when you’re the youth pastor at a predominantly african-american church, you come to appreciate the after-church lunches and potlucks more than you do in your traditional white churches.
white church potlucks are predictable affairs – lasagna, waldorf salad, baked beans, some kind of spaghetti cassarole, sandwich rollups bought at sam’s club, desserts bought at the local grocery store. it’s always good, but it’s rarely about the food and more about the company.
but when you hear that your local black baptist church is having a meal after morning service? oh, honey, you better be there! home-made fried chicken, hog maws, butter beans, cornbread, homemade macaroni and cheese, some kind of barbeque, home-cooked pies, cookies – oh, well, this is what i remember.
but my personal favorite dish at these meals was collard greens. the mouth waters at the thought.
my pastor, chris, thought he was The Man when it came to greens. and his greens were good, no doubt, but they just… well, they didn’t hit it. he’d make a bushel of greens each time, but i always hoped that one of the ladies would make theirs and bring it, too – there was something… missing from chris’ greens. he and i argued about this mystery ingredient, but having never made greens myself, i couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
about a year after being at New Creation, chris and i went to our semi-regular lunch at Millie’s over in madisonville. now look: if you want to have soul food done right, and you can’t make it to the church lunch? Millie’s is THE place.
so there we are, sitting in millie’s and i’m begging millie’s sister for a double helping of her greens (my FAVORITE greens of all time), when The Discussion about what’s lacking in chris’ greens comes up.
“my greens are better than this!”
“no, they ain’t – this is The Greens, man! you need to ask her how she does this so you can finally make a GOOD mess of greens some sunday morning!”
“psh, i soak those things 24 hours and add all these spices and cook them to a loving perfection…”
“dude, your greens are good but…”
“you need to stop talkin’ trash about my greens!”
“if you knew how to make ‘em right, i’d have less to talk about and more to eat!”
millie’s sister comes back out and i drag her into the argument. chris relents and they begin to share recipes. chris lists his ingredients and his methods for cleaning and soaking and preparing. she nods with approval every step of the way, until…
“how much lard do you put in them?”
“LARD? i don’t put ANY lard in my greens!” he replied.
“oh, honey, i see what the problem is now. i put two pounds of lard in for each bushel of greens.”
chris and i share a “look” – his look is one of astonishment. my look is one of epiphany.
chris never did make a great mess of greens even after hearing this. but i know now that the trick to good collard greens?
rendered hog fat. lots of it. and save some room for the collards!