Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!

My family has a few strict rules born of superstition and bred in convenience. For instance, all Christmas decorations must, MUST be put be completely put away by midnight on December 31st. A conversation held by Mike and me early last week:

Me: I'm taking the tree down on Tuesday so it can be on the street by Wednesday.
Mike: They're recycling the Christmas trees on Saturday (the SECOND), so why don't you wait to take it down until I'm here to help you?
Me: I don't care when the hell they're recycling squat. The tree will be down and OUT OF MY HOUSE on Wednesday.

See what a lifetime of musts will do to a woman?

Another must involves what one eats on New Year's Day. It doesn't matter how much you eat, but everyone must, MUST eat at least one bite each of greens, black eyed peas, ham, and grits. The greens represent money for the year, the peas good health, the ham prosperity, and well, we forget what the grits stand for, but they go well with everything else.

All my life, somebody who knew what they were doing made greens for us. But New Year's Day lunch was up to me this year, so I had to gird my loins and tackle a great Southern challenge: good greens made from scratch.

Have you ever tried canned greens? Don't. Just don't.

How to do greens? I seem to remember hamhocks were somehow integrally involved. So during my Wednesday morning Krogering, I picked up a few along with four bunches of collards. I figured smoked ones would be best. As I was looking them over, a little lady asked me, "Now, what's a skinny white girl like you know what to do with hamhocks?" To which I had to respond that Daisy's dead, Mattie's up in years, and CJ's husband won't let her come down to Clinton from Canton, so it's up to me. That seemed to appease her.

I also wanted to do blackeyed peas, so I bought three hamhocks: two for the greens and one for the peas. I probably could have just done one hamhock each, but this was a special dinner. Once home, I barely covered the hamhocks in water in the crock pot and cooked the heck of out them -about 12 hours on low - to tenderize the meat and create a lovely broth. At the same time, I soaked the bagged dried blackeyed peas to rehydrate them. And I marinated the pork loin.

I have to insert here that under no circumstances should you smell smoked hamhocks that have been in a crock pot for 12 hours straight. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not be anywhere closeby. Like lard, the smell isn't that pleasant. But have patience, and they will create for you the best damn broth in which to cook vegetables. Period.

Later on New Year's Eve, I actually cooked the peas and greens. Channeling Daisy, I drained the blackeyed peas of their soaking water and replaced it with 3 cups hamhock broth, 3 cups water, 1 Tablespoon salt, and a hamhock. And I set them on the stove over low heat.

I rinsed and washed the collards, cut out the thick veins in the middle, and chopped up the leaves. They filled my 6 quart stock pot to the top,but I knew they would cook down. To that I added two hamhocks, the rest of the hamhock stock, 3 Tablespoons salt (turned out to be too much - read on), 2 Tablespoons pepper, and for good luck, the left over Tom Turkey butter (4 ounces) that Mom gave us for Christmas. She gave us 2, and I thought it was a good gesture to melt down the last one on the last day of the year.

Love me some butter. Goodbye Tom Turkey, and goodbye 2009!
I set the greens over low heat too and let them cook for hours upon hours. Then I let the pots cool down enough to put them in the fridge and refrigerated them overnight. The next morning I decided the greens were a little salty (I forgot that hamhocks have their own sodium that develops over time), so I added 2 chopped potatoes to each pot to soak up the salt. Worked like a charm.

We don't like slabbed ham, so I had Mike grill a pork loin marinated overnight in teriyaki and cherriyaki sauce. And Mom was good enough to bring the grits. So our lunch was blackeyed peas, collard greens, corn bread (because you CANNOT eat greens without corn bread), cheese grits, and grilled pork with pear chutney.

Here's to a great 2010. I'll have to try turnip greens for 2011.

Hamhock photo courtesy of Dorsey Meats, blackeyed peas photo courtesy HowStuffWorks.



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