12 January 2011

High On The Hog

To say that Jessica B. Harris writes “cookbooks” would be a grievous understatement. She does write cookbooks but she a masterful practitioner of culinary history. There is that derogatory adage which states those who can do and those who can’t teach. Jessica B. Harris can both cook and teach.

Here new book was receiving accolades even before it was officially published. High on the Hog is a narrative of African American foods history told from one table to another.

It is easy to forget that the African Diaspora brought with it many of the foodways that most people think of as truly American. When looking at one of America’s earliest and most influential cookbooks, 1824’s Mary Randolph’s The Virginia House-wife, featured ingredients that simply hadn’t existed in America a hundred years earlier such as field peas and okra. It would be three years later when the first African-American published a book with recipes, Robert Roberts’ The House Servant’s Directory.

It would be inconceivable to think that there is a person interested in American cuisine and Southern cuisine especially, that wouldn’t benefit from a careful reading of Jessica B. Harris’ High On The Hog.

Though there are only a few recipes in her book, this one from her Grandma Harris is sure to be a winner.

Grandma Harris’s Greens

4 pounds of mixed collard, mustard, and turnip greens
8 strips of bacon
6 cups water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For serving:
Hot sauce
Chopped onions
Balsamic vinegar

Wash the greens well, picking them over to remove any brown spots or blemishes, then drain them well, cut out the thick central stems, and tear the greens into bite-size pieces. Place the bacon strips in a large, heavy saucepan and cook them over medium heat until they are translucent and the bottom of the pan is covered with the rendered bacon fat. Add the greens to the water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, covered, until the greens are tender – about 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the greens hot, accompanied by hot sauce, chopped onions, and vinegar.

Harris notes that some cooks added a pinch of sugar but not her Grandma. Bless her heart, my Great-Aunt Mamie, who was in charge of cooking the greens in our house would never add sugar, either.

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