Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Praise of Brassica

Today, I cooked up a big pot of collard greens with some smoked pork neck, a half-dozen tiny garlic cloves (the little ones in the center of the bud), and a touch of hot sauce. I had found the collards on sale, and purchased them, not even thinking of their significance to this season.

Collard greens (usually accompanied by black-eyed peas) are a common New Year's Eve/Day meal for persons of Southern extraction. I have a good friend from the Florida panhandle (for which FLA stands for F'in' Lower Alabama) who cooks up a pot of greens and beans every New Year's Day, and has people over to usher in the new year.

Of course, "Southern" cooking is indistinguishable from "Soul Food", the cuisine of the African-American community (slaves, and later domestic servants, of African descent did most of the cooking for white slaveowners). Perhaps the best book on African/American foodways is Hog and Hominy by Dr. Frederick Opie of Marist College. Soul Food, like all great cuisines, is rooted in frugality- inexpensive ingredients are transformed, through brilliant technique, onerous work, and, for lack of a better word, love, into gustatory masterpieces. The collard greens and black-eyed peas of the Southern sharecropper, the cannelli beans and escarole of the Italian contadino, the bok choi and soybeans of the Chinese peasant... all are the products of poverty faced with ingenuity and dignity, and all are fantastic.

Tonight, I am going to buy a bag of black-eyed peas to cook tomorrow with some salt pork I have left over from a New England clam chowder cooking experiment (wildly successful, I might say). Might as well go whole hog (literally) with my Southron feast.


Smut Clyde said...

all are the products of poverty faced with ingenuity and dignity

Not to mention PIZZA. Also.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

frankly, many of the riches of the Free Market that are so lauded by rich fucks are the result of poverty faced with ingenuity and dignity.

Rich people just buy solutions. poor people invent them.

Hey, have a good NYE, you Eastern Eleitest!! Don't get too much on you!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Not to mention PIZZA. Also.

Surprised you didn't mention black pudding, the ultimate example of the "use every part of the animal" school of home economics.

Oddly enough, I can't find any references to blood products being a component of soul food, although Spanish-speaking Caribbean cuisines feature morcilla.

Blood sausage has also disappeared from Italian-American cucina, although my Ligurian-American grandfather was very fond of blodi, a name which testifies to the Ostrogothic origin of northern Italians. Oddly enough, sanguinaccio, a chocolate-flavored blood pudding (in the American sense) is sometimes available in some neighborhoods in Brooklyn around Eastertime, but it's getting harder to find.

guitarist manqué said...

We had your Hoppin' John covered here in coastal Georgia: black-eyed peas cooked with onions and white bacon, pecan smoked pork butt in adobo, mixed greens in broth and rice. It is a living tradition here that I've seized on. Plus we can get fresh frozen black-eyed peas that are so much better than dried. Our house full of musicians and other degenerates had never had it before but I bet they'll have it again.