Monday, May 10, 2010

On Hillbillies and the Green Family

Those of us of a certain age – and we know who we are – view TVLand not so much as a cable channel but more of a nostalgic place to go from time to time.  Here, we can find old friends, feel safe that Marshall Dillon or Columbo is on the case, laugh at bygone hairstyles and generally marvel at how much has changed in so many subtle ways since we were too young to know better.

One of those changes is our attitude toward greens.  Today, Giada de Laurentis (whose family is far more beautiful than yours) might actually cook with them on Food Network, allowing her manicured fingertips to fondle the leaves, anticipating the moment when something scrumptious made from the greens passes her red, red lips causing her to toss her luxurious, aristocratic, Italian locks about in pleasure.

Compare that contemporary TV cooking image with…Granny.

For those of us of that certain age, she is one of those one-named women.  You know:  Cher, Madonna…Granny.  She was played by Irene Ryan on “The Beverly Hillbillies” in the 1960s.  Granny was a loving, ornery old lady of the South, the matriarch of the Clampett family transported from Appalachia to Beverly Hills after they were afflicted with oil wealth.   Her locks were not luxurious, but gray and pulled back into a bun so tight it raised the pitch of her voice. 

One of the running gags on the show was Granny’s cooking, containing as it did the occasional opossum and, frequently, greens.  Eating greens was then thought to be the sign of a lower class of American, a sign of southern poverty and just plain weird.  In one episode, some uptight Californian suit understood Granny to be describing the brutal murder of the “Green” family – Mr. and Mrs. and the little Green kiddies – when she described cutting up and stewing “the greens.” 

I wonder if Gen X and Y viewers of TVLand quite get the joke in the way it was intended at the time.  Greens do not really have the lower-class distinction they once did and this joke is likely relegated to the category of anachronism.  Credit Food Network and a new generation of chefs – many from the South mixing with the “eat local” ethos – with giving us a new grammar of cooking that does not categorize greens in the same way (not to say that we haven’t invented a new way of “classing” food, but that’s another blog post).

My family and I are approaching the last of a winter planting of chard, mustard greens and spinach in the garden.  I am hardly the first food blogger to write that food plucked fresh from the garden needs very little done to it, but greens come to mind first when I think of the minimalist approach (with all apologies to Mark Bittman). 

They need some washing, some onion and garlic and a bit of heat.  On the night these pictures were taken, I added a cup of chicken stock to the onions and garlic and let that cook down till it was almost dry.  I then piled the greens (just the leaves removed from the main stems; but, hey, you wanna leave the stems that’s fine by me).  They cook down dramatically and I just kept adding them and turning the mixture over. 

From there, you can get as fancy as you want.  Often, I will just grate parmesan over them and serve.  But, they will take to just about anything.  I also like to dice up chorizo (the Spanish salami, not the Mexican sausage) into them.  That, with a splash of balsamic vinegar and maybe some pasta and you have a meal.

Fresh from the garden, greens will keep in the fridge for several days.  If you put them down in the root cellar, watch out for Granny.  She might be sleeping off a purely medicinal dose of moonshine down there.  If you wake her it will take the Tin Man and Barnaby Jones to save you (extra points if you get the connection…).


  1. Well, shush for a bit and let's see if anyone else does.