I love collard greens. Along with Stevie Wonder and James Brown, they were a staple in the home that I grew up in. My emotional and cultural connection to them is strong. I’m single, and as far as I’m concerned, any girl who knows how to cook them has an edge on the rest of ’em. If you’re that girl and you’re reading this, you can reach me through the comment section.
Recently, I’ve been getting busy with the pots and pans and flashing back to my early days as a latchkey kid in Soul City. Not that my background was Dickensian, but as the only child of a single parent, at an early age, I needed to find my way into kitchen territory beyond Cap’n Crunch, milk and bananas.
Lately, I’ve been listening to Sly Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, Herbie Hancock, Rufus & Chaka, Aretha, and some other funk and soul from my youth. I’ve been boning up on the ’70s sound. As a result, I have stirred a craving for collard greens. This is an unintended result of digging in the crates. I not only listen to them but I cook the classics too; fish, chicken, steaks, hot dogs, burgers, pasta, turkey sausage and bacon, eggs, French toast, waffles, hot cereal and such; home fries, potato salad, baked yams, cornbread and sandwiches. My vegetable game is real but basic; cabbage, spinach, corn and broccoli, but I never learned to cook collards.
Collards were the province of grown folks and cooks with skills way beyond my own. They were holiday fare lovingly and carefully washed, chopped, boiled and simmered by my mother and grandmother. Hours went into their preparation – it was a ritual, they were serious business. After they were cooked, the house would have that strong, sweet, pungent odor that only comes from collards, long after dessert had been served and the dishes had been washed. They were extra special Sunday dinner vegetables served with baked and roasted fowl, mac and cheese, candied yams and rice and gravy. Collards were featured on birthdays. Back when I still ate pork, they were a side dish that went with the New Year’s black eyed peas, chitlins, ham and company that came to eat them. They were synonymous with good times.
As many of you know, I lost my mother to Cancer 3 1/2 years ago and I took care of my grandmother for some time after that. My grandmother is well (my cooking didn’t kill her) and living with devoted relatives. She recently turned 97. All that funk and soul has made me miss my elders and remember the romance and magic that filled my upbringing. If food choices represent the passing on of tradition, culture and family values – as I believe they do – then the cooking of collards is a rite of passage. I am growing up, I reached out to a dear friend in LA who used to cook them for me when I lived out there and before that, when I visited for business. I asked that she send her recipe. I’m ready to try and cook my first batch.