Collards with corn meal dumplings is a very traditional dish here in eastern North Carolina. I learned to make it from my mother, who learned it from her mother. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers all made collards this way, served with corn meal dumplings and sometimes potatoes.
Cooked on the stovetop, this dish will take a few hours to make. The longest amount of time is spent cooking the seasoning meat that will flavor the broth, or what is traditionally called “pot liquor.” I typically like to use a ham hock or a cut called “streak of lean,” which is basically a large piece of salted pork fat with some lean meat attached to it. In this video, I use a split ham hock.
Traditional cooking can be imprecise
We don’t measure anything when it comes to making something like collards. You just have to know that you need far more collards than will actually fit in the pot, because as soon as they are in the boiling water, they will quickly wilt down to half or a third of the size from what you originally put in.
When we make dumplings, we usually just put as much cornmeal as we think we’ll use, sprinkle in a good amount of salt, and add water, or sometimes water and a little bit of reserved pot liquor, to form a workable dough. It should be light and fluffy, but hold together well when patted between your hands. Taste it. If it’s not salty enough, sprinkle in a little bit more. If it’s too salty, add more cornmeal and water until you’ve cut the flavor of the salt. (And next time, don’t add so much salt at first… you can always add more, but it’s not ideal when you have to try to reduce the saltiness.)
We learned cooking like this from our mothers and grandmothers. It’s often based not on precise measurements, but rather understanding the ingredients and customizing the recipe to make it work for you and what your family likes.
- The same process of using seasoning meat and adding dumplings is something that can be done with just about any vegetable that is stewed. String beans are another favorite to combine with ham hocks and corn meal dumplings.
- Potatoes can be added along with or instead of the dumplings and then served alongside the collards hot, or put aside and later use the potatoes to make potato salad. I normally use red potatoes and I don’t peel them, but others like white potatoes and they always peel them. It’s really down to your preference.
- If you want, you can reserve some of the dough from the dumplings to make some fried cornbread. Some people prefer that to dumplings and they might even enjoy dipping their cornbread into the reserved pot liquor.
Here is a vegetable chopper like the one in the video: https://amzn.to/2ZaVHrN
The collards we grow is Morris Improved Heading, which is an heirloom variety that was developed in Scotland County, NC back in the 1930s by Elisha Morris and his son, Fairly Morris. Read more about the variety here: http://info.ncagr.gov/blog/2019/12/31/scotland-county-farm-still-delivers-a-go-to-collard-variety-developed-in-n-c/
The ones I grow are from my mom’s jar of seeds, but I did a quick search online and found this seed company sells them. https://www.seedsnsuch.com/product/morris-heading-collard-seeds/