I am not by birth a traditional southern belle. I was raised in California. My father’s family migrated to Los Angeles from Texas, and carried with them the cultural delights of the south's heritage.
My mother was Detroit born and of Eastern European background. She made an effort to appease my father’s cultural palate. She made black-eyed peas and did quite well with sweet potatoes but I don’t remember her cooking collard greens.
I remember my father’s mother and sisters cooking greens. It was usually, on the weekend or during the holidays, with lots of people mulling about the kitchen. I sat on the sidelines and watched the whole process. They’d cut them off the stems, soak them in salt, and seasoned the broth. They used a combination of different types of greens to create a unique savory blend. And the meat in the pot was never the same twice in the row. It seemed they boiled it all day, from sun up to sun down.
After I left Los Angeles, cooking for small armies was not part of my life. Every now and then I would get a craving to cook something “southern-style” and ended up with lots of leftovers.
My friends in New York City laughed at my “southern” streak. Eventually as God would have it, my mother and one of my sisters ended up in Georgia. They inspired me to follow.
I was blessed to have given birth to my son in Georgia. As any parent in America I worked hard to get my child to eat his vegetables. He does very well. He’ll eat a wide variety that most children snub their little noses at; green peas, fried okra, and butternut squash (just to name a few).
When he was 5 years old I decided to fix a traditional New Year’s Day meal with black-eyed peas, rice, sweet potatoes, corn bread and collard greens, but I didn’t think the kid would go for the greens. So, I decided to fix the smallest amount possible. Fixing small portions for this type of cuisine can be a challenge but I learned a few tricks through the years.
The meal was at the table. My son had a heaping plate of food and so did I. As you know children at this age are very observant.
He peered over my cool-aid glass and said, “What ‘cha got there?”
The only item on my plate that was not on his was the collard greens. I told him what they were.
He looked at them like he was a grown man looking at a set of pretty little legs. “Collard greens, huh? What do they taste like?” he asked.
I tried my best to explain. I knew what he wanted me to do, and so I did it. “Would you like to try them?” I asked.
He gave me a big smile and nodded his head. I found his enthusiasm too good to believe, so . . .I cut out a one inch by one inch rag of a collard and put it on his plate. I just knew he wouldn’t like it.
HA! His eyes grew wide with delight at the new taste on his little tongue. “Mmmmmm,” he said “Those are really good, Mama!”
I offered him more and he eagerly took them. After he finished with them he asked for some more. I was completely astounded. He and I ate collard greens the rest of the day, and the next . . . and the next.
It’s always been my custom to ask him what vegetable he would like with his dinner. I would offer a small list of options for him to choose from.
His response for the next several weeks was “Collard greens!”
“We don’t have any collard greens,” I'd tell him.
“Go get some,” he said.
“I can’t do that right now,” I said with a little impatience in my voice.
“Cause, baby, collard greens are a process.” I tried to be a little more patient this time. “They take awhile to cook. It’s not like I can open up a can of ‘em.”
He looked at me in disbelief. “You can’t?!”
“No,” I told him. “The ones in the cans are really nasty.”
He looked crushed. “But I want some collard greens, Mama.”
I couldn’t help thinking about all the time it would take to conjure up the delicacy that seized the heart of my child. Images of the process from start to finish crossed my mind. They aren’t hard to make, just a little time consuming.
“All right,” I told him, “I’ll work on it this weekend. Okay?”
His face brightened up with a smile, he gave me a big hug and said “Thanks Mama. I really love collard greens.”