slices, each 1/2-inch thick
1/3 cup or more olive oil
4 cups onions, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
8 tightly packed cups swiss chard, rinsed three times and dried, stems cut into 1/8-inch pieces and leaves cut into thin ribbons
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, minced
2 cups or more vegetable broth
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Want more life on the farm? See Tom's post from last week: Cooking by Hand and Peach Pie.