Charlie's Blog

Many Southern Conversations Start With….


Many Southern conversations start with, “how do you cook your greens?” Then the rest of the time is spent trying to find out what people you both know.

I had been traumatized as a child by over-cooked, government surplus supplied spinach in my grammar school cafeteria. Luckily it was not served every day, but the dreaded feeling of it turning up on the Russian roulette buffet kept me on edge. Our principal would only excuse you after she inspected your tray. This was her effort to reduce wasted food after the head cook complained.  I was able to dodge the spinach bullet until one day when I saw her six foot-two frame approaching and had yet to taste my “seaweed”.  Just moments before her arrival to review my compartmentalized tray, Kevin Morton noticed my panic and coolly advised me to just mix it around with my fork to imply I had at least made an effort to try it. I added a sad look in my brown eyes to the charade. The illusion worked like a charm and I was off to the monkey bars, feeling as if I just cleared customs and forever grateful for my wise friend’s worldly advice. From that day on I was able to avoid greens until I moved from California to Little Rock, Arkansas.

In the South greens are taken very seriously. As serious as college football, deer hunting and camouflage. I had first heard about greens just after my arrival to Little Rock. A native Californian’s idea of greens is something closer to organic baby field greens tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette and only picked at sunrise by cloistered nuns. You can poke fun at West coast salads all you want, but never joke about a Southerner’s greens! Fail to finish all the greens on your plate and you will probably be run out of the state for such an insult. At the very least, never invited over to supper again. There are the popular mixed greens and then the purists that only cook one kind of green. Usually this would be either, turnip greens, collard greens or mustard greens. The one thing they all have in common is pork fat. Whatever you have whether it be a big hunk of salted pork or some sliced bacon. It’s all good.

I have made attempts to eat greens, but I still get hassled in parts of Pulaski, Faulkner and White counties for not eating enough. I can feel the weight of every eye in a room looking at my sideboard selections: fried chicken, mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, even green beans. These choices are heartily scooped onto my plate and then lastly with reluctant obligation, the greens. I usually place them on my plate with a weak, polite smile and then quickly and unconsciously eat them first. Just to get it over with.

I have recently discovered though I do prefer collard greens with a little pepper sauce. So there is hope for my transplanted southern sole.