For some weeks now the signs have been there. As my huge sycamore tree drops its brown leaves, the winds strew them over the whole yard. When I turn the car into the driveway, the sight of autumn in my yard hits me in the face, but so does the heat when I open the car door. Since mid July, I’ve been hungry for cooler, brisker air. It’s the eternal cycle, rejuvenation of mankind—womankind, too, I might add. Please, Lord, just a few degrees cooler. I beg of you.
When the season finally does shift on its axis and I reach for a blanket during the night, renewal comes to me like a soaking rain to my parched yard. Something springs up in me, ready to do battle with daily problems, to tackle the tribulations of my realm, to overcome. The eternal summer has oppressed me, left its lackluster stamp on me, but maybe it’s gone now. I hope so. The weather channel promises no temperature higher than 85 for the next ten days. I’m excited. And we’ve had some good rain, too, in the last week or so. I might even cut that revived grass. Thank God, Fall has finally come and not one minute too soon.
When Fall arrives in multi-colored glory, southern fancies turn to greens of the mustard, turnip, and collards variety. Folks hereabouts are right now out planting patches of greens in the back yard, tucking in a few rutabaga seeds here, some cabbage plants there, and some bright yellow mums just for pretty, as a former neighbor used to say. I love to see a big patch of flat leaf mustard growing vigorously out back. Those big tender leaves make a mighty fine addition to the supper table, if they’re cooked right. If not, you’d just as well serve up a fine helping of boiled weeds. The same goes for the other greens. However, it’s a rare southern cook that doesn’t know how to cook them.
Rick Bragg of Southern Living talks about the collards at Niki’s restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama. He says they taste like the very soul of the South, the essence of home, dense but tender, leaf after dark leaf. He wants no overpowering pepper sauce, no sugar to mask the flavor. Just collard greens cooked to perfection. And the cooks at Niki’s know how to do that.
I agree wholeheartedly about the cooking, even though I’ve never been to Niki’s and probably never will. Greens must be cooked right. Right means of course with ham hocks or bacon drippings, and plenty of salt. Yes, I’m well aware of the doctors’ advice on those items. I even heed it most of the time, but I draw the line when it comes to greens. Olive oil and those fake seasonings like Goya and bouillon cubes won’t do the job, unless you want those greens to taste like boiled goldenrod. If I’m going to spend hours cleaning and preparing greens, I refuse to ruin them with improper seasonings. Furthermore, whoever started this business of adding sugar to greens must have been inebriated. What was that bungler thinking? She was no cook—just some substitute pulled in off the street in an emergency. Southern cooks are born with greens genes and know better.
Along with the greens, Fall calls for an occasional pumpkin pie. Our pumpkins did not turn out really well this year. We’re blaming the dry weather, but whatever the real reason, we have a few sitting around for decoration until I get around to pie making. They aren’t very big, but they’ll suffice. After all, you can’t eat pumpkin pie as often as you do greens. There’s no great controversy over how to cook pie either. Just follow the recipe. Making a pumpkin pie is just cooking; cooking good greens is a fine art, a talent passed down from one generation to another.
So, Fall, welcome. I don’t remember any year when I was any more ready to see you. I can’t wait to taste your produce.