Mrs. Wilkes’ Turnip Greens with a Fried Egg

Mrs. Wilkes' Turnip Greens With A Fried Egg

I was born in Savannah, Georgia in the mid-70s and lived there until I was about 7 (then my mom and I moved to Northern California).  While in Savannah my mom was a partner in a small general contracting firm and one of their clients was Mrs.Wilkes of Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse.  This is one of the most, if not the most, popular restaurants in Savannah to this day, although the lovely and sweet Mrs. Wilkes passed away years ago.  The line for this restaurant wraps around the block on a daily basis.

I, however, had the lucky privilege of always going in through the back way and I remember very fondly running around her huge kitchen during the off hours.  All that enormous restaurant equipment and over-sized freezers were like a food-inspired Disneyland for me.  And the dining room during open hours was just as exciting with huge boardinghouse-style tables that seat ten people and were piled high with big bowls of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, succotash, black-eyed peas, okra gumbo, collard greens, biscuits etc., and my absolute favorite – macaroni and cheese.  And, lest you think I’ve forgotten, there was always several never-ending pitchers of sweet Southern iced tea.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized what an impact Mrs. Wilkes had on me.  Although I don’t often cook traditional Southern food I do turn to the rich, buttery, flaky dishes like that of Mrs. Wilkes whenever I need comfort food.

When I was delivered a couple of gorgeous bunches of turnips  with the tops this morning as part of my Farm Fresh To You CSA I knew immediately what I wanted to do with the greens.  Turnips greens are a Southern staple, although more common in fall and winter than in the spring, so I pulled out my copy of Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse Cookbook for her turnip greens recipe.  I added a fried egg and made it an easy meal.

Mrs. Wilkes' Turnip Greens With A Fried Egg

Mrs. Wilkes' Turnip Greens With A Fried Egg

Here’s her recipe:

Mrs. Wilkes’ Turnip Greens

  • 1 bunch fresh turnip greens with roots
  • 1 medium piece salt pork
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons bacon drippings, butter or margarine
  • Pinch of sugar (optional)

Strip the stems from the greens (unless they’re very tender) and wash thoroughly.  Place in a saucepan and add the pork, water and salt.  Cook, covered, for 45 minutes over medium heat, or until tender.  Remove the pork and pour the greens into a colander to drain.  Place in a pan and chop scissor-like with two knives.  If necessary, add more salt to taste.  Keep hot and add the bacon drippings and a pinch of sugar.  Serves 4 to 6.

A little tip here.  My greens sat in their CSA box for a few hours and after that, and the time it took to get them to me, they were a little wilted.  To remedy that I simply soaked them in the kitchen sink in some very cold water for an hour or so to bring them back to vibrant life.

Mrs. Wilkes' Turnip Greens And A Fried Egg

Mrs. Wilkes' Turnip Greens With A Fried Egg

Mrs. Wilkes' Turnip Greens with a Fried Egg

I didn’t have any salt pork on hand.  So I cooked a few pieces of bacon until crispy, removed the bacon, drained all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings and added the water, the salt and the greens.  And, because I figured I would add the bacon back in the end, which I did, I used only 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt rather than the whole teaspoon.  This ended up being just the right amount of saltiness.

Also, to save on dirty dishes, after the greens were done and I’d removed them from the pan, I added in a tablespoon of the bacon drippings and fried the egg in the same pan.

And, just because…


6 thoughts on “Mrs. Wilkes’ Turnip Greens with a Fried Egg

  1. I was just blubbering to a co-worker about our amazing lunch at Mrs. Wilke’s last week. We were third in line at 10AM and right after we arrived a tour bus dropped off 50 people! It was worth the wait. I should’ve picked up that cookbook – I saw it all over Savannah. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what made that fried chicken so good. The texture is a little different to both my egg and buttermilk fried chicken recipes. Maybe it’s in the flour.

  2. Greens for breakfast has become a staple in my life. Chard, kale, spinach….great foundation for the day. I enjoyed reading your story about Mrs. Wilkes kitchen. It’s truly amazing how seemingly insignificant events impact us so greatly in our life choices. That’s why it’s so important to immerse children in gardening and cooking.

  3. Pingback: Mashed Turnips with Goat Cheese and Crispy Spring Garlic | whole food hungry

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