Every single day of my childhood, we had greens. This is not an exaggeration. Every single day, my father made some type of greens; collards, turnips, mustards, or cabbage. Either they were fresh or they were reheated but they were ubiquitous. To keep the supply constant, my father had a garden in the back yard.
In fact, no one could walk into our front door without walking out the back at his absolute insistence to see his prized garden. It was bountiful. The black soil of St. Louis produced okra that grew to 6 feet tall! We had onions and peppers, tomatoes and squash. We even had a plum and a couple of peach trees.
My Uncle Love (his real name) knocked on our door every morning between 5 and 6 AM for a cup of coffee and came back in the evening for "something boiled." These men loved their vegetables! There was always something boiled at our house and that something included without fail, some type of greens.
My father's recipe was simple, first he boiled salt pork in about 4 cups of water. The salt pork came in about 6x6 inch square and was wrapped in wax paper. He would use about 1/3 of this for each batch of greens. While the meat came to a boil, he would wash usually two bundles of greens to remove the grit and to tear away the stalk. Unlike greens you find in many restaurants, my fathers greens never had the crunchy stalk, only the tender leaves.
Once the greens had been cleaned in 3 baths of fresh water and torn into approximately 2 inch squares, he would add them to the boiling salt pork base. He would then add just enough water to cover the greens and put the top askew on the large pot.
My job, too often, was to make the cornbread. Although I very much wanted to, we would eat no Jiffy, not for these men, not ever. The cornbread must be prepared from scratch and cooked in a cast iron skillet. It could be baked,traditional hot water cornbread or it could be fried into corn bread pancakes.
While the greens cooked, and it seems to me, the greens were always cooking, life happened at our house. We watched TV, did homework, played outside often to the shouts of, "Pam, watch my greens now. Don't let them burn!"
My father was serious about the flame it had to be blue and he would demonstrate the height with his fore finger and thumb. "Let them simmer slow. Don't be in a hurry." They cooked for at least two hours but when they were done. They were, in his words, "right." He added no extra seasoning of any kind. They did not need any.
Of course today, I don't use salt pork. I use chicken broth and herbs and my greens are very different from my fathers. I often even stir fry my greens. Still although I have chosen a heart healthier approach to leafy green vegetables, there is no food more comforting than collard greens prepared with love. That is why the collard greens and soul food are synonymous.