Pot liquor or potlikker

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Sunday night of this week, the highlight of the music business’ year was held in Los Angeles. The awards show is known as the Grammys. I did not watch it, but one of the segments paid homage to a favorite songwriter of mine, Dolly Parton. Ms. Parton was about the only person I knew on the whole show.

It’s the same with all those awards shows nowadays. I’m not complaining, but I simply don’t know any of the current stars of entertainment. That’s okay. When I was younger, I knew all of the singers and actors and such. My time has passed for those things and, as I said, I’m okay with that.

I may not have known any of the music people Sunday night, but I wonder if any of them might know anything about “potlikker?” I know that is an unusual segue, but do you know anything about “potlikker?”

I’ve mentioned lots of times over the years how I enjoy cooking and eating greens. It could be mustard, turnips, or collards. I like them all.

In my aluminum pot, I put some fresh pigtails, a little salt and sugar, and cover them with about two inches of water. Boil for a couple of hours while washing the greens. Don’t want any grit in the greens!

Once the meat is tender and has seasoned the water, insert the greens and boil them until they are tender and flavored by the pigtails and water.

When all is finished, the greens are removed from the pot, along with the meat. All that is left in the pot is the juice. It looks a little greasy and small flecks of the greens float around in the water. A good question is “What do I do with this leftover water?”

The answer is that it is no longer water, but has, mystically, been transformed into what is known as “potlikker.” Or is it pot liquor?

Believe it or not that was a debatable question in the New York Times of February, 1982. The Times had published an article mentioning a 1935 filibuster by Louisiana politician Huey Long.

A filibuster is a speech by a politician meant to delay or defeat some sort of legislation. The speech can be associated to the legislation or it might have nothing to do with it. Huey Long’s lecture was on the merits of “potlikker.” The hoity, toity New York Times didn’t know anything back then, either, and referred to Mr. Long’s dish as pot liquor.

A favorite Georgian of mine, the late Zell Miller, took offense at the dense Times and wrote them, criticizing the editor as not knowing how to spell. Miller wrote the following.

“Only a culinarily-illiterate damnyankee (one word) would call the liquid left in the pot after cooking greens “pot liquor” (two words) instead of “potlikker” (one word).”

From my childhood, I recall many a Wednesday night, after prayer meeting, when my Big Mama would invite Daddy, Momma, and us kids down to her house with these humble words. “Y’all come to the house and we’ll have some ‘potlikker.’”

Big Mama would get out her griddle and cook a hoecake of cornbread. Meanwhile the bowls would be set around the family eating table and, subsequently, filled with the liquid left after cooking some greens. Chances are there would be a glass of home-churned buttermilk to go along with the cornbread, which would be crumbled up in the bowl.

I’ve already forgotten who won the Grammy awards Sunday night, but I will never forget Big Mama’s meal of cornbread and “potlikker.” And it’s not pot liquor!