After writing my first contribution to the Bulldog, I thought about how Momma would react to it. She has dementia and lives in an assisted living facility in Tennessee, but was always sensitive to issues of spending equal time with her family. By the time I came along, when my parents were in their late 30s, most of Momma’s ten siblings had moved away from Wallen Creek in Lee County, VA where she was born and raised. Only a few family members remained in the area including my Grandmother Carroll, my Uncle Wiley and a few cousins. As one of my aunts explained to me, my Grandmother told her daughters that for them to have a better life, they must move away. My memories of the physical place are patchy at best. I remember narrow curvy mountain roads, small rough houses sitting on bare ground and terraced hillsides covered in tobacco and sorghum. From the stories I heard, most folks worked in the coal mines and practiced subsistence farming.
In the summers, we would make road trips to visit so Momma could gather with her siblings at a small roadside motel in the nearby town of Jonesville. I can still hear what my Daddy called the Carroll cackle (Carroll is Momma’s maiden name). Momma and her siblings piled up in one of the hotel rooms laughing and telling stories of growing up on Wallen Creek. So many of these stories centered around their memories of watching and helping their mother prepare meals for the family table.
She would harvest fresh wild greens known as garden sass or sallet. These greens likely included pokeweed, wood sorrel, sheep sorrel and bittercress. All of these were a nutritious addition to their diet. Grandmother Carroll knew and distinguished these plants at a premature stage of growth; because they should be collected early when they are tender. She knew that if you wait too long to gather them, they become tough and bitter as they get large in size. With these greens she would make something called Kilt (Killed) Salad. It is wilted greens salad with warm bacon drippings in the dressing. This salad can be easily reproduced with ingredients from the grocery store.
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces (lardons)
2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced (she often used meadow onions)
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
6 cups greens (I use romaine and spinach)
1 shallot, minced (optional)
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat, then add the bacon and cook until the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Put the pieces of bacon on a paper towel-lined plate. Keep the grease in the pan.
Turn the heat down to medium low. Add the scallions and shallot. Saute until soft and do the same.
Turn the heat to medium and add the vinegar. Stir to combine and scrape any brown bacon bits off the bottom of the pan. Pour the warm mixture over your greens and toss gently, just until slightly wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with the bacon crumbles over top and add a fried egg to the top, if you like.
NOTE: If you want to punch up the flavor, add a little dijon mustard or a splash of hot sauce to the dressing in the skillet.
Saving the rendered fat from cooking bacon is a food tradition I practice today. If you take nothing else away from my cooking advice, SAVE YOUR BACON DRIPPINGS! Good bacon is expensive and the rendered bacon fat is terrific for cooking all kinds of things, so why not make use of the free grease that the bacon gives?
After I cook bacon, I pour the drippings that remain in the pan through a fine mesh strainer into a jar I keep in the refrigerator. I strain it to remove any solids that might cause the saved fat to go rancid & I store it in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life. Bacon grease has a smoke point of 400F, so it is great for sautéing, pan-frying or roasting. If you combine it with canola or vegetable oil, you can raise that smoke point for recipes that require higher heat. The next time you are frying an egg or making biscuits, use some bacon grease instead of butter or other fat and don’t tell me they don’t taste better!
Ashley Montgomery is a native Southerner with a deep love for collard greens, hot buttered biscuits and sweet tea. She married a boy from Maine, works at UMF and calls Wilton her home. She loves cooking, feeding people, learning about other folk’s food traditions and will eventually stop being afraid of pressure cookers.