Down Home

collard greens

   I had a craving for some collards all week! I found some at WalMart two days ago and on Saturday I made a big pot of them just for me!    I happened to enjoy an especially tasty bowl of down-home, honest-to-goodness collard greens when I was in, of all places Yankee, the Taste of Rochester food festival a couple of weeks ago. Uncle Mo’s booth had the most enticing aromas coming from the cooking pots and I approached with mouth watering, hopeful and yet pessimistic. There on the menu it said “collard greens’ and ” bar-b-que ribs” ! I skipped the ribs and ordered up a dish of that lovely olive-green goodness flecked with bits of smoky pork … OMG.. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

 Those boys can cook!!  It took me back 40 years to my Mama’s table. Sometimes on a Sunday she would cook a mess of fried chicken, some baked sweet potatoes, corn bread cooked the proper way,in a skillet with pork fat, and either collard greens or mustard greens. I love them both. We also ate tons of fresh-shelled black-eyed peas, also cooked with a piece of smoked pork.  Chicken gravy to go over the huge bowl of mashed potatoes completed the meal.  For dessert, banana pudding or one of my mama’s coconut cakes.

 Those were the good years. There were years earlier when the best my mother could come up with to feed six hungry kids was dried lima beans and rice and if we were lucky some salt pork fried up alongside. I used to gag on those damn lima beans. Tears would run down my face as I sat there trying my little-girl-best to swallow them down so my daddy didn’t take his belt off and tan my behind for ” wasting good food”! To this day I can remember the starchy nasty, taste of those beans combined with my fear of my father’s anger and self-loathing. He tried to provide for us all but sometimes at the end of the month the money just ran out. Then he’s get out his headlamp and his rifle and go out after dark to hunt the alligators. It was legal up until the 60’s to hunt them for their skins and my daddy was a pro at it! He’d come home around midnight with his truck filled with three, four, and five foot-long gators. He’d wait until morning to skin them out and salt down the hides. Then he’s take them somewhere (I never got to go with him when he sold the skins) and come home with a round roll of bills to help see us through the rest of the month.

  I was famous in the family for loving to play with the dead animals. I’d get up early and drag those gators around the yard by their tails pretending it was I who’d shot them and I’d strut and talk about it to no one at all, just me and my imaginary friends. I always sat and watched my daddy skin them out. I can still smell the briny odor of those alligators as he carefully peeled the hide down those long reptilian bodies in one unbroken piece before he carefully salted the raw side so to preserve them till he could get them to the buyer.

 After hunting the alligators became illegal he made even better money poaching them. We were, after all, Florida Crackers, and we did whatever was necessary to survive. We ate squirrels, doves, wild rabbit, deer, frog’s legs and fish. All free for the taking. It was a lot of work but we usually had enough to eat.

  My mother planted a huge garden of greens, okra, peas, and tomatoes. Sometime we went into the huge commercial vegetable fields after the migrant workers had gone through and picked them over. The owners would let us on the fields to pick whatever was leftover, the imperfects or overlooked, for a very small fee. We would work, all us children and my mother for hours in the hot Florida sun hoeing potatoes or picking tomatoes or whatever was in season. Then my sisters and me would have to spend the next couple of days in a steamy kitchen canning up the surplus veggies for the winter. I hated it! It was unbearably hot and my hands would shrivel from being submersed in hot water peeling tomatoes for hours at a time.

 I swore that when I grew up I would never can a vegetable or pick berries by the roadside, getting huge scratches on my arms and legs from the blackberry thorns, watching always for rattlesnakes hiding in the brush. And yet here I am, at 54 year-old and I can “put up” jams and jellies with the best of them. And I love doing it. Go figure.

 I still won’t eat dried lima beans, though for love or money!

19 comments on “Down Home

  1. omg lima beans are from the devil.
    i lurve collards and make them delicious.
    De. Lish. Us. i say.

    i delight at the idea & image of a little girl dragging about dead alligators in the yard. Go you!

    Why are we still awake at this hour, c.? Two crazy broads talking ’bout collards. mmh mmh…..
    Love you!


  2. Haha! It’s the call of the collards!
    i love this post. You shared some wonderful things about yourself. i didn’t know you were a southern belle. 🙂

    My mom, who is not in any way southern, learned southern cooking from my Dad’s aunt, and she can really put her foot in a pot of greens. i remember her making greens, black eyed peas and fried fish for New Year’s. Smothered cabbage and cornbread- only her bread was the sweet kind…

    i’m so hungry. 😦

    c.- Your mom was great for learning how to cook “proper”! 🙂

    HAHAHAHA ! “The call of the collards”!! You crack me up, you know that?

  3. Great story. It reminded me of my dad and his family. He used to pick cotton for a living at the age of 6 and ate a wide variety of wildlife too. The difference being my dad grew up in Kentucky and now lives in Florida. Shortly after moving there he was promoted from cracker to white bread. 😛

    Spidey- them’s fightin’ words! One does not get promoted from Cracker! That’s about as high as you can go…in Redneck civilisation, boy!
    Your daddy obviously lives near the coast ’cause inland (where the good folks live) is Cracker country and where I call “home”. He’s still be a Cracker there!!

  4. I never remember you cooking up greens before, ever. And what’s funny is that I loved lima beans as a kid. It’s not only how things are cooked that make the same foods taste different, huh? So much of taste is caught up in memories of taste.

    Same thing with the way things smell. I remember a recent post of yours that mentioned Russian Olive trees, and I can still smell them in my head, but whether I smell it for real or just imagine it I get the picture in my head of Doc’s pond, me searching for frogs while you and my sister caught fish, the smell of Russian Olive trees all around us mixed with the smell of pond water, dirt and fish guts.

    birdpress- when you were just a baby I would occasionally try to feed “my food” to your Italian/American father and he always hated it so I just stopped. When we went south to visit your grandparents you and your sister never liked the food either since you were used to “Yankee” food! 😀

    Oh, wow! That’s so true about the smells! Whenever I catch a whiff of that “pond smell” I am right back there!
    As for lima beans…well, I doubt you’ve ever eaten dried limas since I would not have made them. Fresh or frozen baby limas are a whole different critter! Yummy!

  5. Mmmm .. !!! I loves me some greens.
    With homemade spicy vinegar too.

    Red- all the bestest women loves them some greens!! Yeehaa! And hot sauce or as you said, spicy vinegar. My momma always had homemade pickled peppers on the table and that vinegar was sooo yummy on greens! Yummmmm…..

  6. What awesome stories. I mean, they may have been rough at the time, but I’m sure they have some fondness to you and they’re super intriguing, since life doesn’t work like that anymore.
    I’ve never had collards. I wouldn’t know them if they hit me in the face.
    But I was riveted through this post. You played with dead alligators?!

    talea- yes, I really did. I played with alligators. It was a hard life but I wouldn’t change a single thing. Those rough times made me so much stronger for it.
    You should try collards though. They are marvelous!

  7. I can’t eat black eyed peas for much the same reason. To me they always taste like dirt and being dirt poor.

    Evyl- so you DO get it! I can eat fresh black eyed peas but again, not the dried ones. They DO taste like dirt!

  8. I have never had a collard nor a grit.

    However, I actually lurves blackeyed peas

    Not as much as quail and venison grilled with bacon and a bit of lime …

    Hey, I’m a carnivore, what can I say 😉

    Gadfly- “a collard” and “a grit”. Too funny! I loved venison, too, until I heard about brain worms. (Look it up. It’s just gross!)

  9. This was a great post! I enjoyed reading every word. It’s funny that you like canning now but maybe the difference is between HAVING to do it and not having to. When you are doing it because you want to, not HAVE to, then it can be pleasurable? I don’t know. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

    Why thank you, Miss teeni! That’s mighty kind of y’all! hehehe *southern talkin’*
    That’s a good theory! You’re probably right. I think it may be a little bit about keeping in touch with my roots, too. What do you think?

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  11. OMG!!! Your post left me mouth-watering 😛
    I’m sooo hungry!
    Great blog by the way… absolutely lovely!

    Why thank you, Disturbed Stranger! Glad you stopped by! I just shared the last bit of those collards with my oldest daughter who suddenly developed a taste for them..after all these years! Yay! Another reason to cook up a mess o’ greens from time to time! 😀

  12. As a Florida Cracker myself I has to say

    Ozman! I THOUGHT so!! I know a Cracker when I read one! Was that why you had, at one time, posted pictures of , I think it was Jupiter Springs? I grew up 1 mile from Ponce DeLeon Springs!
    Wow, a fellow Cracker. See Josh’s comment below, too! There are oodles of us I suppose lurking….

  13. I tell you what, this story was awesome. It reminded me so much of my time growing up. I’m not a greens man myself, never have liked them, not even when I was a kid. But I actually do love lima beans, and most people hate those. And we eat squirrel and deer still from time to time, even though we don’t have to. Both of my parents were raised in Florida, and I myself was born down in Titusville. And every summer me and my brothers would all go down there and spend a few weeks living with our grandparents. We had so much fun. My mothers parents lived way out in this back woods neighborhood, down a long dirt road behind a gigantic orange grove and a summer camp for kids. My Grandpa had a big old garden with fresh vegetables and fruit, and he caught wild pigs on his land. He had a pen for the hogs and also raised rabbits and chicken. And he would take us out hunting rattle snakes for fun, and scorpions too.

    At my dads parents place, they lived on a lake in Winter Haven. So we would go out fishing with my grandad and go swimming by his dock. and every now and then a gator would just cruise by, and it didn’t seem like such a big deal. Now you hear people freaking out about gators, but we would go out on the dock at night with our flashlights and watch them swim through the reeds and hunt the deeper water.

    And growing up my mom would take us out to pick food. She is a hippie, so she hit this wild food phase for a while, and we’d go diggin up sassafras roots for tea, and field lillies for salads, and go pick rose bud blossoms, and persimmons, and strawberries, and just like you, we’d go find us some big ass blackberry patches when they were in season and get cut all to hell trying to pick the berries off those hellacious bastards. The only thing was by then we lived in North Carolina, in the suburbs, so the best place to pick them was up behind this old, empty shopping center where a Michael’s used to be. And there was a camp of homeless people back in those woods, and so all the good ripe berries in the front would be picked clean, and we’d have to get sticks and try to part the pricker canes and get farther back to get any good ones. And every now and then some drunk ass hobo would come sauntering up the trail and start fucking with us and we’d have to tell em to piss off or else we’d leave. My hippie aunt who moved to Pennsylvania is the one who’s really good at canning. I never learned, but I think it would be cool. Especially jams, I friggin love those!

    Josh- now see? there’s more to tell! You and I need to get these stories out there because the world we lived in growing up is rapidly disappearing and they’ll never have the chance to swim with gators or pick wild foods or or any of the things you and I got to do.
    Do you ever marvel at the way we survived some of the stupid stuff we did? Nowadays we coddle our kids so much we’d never ALLOW them these experiences.

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  15. I love telling stories like this. I mean, growing up wild was fun. Shit, just growing up was fun. And I mostly marvel that I survived the things I did later in life, as a teenager and twenty something. (which I still am, and still do) I can tell you one thing though, I for one won’t be coddling any damned children. My kids are gonna be just as wild as I was. I’m sure even if I was inclined to look out for their physical safety, they would just wind up exactly like me, and go do whatever stupid ass, dangerous shit they wanted to anyway. I think that country gene is going to be passed on no matter where I end up having kids. And they call big cities the urban jungle anyway, so I can’t really knock the way of life they might or might not have in the future. My life was totally different than my parents, and their life was totally different than their parents. The world is changing too fast for each generation to have the similar experiences that you used to see so commonly before the 20th century. but change is fun and exciting, and I honestly can’t wait to see what kind of amazing shit they come up with by the time I am raising a family of my own. I’ll miss the things I had growing up, if they disappear, but I will also gain new things to like, so either way I’ll have fun. (I hope)

  16. Pingback: How to Cook Collard Greens « Pen & Fork

  17. Pingback: How to Cook Collard Greens | Pen & Fork

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