A Mess of Greens

greens1

This looks like prayer and sacrament to me.

There is something holy in the nature of greens, the way they look and taste… and in remembering them on granny’s stove top. We didn’t have them as often as many southerners do, but enough to know the taste and work of them. Greens are nature’s way of teaching us to be present.

Greens don’t cost a lot of money, but they require more labor than most folks give to prepare a simple vegetable, at least these days. The washing of greens is ritualistic.  In every bump and curve of the leaf, there are tiny grains of sandy dirt.  You wash, then rewash, then do it once more.  Each leaf carefully inspected by running your fingers across it, feeling for the smallest fleck of dirt.  You become present to every vein of the leaf through touch and the aroma of earth coming up from the sink.  If you listen closely enough, the greens will tell you a story.  A story about farming, about the satisfaction of hands in the dirt to harvest, about roadside stands where you bought this giant pile for two dollars.

Making greens is an invitation for connection; it’s a whole family affair.  The children are called to the sink to help with the washing.  We wash and talk so long that when they are cooking on the stove, we linger there together – present with one another.

If you are from the south, greens are made with some kind of pork fat.  I cook mine with bacon and onion and serve them with hot sauce.  With every bite, my ancestors come closer.  I chew and think about the generations of rural southerners who ate these greens regularly.  Greens are symbolic of a place and a people.  Living in New York now, whenever someone mentions greens I know their family comes from the south.  I feel instantly connected to them in the shared understanding that greens are a sacrament.

Sacrament because while affordable, they require an offering of attention and time.  They require you to enter the space within the belly that knows how the fires are lit, how to put by the food, how to be present with the work of the day.

The prayer of eating greens is something I took for granted until I moved north.  Suddenly, I craved collards and cornbread more than ever.  I was craving something intangible – the connection to ancestors, family, Earth, and memory.