Many, many years ago I went to college at a school in Macon, Georgia. I did. My father owned a pretty elegant women’s clothing store in Fort Lauderdale, aeons ago, and, honey, when his little girl went off to school he made sure she was nothing less than the fashion plate she deserved to be! He went to New York on a special buying trip JUST FOR ME!! (It’s never been better!!) I had pea coats, car coats, over coats, rain coats, pants, skirts, dresses, tops, oh, and the shoes!!! Cashmere, camel-hair, Egyptian cotton, it was heaven! And I was a size 4. Yup. I was. Meanwhile, up in Yankee country, the man whom I would one day marry, was a TA in a class entitled “Introduction to Environmental Planning and Design” for undergraduates at Tufts. Really??? At that time Jimmy had a super long beard, really long hair, glasses…from what I’ve heard he was angry ALL the time!! And he protested. On the level of get thrown in jail and be on the 6 o’clock news. He was what we called “a hippie”. “A radical long-haired hippie”. With a big smile on my face, I would have, elegantly and with a lot of style, crossed the street to avoid him! Suffice it to say, he would have looked way down his perfect Greek nose at me and stayed on HIS side of the street. No love lost. It was 1975 and we were worlds apart. We just hadn’t met yet! Anyway, same time but hundreds of miles away, Jimmy had a field trip planned for his students to look at distressed neighborhoods in Dorchester, pronounced Dah-ches-tuh by Bostonians, and had four undergrads in his ’72 Volvo, (how sensible!). They were leaving Jamaica Plain, on the Jamaica Way, adjacent to the Arnold Arboretum, when some of the students looked out the window and questioned what a couple of women bending over on the side of the road were doing. Actually, they were in a field. When they bended over, you could see their hose rolled up under their knees. “What’s out there?” questioned the students. “What are they doing?” Jimmy stopped chattering about urban development, turned, looked, and thought “f..k me.” He thought, “Jesus, Ma!!” It was his mother and Mrs. Scarlatos. Mrs. Scarlatos’ son was Jimmy’s best friend since they were two years old! (I think that is SO nice!) They were on the side of the highway picking greens. That’s what Greek moms do. Good Greek moms! That’s why they live so long, if they’re not hit by a car first!! Collards are a superfood in my kingdom. I pretty much never buy bagged. I buy the prettiest bunches I can find. These greens pack a HUGE nutritional punch! On all leaves except the small, pale green inner leaves, I cut out the middle rib, the stem. I just can’t stand them floating around in my greens! But that’s just me. I’ll typically buy two large bunches and eventually, take some to my parents. Of course, my younger sister, Pamela, will be called and she’ll pack some up to take home and then, promptly suck down some here! For some time now I’ve been using smoked turkey pieces in my greens instead of ham hocks. The taste is still sublime but they’re much better for you. That’s not to say I haven’t deviated. I’ve used ham hocks, pancetta, prosciutto, just about any savory pork product I have in the house and they all work well. The smoked turkey tastes just like a pork product but you do need to factor in more time. A couple of hours to tenderize the turkey and create a nice broth in which the greens cook. In the South, collards are always served with cornbread. I know it’s easy to pick up that light, blue box that costs next to nothing, but homemade is almost as easy, just a thousand times tastier! Let’s talk a little about the vessel in which you’re going to make your cornbread. Cast iron skillets. A gift from God! There’s a little someone up in Massachusetts that just got one so here are my thoughts. Water never, EVER touches mine. I don’t care if I fry fish, water ain’t touching it. When cooled, I wipe the inside out well with paper towels and then pour a liberal amount of plain, old table salt into the pan. With a clean paper towel, I rub that salt all over, getting up all bits of fried food and any excess oil. I might do that two or three times until it’s wiped clean. It’s SO worth it! The satiny, beautiful sheen on that pan when you’re finished will make your heart sing! At least it does mine! If you want to season a new cast iron pan, pour a little vegetable oil in the pan, rub it around with a paper towel wiping off any excess. Put it in a medium hot oven, maybe 350°, and leave it there about 15 minutes. Take it out, let it cool, then put it away. After that, the more you use it, the more beautiful it becomes. Just no water, please! And I’ve got a shout out to my girls at “the Dixie”! Hey to April and Latoya who always have my culinary back! Y’all are the best!
Collards with Jalapeno Cornbread
- 7 cups water
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 large smoked turkey leg
- 2 bunches collards, ribs cut out, washed and cut into thin ribbons
- 2 tbls. white vinegar
- 1 heaping tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tbls. olive oil
- In a large pot or dutch oven, combine water, onion and turkey leg. Bring water to a boil, drop to simmer, cover and let cook for 2 hours. This will be the base of your pot liquor.
- During the last half hour of cooking time, cut the ribs out of the collard leaves, roll the leaves cutting them into thin ribbons, wash well in sink and drain of excess water.
- Take turkey leg out of pot and set aside. To pot add greens, vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and olive oil. Mix well. I use tongs to toss and combine. That way I’m not tearing up the greens. Cover and continue to simmer.
- When cool to the touch, shred turkey leg, adding meat to the pot and discarding any bones, skin or funky pieces. Toss well with greens, add water if dry, maybe 1/2 cup, cover and simmer another 45 minutes or so. Serve with cornbread.
Jalapeno Cheese Cornbread
Yield: one skillet
- 5 tbls. butter, divided into 3 tbls. and 2 tbls.
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 3/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, bagged is just fine.
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 2 eggs
- 3 tbls. jarred, chopped jalapenos
- 2-3 washed, chopped scallions
- Preheat oven to 425°.
- Place 3 of the 5 tbls. of butter in skillet and place in hot oven to melt.
- In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients including shredded cheese.
- In a small bowl mix buttermilk, eggs, jalapenos and scallions. Melt last two tbls. of butter and mix into buttermilk mixture.
- Pour buttermilk mixture into cornmeal mixture and combine well.
- Using glove or dishtowel, carefully take skillet out of oven, (DON’T BURN YOURSELF!), pour cornbread mixture into skillet and return to oven.
- Bake 25-30 minutes or until, you guessed it, golden on top!
- Again, be careful not to burn yourself taking it out of the oven. I let mine cool for a few minutes on a cutting board, before cutting. Dig in.