Open the windows; cooking collards

Published 3:44 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2019

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Open the doors, the windows, turn on the fans and vents over the stove. I’m cooking collards. That is as soon as I can go to the store and get some smoked ham hocks. I use the traditional seasoning-meat pattern of fresh meat for turnips and mustard, smoked meat for collards.

I’ve already cooked a couple of messes (how big is a mess?) of mustard and used fresh pigtails. This time, I told my friend with the garden, “I think I’ll get some collards today.” We went to the garden and picked a grocery sack full of collard leaves.

While there, he said, “I want you to try something when you get the collards cooked. It’s going to sound crazy, but just try it. You’ll be surprised.”

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He told me that at one meal, he was eating some roast and collards when his mother called and needed some help. He had put some ketchup on his roast and, while helping his mother, the ketchup oozed into his collards.

When he returned to the table he thought “that doesn’t look good.” But he ate the collards with ketchup in them and, to this day, when he eats collards, he puts ketchup on them. He also said that collards were good with mayonnaise on them.

I said, “No, thank you!” Having said that, I do remember Daddy including syrup with his collards. Still, I’ll just enjoy the greens without any additional flavors.

My friend also told me that his nephew gave him a guarantee of how to make the perfect bowl of greens. When cooking them, his nephew said to add a tablespoon of peanut butter. I had never heard such and I like “all things peanut butter,” but as with the ketchup and the mayonnaise, I’ll stay away from the peanut butter and collards.

Cooking collards is good for a house that has an odor about it because after cooking the collards you won’t be able to smell the odor that was in the house. All you will smell is the cooking of the collards. I won’t try to describe the smell, but it’s unique, meaning there is no doubt as to what has been cooked!

Eating greens was an acquired taste for me. As a child I was able to ignore them and the smell of them might have had something to do with that. Anything that smelled that awful cooking; well, how good could it actually taste?

Somewhere along the way, though, I began to eat them and I look forward to the fall of the year when they are most popular. Nowadays, any of the various produce stands around town will have a tailgate full of greens. What would be your favorite?

Many people have told me that they really like mustard and turnips mixed together. I concur, although if I had to eat one kind of green all alone, my choice would be mustard.

Finally, as we consider this southern tradition of a pot of greens, let’s not forget the importance of the accompanying cornbread. Don’t make mine sweet. Maybe some amount of sugar is part of most recipes, but that store-bought cornbread that is almost sweet as pound cake is not for me.

If a cake is part of my cornbread, make it a hoecake. By the way, a hoecake has nothing to do with a hoe that is a farming tool. The hoe for hoecake was the iron pan in which it was cooked.

The real deal for cornbread, in my humble and accurate opinion, is that very thin, simple mixture of cornmeal, water, and salt and fried in a pan with just a little oil.

A mess of greens and that lacy, fried cornbread is all one needs this side of heaven.