Here I am an old man in years, but not in mind. That’s another subject though. The reason for the story has to do with my cooking skills. I have been cooking for myself since I was a young teen. I had four brothers and we all got up at different times. Many of those teen years were spend eating toast and cereal, but I could do up most any food I wanted.
When I graduated from high school I had to find a job and over the period of the next several months I eventually moved away with my job. My dad, some grumpy old guy and I moved into a trailer behind a greasy spoon just a few miles from the job in Castle Hayne, NC. The old man was fat and claimed to be on a diet, so for breakfast he’d eat Special K and make buttermilk biscuits, sometimes with cheddar cheese. Hummm, diet, eh?
I hardly ate breakfast still, but the weekends were spent at home and we drove down from Aurora on Monday mornings to work and before going to the trailer in the afternoon we’d hit the Piggly Wiggly (Wobbly Hog to us) and get groceries for the week. I usually got a steak for at least one evening of the week. Most of the rest was surrounded by vegetables or one evening I might opt out for hot dogs from the greasy spoon up front.
I’d cook occasionally during my preceding decades, but not so much. I still could follow a recipe or just throw something together, kind of like Justin Wilson. I don’t think I ever saw him cook anything that didn’t require a five gallon stew pot. It usually consisted of the same ingredients, just put in in a different order while he drank some wine. He would also add some a dat, too while he tole twelve or seven jokes.
Okay, I dragged this rabbit long enough down this trail. Let me get to what I’m wanting to write about. My wife and I separated well on two and a half years ago. I had to start cooking for myself if I wanted to eat. My clothes washing habits are another thing, but cooking was a thing I already had a handle on. I even found a recipe in Southern Living for seafood chowder and I decided I was going to cook it. It had potatoes, clam juice, heavy cream, parsley, onions and what ever seafood you choose. That’s not all the ingredients, but you get the picture. It turned out pretty good and I cooked it several times since.
Anyway, come Thanksgiving I had a girlfriend by then and she is an excellent cook. She rented a bedroom/bathroom combo in a house a few miles away. There was a couple of which the guy was from Connecticut. His wife was local, but Hispanic. Another guy lived in another bedroom and his estranged wife and three daughters were actually trying to reconcile. She was from Pennsylvania or something like that. He was from Virginia. Then there was my girlfriend’s daughter and her boyfriend and her grandson.
One evening as we were picking at dinner each had made for themselves we concluded we would have Thanksgiving Dinner together since we had no one else to eat with. Everyone started telling us what they would cook. Then there was me. What was I to cook? Every thing one could come up with was already taken. Then it hit me. Where are the collards? I blurted out collards, but most of them looked at me with a blank stare. Then said they’d never tried collards. Heard about ’em, but never ate any. It was kind of like grits. These very same ones if asked did they want grits would have said, okay I’ll take one grit.
So, I was delegated the cooking of collards for the dinner. Problem was they can be difficult to cook and people ’round here will use many different methods to take out the bitter taste and such. I had NEVER cooked collards. Confidence in myself was holding itself high when I made the committment, but as time wore on that evening it waned. By the time I got home I wondered what I got myself into. But undaunted, when time came I visited the Collard Man in Rhodestown. He’s renowned in the area for the best collards anyone could get for their cooking pots.
I took my ten pound batch of collards home in the garbage bag used to hold them and went to the table out back with my trash can and cut the large stem out of each leaf. Then I washed them meticulously to make sure they were clean and bug free. Then to the stove. I boiled up a pot of water with about a half pound of bacon and a heaping table-spoon of sugar and salt to taste. When the water began to boil I started feeding this delectable leaf into the pot. You can’t put them all in at once. They have to lose the stiffness and boil down into the pot. Eventually you get them all in. Once they were done I took them out in increments and chopped them down so you could use a fork in them without long stringy leaves.
Then the dinner day was upon us and I proudly came in with my big ole bowl of collards. I knew they were good. I tried ’em beforehand. I wouldn’t dare put something inedible to people who never tried ’em. They were really good to me. I had accomplished my goal once again. The recipe? From my having watched my mom make ’em when I was growing up.
All the food was cooked or heated and set around buffet style and everyone started digging in and I was impressed that everyone got some collards on their plates. Once we blessed the food we dug in. Everything that was cooked was great. To my delight all but my girlfriend’s daughter said the collard experience was well worth it. The daughter wasn’t a collard person and still isn’t as I understand it, so I took no offence. Then the ultimate compliment happened. When everyone went back for seconds, they came back to the table with more collards. I smiled inside myself if not on my face. I’d cooked another new food added to my list of things I know how to cook.
I just finished another pot of collards for tomorrow. And yes, they’re good.