the River Strong
In “Honolulu’s Maunakea Marketplace” we glimpsed a bit of the day-to-day life of real people living in a locale typically only seen superficially by tourists. Closer to home, but no less exotic and wonderful, are places we don’t even see because we’re looking for something “special.” I’m thinking of one such place in particular because my daddy’s family is there: southern Mississippi, with tiny places such as Bay St. Louis, Piney Woods, Star, Hurley, Florence, and D’lo, or bigger, more well known towns such as Hattiesburg, Biloxi, or Pascagoula (I just love saying that word…it rolls around in the mouth in a great way). Southern Mississippi is ever bit as exotic as Hawaii!
At Mississippi Believe It you can see a series of wonderfully droll public service advertisements that have been created to help dispel many of the myths that folks have about Mississippi. I laughed out loud, standing in a Interstate rest-stop, when I first read one that was posted there on a bulletin-board. The Believe It ads have titles such as Y’all May Think We Talk Funny, But The World Takes Our Music Seriously (some VERY good music, both classical and popular, gets made in Mississippi), Yes, we wear shoes. A few of us even wear cleats (some serious sports coming out of there, too), and–in addition to a number of others–my absolute favorite, Yes, we can read. A few of us can even write! Now, if you can’t name at least a dozen famous authors from Mississippi, then please go back and click on that link.
Most importantly, southern Mississippi has some fabulous food. A perfect example is Leatha’s, a restaurant write-up that’ll have to wait for another post. But, we don’t have to wait for my cousin Don’s recipe for Mississippi greens. We’re serving that up right now!
onions, garlic, smoked ham, hot sauce,
and ham hocks browning in the pot
My cousin Don (pronounced cuzn Don) lives in Magee, Mississippi. Don, his late brother, Larry, and I—all of us approximately the same age–were companions during the frequent visits of my father to his sister, who was Don and Larry’s mom. Southern Mississippi is the ancestral home of my daddy’s side of the family.
Decades later, on a recent trip of mine to visit Don, Don and I went down to D’lo to see the house and yard in which we all used to play. (D’lo is pronounced “DEE-low.”) The road seemed so much farther from the yard way back then, and the yard so much bigger, the house much larger, too. Other than that not too much has changed. D’lo is the actual name of the little town. Occasional maps and signs leave out the apostrophe. Some people say it comes from contracting the words “down low,” because it floods so easily. Other folks say it comes from “damn low!”
The picture that heads this post is of the spot on the Strong River at the D’lo Water Park on the edge of town where a sequence was shot for the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” It’s the scene when the sirens emerge from the river with moonshine and turn Everett into a “horny toad.” It’s also the very spot where Cousin Don and Cousin Larry fished, camped out, and learned to swim as kids, long before it was open to the public, many decades before George Clooney was ever there. Which gets us back to the idea of learning to see the real people and their lives behind the packaged place, of seeing beyond the superficial to the exoticism and beauty that actually breathes there day-to-day.
When I visit Don, I know he gets a secret pleasure out of watching me make a fool of myself eating his cheese grits and venison sausage for breakfast or pigging out at the local restaurant on homemade meringue-topped banana-pudding over vanilla wafers with fried fresh farmed catfish and brewed iced tea. Occasionally, I can get him to part with a recipe. Here’s his recipe for Southern Mississippi Greens (Any Kind). I’ve added a few comments and possible variants of my own, bracketed, and in red.
- “Get a MESS of greens. This southern term is not written anywhere. It is handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth but I will try. (It is about as much as you can grab with both hands!) Some people can be greedy and get a extra handful but it is still called a MESS.” [My favorite greens are mustard greens; nice and spicy. Also good, I think, to combine ½ collard greens with ½ mustard greens.]
- “1 or 2 ham hocks or 4 or 5 slices of bacon (not 4 or 5 lbs).” [I usually use both, or, as I am this time, I’m using smoked ham bits and 2 ham hocks. If there’s not enough fat, then I add a little extra in the form of olive oil or sesame seed oil or a mix of both—what I’m doing this time.]
- “Salt and pepper to taste.” [I add my hot sauce at this point. I use either Crystal or, increasingly, Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (see picture). Adding your hot sauce at this stage better permeates the greens with the hotness, but you need to be very sure of how much to add because one can put in too much.]
- “1 chopped up onion thrown in (That’s It).” [I use two if they’re small.]
- [I also add some minced garlic; not a lot, just enough. Wait to add the garlic until the onions are translucent, just before you add the greens.]
- Cousin Don continues: “Wash greens at least 3 times; if you have roots wash and cut bottom tips and cube them. I roll up the tops and fine slice them into small pieces and fine chop the stems in middle. Sometimes, if I get too many stems I just throw most of them away.”
- “I would start out using bacon first. Ham hocks could take 2 to 3 hrs. to fall of the bone. First, I cook my bacon in the bottom of the pot. That way you can see how much fat you have in there.”
- “Break up bacon and add onion and greens.”
- “Add just enough water to cover.” [I often use, as I am here, chicken stock instead of water.]
- “Bring to boil and turn down to medium to simmer. They will cook down quickly. Some people cook them for 15 min or more. I will cook mine for at least an hour. With a ham hock you could let it simmer all day long.” [Upwards of 6 hours is not extreme and the smell of the house by that time is phenomenal!]
- “If they are a little bitter tasting you can use a small amount of sugar.” [I highly recommend the sugar, especially for collards.]
- “Serve with hot sauce or chow chow if you have it (or both).” [...unless you’ve already added your hot sauce earlier.]
Time to Eat!
Cuzn Don tells me he’s having problems with Hillbilly Rabbits back in his ½ acre garden. Now, those are the small Hillbilly Rabbits also called Cottontails (see here), not the bigger Swamp Rabbits (also called Cane Cutters; see here) that attacked President Carter. Cuzn Don, a cook, conservationist, and genealogist—who I hope someday starts his own blog so I can read it—has got me wishing I had some fried rabbit to go with my new mess o’ greens!
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