Friday, March 8, 2013

Always The Garden

When the world wearies, and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden. – Minnie Aumonier

In spite of the capriciousness of the West Central Florida weather the SOG City Oracle garden is pooping out a prodigious pile of produce this season. A few of our plantings are more prolific than others. Take the collards for instance - please. We only have three plants, but those three produce more than enough greens for just the two of us unless we want a collard dish three or four times a week. And, we don't.

Over the last several months we have whipped up a delightful Caldo Gallego Estilo Cubano (collard green soup), collards Southern style with ham hocks, and a Greek inspired horta vrasta.

Or, to paraphrase Bubba:

"Anyway, like I was sayin', collards is the fruit of the garden. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, collard-kabobs, collard creolecollard gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple collard, lemon collard, coconut collard, pepper collard, collard soup, collard stew, collard salad, collard and potatoes, collard burger, collard sandwich. That- that's about it."

Truth be told, we never did try to barbecue the greens, but the other suggestions from Forrest Gump's buddy are viable - though not necessarily desirable. And then...and then we stumbled upon a bacon and ale braised collard recipe.

Bacon and ale! How's that for gastronomic nirvana?

Here is what I did:

Remove ribs, clean and chiffonade a pound of collard green leaves
Slice six thick applewood smoked bacon strips into lardons 
Chop an onion into medium dice - quanto basta (just enough or to taste)
A 22 ounce bottle of a high quality nut brown ale - 12 ounces for the recipe, 10 ounces for the chef
A pinch or two of cayenne - again, quanto basta
1/4 cup brown sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To begin the cooking process, pour ten ounces of the nut brown ale in a clean glass and tipple accordingly.

In a pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until it begins rendering fat and then toss in the onions.

Stir and cook until bacon gets crispy and the onions caramelize. Continue stirring from time to time to keep from sticking and burning.

Crank up the heat and add the collards, a couple of handfuls at a time. As the collards begin to wilt, pour in the ale and stir until the greens and ale are thoroughly mixed.

Now add the cayenne, brown sugar, and salt and pepper. Stir to combine ingredients.

Turn down the heat to simmer, partially covered, and cook until the greens are tender.

I should mention that this recipe is an amalgamation of several similar recipes wandering about on the Internet. It should feed four people and takes about an hour from start to finish. It looks something like this:

That may look like a normal mess of greens, but the richness of the bacon and ale melding together along with the marriage of hot and sweet unleashes flavors I have never before experienced with this down home Southern staple.

To complete our feast we served the greens with a ground beef, ground lamb meatloaf mixed with a Burgundy wine, and Giada's Creamy Mac and Cheese. In the past I have tried tweaking her recipe, but found it far superior if I just followed Giada's directions.

One last thought: to keep our collards safe, we have a garden guardian. Garden interlopers, be afraid, be very afraid.

This is The Terror!


  1. Gastronomy with gusto, and El Gato too. God love you, Jon. Our civilization may yet survive.

    Best wishes to you and The Belle.

    1. Hi Bill. I passed along your good wishes to the Belle - she was thrilled. On the chance our civilization doesn't survive, before it crashes and burns it would be our great pleasure to share a table with you.

      El Gato, the terror, sends his best to you too.

    2. I feel exactly the same way: a culinary repast with good friends is one of the very best ways to spend an evening--especially with the proper potables at hand. I live for the day when I and my beloved can pass your way.

      Kindest regards to all--including El Gato,