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On New Years’ Food

I’m still gathering my thoughts about New Year’s Eve and will post later; but for now, I’ve been puttering around the house preparing for my annual New Year’s Day lunch of homemade Hoppin’ John and greens, and it reminded me of a story.

I first moved into this apartment when my friend Lois needed a roommate. I knew Lois through an earlier roommate, one from nearly ten years previous, and we’d fallen in and out of touch over the years.  Then when I was finally ready to give up my tiny two-bedroom on the Lower East Side, my email to friends asking “does anyone need a roommate” crossed with one she was sending out to us all asking, “my roommate moved out, does anyone know about someone looking for a place to live.”  One phone call and a quick discussion later, we were sending out a mass email to everyone saying “Never mind,” and I moved in a month later.

While we did know each other, there were some things that we were still learning about each other – bathroom habits, family traditions, and cooking styles.  I knew she was born in Atlanta and raised in the South in general; she also knew I was from New England.  Which is why she was so amused that I sometimes do southern down-home cooking – it wasn’t what I grew up with, so she was baffled at my fascination.  (Although, not so baffled that she didn’t also tip me off to dishes I didn’t know about – like Frito pie, which has become a favorite brown-bag lunch when I have leftover chili.)

My first New Years’ Day here, we’d both resolved to spend the day at home, tending to various sorting-and-tending errands – sorting papers, cleaning out the closets, and such. I told her I’d be making Hoppin’ John and greens, and she was amused, but still eager to share when I was done.  “Have you ever made it before?….” she asked, though.

“Nope, but I’ve got the basic idea and a recipe.”

She chuckled dubiously, but wasn’t going to turn down food.  I head into the kitchen while she kept at sorting papers in her office, carefully following the recipe I had in one of my cookbooks.

When I got to the end of the cooking time the recipe called for, I turned off the burner.  “It’s ready!”  I called to Lois.

She poked a head out of the office.  “Already?  You’re sure?”

“Uh….yeah.  Why?”

“….That was only a half hour.”

Confused, I checked the recipe. “Uh….yeah.  That’s what it says.”

She came into the kitchen.  “Lemme check this….” She got a clean spoon, poked at the panfull of collard greens. “…They’re still bright green.”


She gave me an even more dubious look, but said nothing.  She then scooped up a tiny bite of the collard greens and tasted them.  After a couple second’s chewing, she turned to me and pulled the wooden spoon I held out of my hand.  “Oh, honey,” she soothed, “you’re from New England.  You wouldn’t know.”  And then she gently started pushing me out of the kitchen.  “Don’t worry, I’ll fix this.”

I get it now.  I now use a much more authentic recipe and cook the greens twice as long, until they turn into a swampy brown and the pot is filled with the “pot likker” Lois introduced me to.  It takes about an hour and change, but she’s right.

….She did say my Hoppin’ John was good, though.


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