On Soul Food


As promised, I’m writing today about the few soul food recipes I know well. My oldest children are fraternal twins who are African-American. My husband and I adopted them both when they were sixteen, and from their first Thanksgiving with us, our food boundaries expanded.

My son, Jovann, showed me how he fried chicken. My daughter, Nina, requested collard greens and banana pudding, and that required a bit more research. Together, we expanded our holiday table to include these favorites, which have now become traditional on our table.

For this post, I’m going to focus on the collard greens and the banana pudding, because fried chicken has other memories and stories to go along with it. Fried chicken was a staple of Fourth-of-July picnics on my Mattson grandparents’ farm, and my Grandma Elsie made it mouthwatering and delicious. Fried chicken is more a procedure than a recipe, so it deserves its own post.

For collard greens, I had to do some browsing on the web, talking to the kids’ biological Auntie and Grandmother, and a lot of Food Network surfing. This is the recipe I came up with:

Thanksgiving Collard Greens

In a large stock pot, add eight quarts of cold water, several shots of hot sauce (Tobasco or similar), a tablespoon of granulated garlic, a tablespoon of salt, and a teaspoon of black pepper. Add one to two smoked ham hocks, about three pounds total.

Bring to boil; reduce heat to a simmer and forget about the pot for at least two hours.

Meanwhile, wash three to four bundles of collard greens. Strip the stems, then roll and chop into one-inch pieces.

At the two-hour mark, remove the ham hocks to a strainer to cool slightly. Add the greens to the pot. Shred the meat from the hocks and add those back to the pot. Bring back to a simmer and let cook for at least another hour. (You can let it go as long as two; don’t let the pan go dry or they’ll burn.)

Serve in big bowl with the liquid on the side, which is commonly known as “pot liquor.” It’s also delicious. If there’s any left after Thanksgiving, I think it’d make a great base for split-pea soup. We’ve never had enough leftover to try.

Nina’s Banana Pudding

Makes one 8-inch square, deep pan of dessert.

6-8 large bananas

1 large box Vanilla wafer cookies

1 large box of instant vanilla pudding mix

3 cups milk

1 large (16 oz) container of Cool Whip

Make the pudding according to the package directions, using the milk specified in the recipe. Set aside.

In a deep casserole or baking dish, spread vanilla wafer cookies in a single layer. Peel and slice the bananas, and a single layer of sliced banana over the cookies. Pour or spoon a third of the pudding on top of the banana, spreading evenly so the pudding fills up all the spaces left by the round cookies and banana slices. Spoon a third of the Cool Whip over that and spread evenly. Repeat the layers twice more.

Optional: Crush a few vanilla wafer cookies to sprinkle on top for garnish.

Chill in the refrigerator overnight or for at least an hour before service.

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