Huckleberry Finn Corn Dodgers and Collard Greens

by Cara Nicoletti on August 13, 2012

Even though it was published 128 years ago, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains one of the most contentious books in American literature to this day. It is challenged year after year and currently holds fourteenth place on the list of the most challenged books of all time. Many literary greats have weighed in on the book’s controversy over the last century-and-a-quarter. Ernest Hemingway famously stated that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn” while Louisa May Alcott asked Mr. Twain to please “stop writing for…our pure-minded lads and lasses…if he cannot think of something better to tell [them].”

What readers have taken issue with since Huck Finn’s publication is Twain’s “coarse language.” Interestingly, however, it wasn’t the racial epithets that originally turned readers away, but the rather fact that Twain used words like “scratch” instead of “itch” and “sweat’ instead of “perspiration” –it was these two words that caused the Concord Public Library to ban the book. The biggest controversy surrounding the novel, however, the one that still plagues it today, is Twain’s portrayal of Jim—an uneducated, superstitious and extremely gullible slave fleeing to freedom. Critics of Twain’s depiction see Jim as a stereotype and a caricature—comic relief in the tradition of the minstrel show. Literary critic Daniel Hoffman, however, argues that this portrayal was the only option Twain really had, saying “The minstrel stereotype . . . was the only possible starting-point for a [Southern-born] white author attempting to deal with Negro character a century ago.”

Whenever there is controversy of this nature in a novel I, unsurprisingly, turn to the eating scenes. There is no better way to get your bearings on where a character stands than to see where, what, and with whom that person is eating. Throughout the novel, Jim and Huck are constantly cooking and eating meals with one-another in a way that signals not only comradery, but also equality. To have a runaway slave and a young white boy communing together over a meal in pre-Civil War America (the novel takes place between 1835-1845) would have been virtually unimaginable in Twain’s time period. For all of the insights Twain gives us into Jim’s kind heart, and all of the noble deeds he has him enact, the scenes where he and Huck sit and eat and chat are, to me, the quietest and clearest declarations of what Twain hoped to communicate.

I hadn’t had a bite to eat since yesterday, so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage and greens—there ain’t nothing in the world so good when it’s cooked right—and whilst I eat my supper we talked and had a good time…. We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all (160).

Years ago, when I was much younger and much more foolish, I couldn’t stand collard greens. I thought they were tough and gritty and I hated their odd spicy taste and smell of them when they were cooking. Growing up in Massachusetts collards weren’t a huge thing, so I had never seen them properly cooked. The first few times I cooked them I just sautéed them in a pan with olive oil and garlic and lemon juice like I always did with kale. Huck is right when he says “there ain’t nothing in the world so good when it’s cooked right” but when collards are cooked wrong…there’s just about nothing worse.

I had given up on ever liking collards until one night my best friend, Rachel, came over to my house to cook dinner carrying a huge bushel of collards in her arms. I immediately felt a little panicked at the prospect of having to eat them, but Rachel is from North Carolina and she can cook southern food like nobody’s business, so I figured if anyone could change my mind about them it would probably be her. I watched as she diced up big chunks of bacon and cut the greens into thin ribbons, dousing the whole mixture in hot sauce and butter. When they were finally presented to me after an hour of cooking I couldn’t believe that what I was tasting was the same thing I had tried to cook. We ate the whole pot, even slurping up the murky green liquid left behind.

Years later, while cooking at a southern-food restaurant in Brooklyn, this collard juice would become part of my regular diet. The salty, buttery, spicy liquid was raised to almost mythical status, thought to cure anything that ailed the cooks—colds, flues, hangovers, heartbreak. While I’m sure this isn’t scientifically true, it certainly is immensely comforting.

Smoky, Spicy Collard Greens

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup hot sauce (I used Frank’s because it’s nice and acidic)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 cup salt
  • ½ cup black pepper
  • 1 smoked ham hock (bacon or any other smoked meat will work fine)
  • 1 bunch collards

Directions: Put all of your ingredients, minus the collard greens, into a large soup pot with about 6 quarts of water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. While the mixture is coming to a boil, thoroughly wash your collard greens. De-stem them by holding the stem firmly with one hand and pulling upward with the other hand. Discard the stems and stack the leaves on top of each other. Roll the bunch tightly into a cigar-shape and cut into long, even ribbons. Add the ribbons to boiling liquid and let the collards cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until they are soft and the meat is falling off your ham hock.

Corn Dodgers
Ingredients:

  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • tsp baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon pimenton (or smoked hot paprika)
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1 14 oz can of creamed corn (I made creamed corn from scratch for this recipe which isn’t totally necessary, but if you want the recipe let me know in the comments)
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels (2 cobs should give you this)
  • corn oil for frying

Directions: Finely dice onion and sautee ½ of it in 1 tablespoon of butter until soft and translucent (leave the other half raw). Add all of your dry ingredients together in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle. Add buttermilk, egg, honey, remaining 2 tablespoons of butter creamed corn, fresh corn, sautéed and raw onion and beat until well incorporated. Heat corn oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven until small bubbles start to form and the oil is making crackling noises. Using a small scoop or spoon, scoop the batter and carefully drop the balls into the oil. Fry until golden brown on all sides and drain on paper towels.  These are best eaten right away while still hot and crispy and gooey inside (as evidenced by the fact that the day-old ones were often used as a weapon).  Serve with hot sauce or sour cream or use them to soak up your collard juice.

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Leave a Comment

Erin's DC Kitchen August 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

These corn dodgers looks amazing, nom nom nom.

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 8:49 pm

Thank you, Erin! All of your recipes look amazing! I will definitely be back for inspiration–that peach pie is just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!

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highschoolfoodie August 13, 2012 at 11:24 am

These look great. I would agree that collard greens have grown on me with age. Thanks for sharing…yum!

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Thanks for stopping by, Russell! Just read your post on the French Laundry, how sophisticated are you! I’d be ashamed to tell you what I was eating in high school….
A few of the chefs I’ve worked under were previously at Per Se, so I’ve heard tons about the magic of Mr. Keller. Keep up the good work!

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highschoolfoodie August 21, 2012 at 11:42 am

Your welcome, of course! I am glad you stopped by my blog. The French Laundry was definitely amazing. And I can imagine what you ate in high school; I have a 17 year old brother…A nice date with a girl is chic fil a.

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Seymour Salett August 13, 2012 at 11:43 am

the corn dodgers look great- I’ve never tried them but the way you describe them makes my mouth “water” for them.I’v e got to make them (or find someone who will).Keep up the good work. I can’t wait until I meet you..
Seymour

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 8:29 pm

I can’t wait to meet you either, Seymour! Perhaps you can come to the butcher shop and show me a thing or two about steamship rounds and filet’d leg of lamb!

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susan corson August 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm

My mouth is watering!! Wish I was eating this right now!

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Was talking about your crab cakes today, wish I was eating THOSE right now!

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Jess Haight August 13, 2012 at 10:34 pm

This meal looks fantastic! How did you make me crave the whole meal? :)

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 8:28 pm

That’s all I’m trying to do, Jess! Thanks for stopping by, I hope you’ll be back!

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Elizabeth Aquino August 13, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Despite growing up in the South (Atlanta), going to college there (UNC-Chapel Hill), marrying a boy from there (Tennessee, now divorced), I have never really liked the south, EXCEPT for the food. I adore collards when they’re cooked “right,” and those corn dodgers look divine.

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I have to admit, I’ve never even been to the South! Southern food was all-the-rage here in brooklyn for a minute so I’ve certainly eaten (and made!) my share of biscuits and gravy and pecan pie. Everything that makes collards “right” seems, in so many ways, so very wrong, but to hell with it!

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Sara @ The Cozy Herbivore August 19, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Absolutely beautiful! I’m so going to make these corn dodgers, as we have a glut of corn coming in our CSA this month. And those collards! One thing I definitely miss from my carnivore days is collards cooked long and slow with a big ol’ ham hock. There is simply no vegan substitute!

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm

I wish the corn would never stop! I can’t get enough of it in the summertime. I just made sweet corn ice cream and corn pudding and I’m dreaming of a sweet corn panna cotta. Would love to know how you make the dodgers vegan–I’ll start playing around with some substitutions. Let me know!

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athirdandahalf August 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm

I have to ask…is that a typo in your recipe? A full cup of salt and one half cup of black pepper?! For ONE bunch of collards?

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Nope, not a typo! Granted, it was a very LARGE bunch of collards, but no one would ever mistake this for a health food blog! Feel free to tweak it however you want, salt and pepper is “to taste” 90% of the time, anyway.

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athirdandahalf August 20, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Please understand…I meant no disrespect. I am, admittedly, a damn Yankee by birth, and a Southerner by destination. (16 years here and I’m still not totally accepted in some places!)

It just seemed like a huge amount of pepper (I’d be sneezing for hours!) and a lot of salt if it had the ham hock in it, too. But like you said, if it’s a huge bunch… =)

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yummybooks August 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm

No disrespect taken! I am as big a yankee as they come so it’s entirely possible that all my southern readers are cringing. I do like my collards salty, I want the collard juice to resemble chicken broth in its saltiness. If you are daring enough to try the recipe let me know if you think it’s unbearable!

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sunidhi August 28, 2012 at 5:12 am

Thnks for posting this recipes. yummy dish for starter . i will try and keep posting.

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smschoenfeld December 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm

YES! Those corn dodgers look SO good.

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jessicabenjestorf December 7, 2012 at 11:14 pm

corn dodgers!!!

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jessicabenjestorf December 7, 2012 at 11:15 pm

where have those been all my life???

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Beans December 9, 2012 at 10:21 am

What a fun culinary and literary visit down South! This made my desire to visit the South even more compelling – what a fun journey for all your readers!

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Toni December 11, 2012 at 10:59 am

This looks like a great meal to try in 2013 – after all the traditional holiday food is eaten up I’ll be trying this for a taste of something a little different! I crave salty foods at all times so those collards have my name on them!

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Connie Smith March 13, 2015 at 2:19 pm

How educational! I’ve been pursuing some family history and marveling at how my Irish ancestors — arrived in the 1820′s — how they not only survived but THRIVED on this Illinois prairie. I mean Great-Grandma Hattie had 13 babies and only 6 of them survived. But Hattie’s mother and father — original settlers — lived on until their 90′s What HARDSHIPS they endured! And with how cold the last 2 winters have been, how did they ever always milk those cows everyday at 5:30 am?? No matter how far below zero the winds were or how snowy-blustery it was. Even my warm home feels chilly when I first get up in the morning. How did that farmhouse feel with only the wood cookstove in the kitchen keeping a bit of warmth going? So I’ve been reading Wilder’s “Little House” books for some authenticity on farm life in the 1800′s. Just ran across “corn dodgers” and had to look them up. And here I am! I am so surprised at the minutiae that got Huck Finn banned! Thank you for those insights! PLUS the yummy recipes for dodgers ‘n’ greens. Totally Yum!

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