Have you had your cruciferous veggies today?

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It is in my DNA to know how to cook cruciferous vegetables and I really did myself proud this past week. You know what I mean, don’t you? The vegetable I cooked was from the Brassicaceae family. Sounds like the Italian crime family that alphabetically comes before Corleone, but it’s not.

Most Southerners know all about cruciferous vegetables; they simply aren’t familiar with the Latin name. Me neither, except that I looked it up and found that the wonderful family of vegetables we all call “greens” are actually members of the Brassicaceae family.

Well, enough of all that mumbo-jumbo. I’m talking about mustard greens and I cooked me a good mess the other day. I didn’t know I was eating so healthy until I read about how mustard greens fight cancer and cholesterol and lots of other modern illnesses. But, I probably compromised a little of that healthiness with all that salty, smoked pork that I used to cook them in.

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I was visiting with a church family in Mitchell County when the invitation to get a mess of mustard, turnips, collards, rutabagas, and other cruciferous vegetables was given.

“They’re just about to go to seed,” my friend said, “but I think we can find enough.” I saw some yellow flowers on top of the mustard and knew what he was talking about, but there were enough shoots or suckers coming off the mature plant for some tender, green leaves.

“My favorite is mustard,” I said, but figured that while I was out in the garden, I might as well get a few turnips and fresh rutabagas. And some collards. And some cabbage, but no broccoli. Wouldn’t want to seem “hoggish,” and, besides, I don’t like broccoli. I came home with lots of stuff.

I was missing a prime ingredient, though. My Daddy’s greens are always good because he has plenty of bacon grease to cook them in. Donna Sue and I don’t fry bacon at home like that and I wondered just what I was going to season the greens with.

Maybe I will simply get a whole pound of bacon and fry it up and use all the grease and the meat for seasoning. Or what about ham hocks or pig tails? A package of smoked pork chop pieces caught my eye and I asked a nice lady in her mid to late sixties what she would use?

“Those will do just fine,” she advised and I felt proud that I had chosen the right foundation. “Just boil the meat in water for about thirty minutes before putting in the mustard. You might want to put a couple of tablespoons of sugar in there to cut the bitterness of the greens.”

I started boiling the water and meat and commenced to washing the greens. It’s very important to wash the greens thoroughly. One time I didn’t and, after going to all the trouble to make a pot of greens, the finished product had just a little bit of grit. It’s not good to taste dirt when eating greens. No matter how good the taste, dirt will ruin it every time!

How many times should one wash the greens? Until they don’t have any dirt in them. You figure that out. You probably won’t make that mistake but once. One more bit of advice. Make sure you’ve got a big enough pot.

I must have cooked the mustard for a couple of hours, until they were tender. Man, did they stink up the house. Be prepared for that, but, don’t worry, the stench only lasts for a year or two.

I also peeled the fresh rutabaga roots that I had gotten and cooked them. Most of the rutabagas that we get are those hard and waxed ones that have been harvested for a while. The ones that come straight from our local gardens seem to be much better, but, whether local or not, I’ve always liked rutabagas.

After all the cooking, I cut the mustard up and mashed the rutabagas and prepared for a meal of just cruciferous vegetables. I was missing only one thing. Cornbread.

I didn’t want the cake kind; that kind is a little too sweet for me. I really would have liked to have had a hoe cake of cornbread like Big Mama used to make on a griddle that had been hopelessly deformed through the years. Or some of those pan-fried and crunchy circulars that my Momma makes. I knew of a local restaurant that had something pretty close and drove over to get some. I just happened to add a piece of fried chicken to my order.

You’ve heard the saying “a meal fit for a king?” That’s what I felt like as I sat down to my lunch. What really made me happy, though, was that it all tasted so good and I had done it all by myself. When I say I had done myself proud, I meant that the taste of the mustard was just as good as anyone could have cooked. Dizzy Dean always said “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

I ain’t bragging. Well, maybe I am a little, but I did it. And it all started with a few leaves of that cruciferous vegetable by the name of Brassica juncea. Just wait until I tell you about the “pot likker.”