Collard greens and pork are typical parts of Southern cuisine and “soul food.” When people couldn’t afford meat, the greens served by themselves were dubbed “motherless.” With the rise of vegetarian restaurants, however, the absence of a meat dish no longer has a stigma of poverty or failure.
“Motherless greens” has been cited in print since at least 1936, when it was the subject of a short article in the journal American Speech. The sad term of “motherless greens” has been used only infrequently.
Steven T. Byington
Vol. 11, No. 3 (Oct., 1936), p. 272
Garden & Gun
NORTH CAROLINA - DEC 08/JAN 2009
Learn your terms: A “mess o’ greens” is the amount required to feed a whole family. Collards cooked without meat are “motherless greens.”
The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time
By Adrian Miller
Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press
Pg. ? (Chapter 9):
Sometimes, I Feel Like Motherless Greens
“Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child,” is the classic line from an old Negro spiritual. It beautifully captures the sense of alienation, loneliness, and contradiction that has permeated the African American experience. By the 1930s, sharecroppers, in an interesting turn of phrase, were using a similar expression to describe food. To them, “motherless greens” were greens (edible plant leaves) prepared without any pork, implying perhaps that without the meat, those poor greens lacked a solid anchor. There was a time when motherless greens were anathema to a soul food menu, but no longer.
No shame in my game though. ‘Motherless Greens’ for everyone
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4:07 PM - 26 Oct 2013
Casadia Weekly (Bellingham, WA)
The Kale Method
FILLING THE FREEZER FOR FALL
By Ari LeVaux · Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Kale that has been blanched and frozen this way can be made into a hearty wintertime salad, when greens are at a premium. Make kale chips for the kids. Or prepare it in more traditional ways, like stewed for hours with a ham hock. Alternatively, you can go “motherless,” as they say in the South, and cook your greens with no pork at all. It sounds crazy, but believe me, it can be done.