MAN WITH THE PLAN
Sunday March 23, 2017 Journal Entry 3
The screen door creeks and slams, as I enter the home of my Grand-Uncle Andrew. A familiar smell that I will always associate with his home hits my nose first, then my heart, and I feel a smile warm my face. My inner child gets to work, picking up the sectioned and salted hog head that greeted my entrance. His counter tops always adorned in jars with contents pickled, preserved and dated. We walk to the back where he shows off his old school wood stove that still heats the house with. He throws in more wood, and shares the secret to a hot, fast fire - pine cones.
To the kitchen we go, revisiting the basket of hog parts. He pulls a shoulder out, rinses it and sticks it a pot of water to boil. This is the start of his cabbage-collards, braised in pork stock. Cabbage-collards are a hybrid plant that embody the tenderness of cabbage with the rich, dark green leaves of prize collards. This is something he and Pop have been growing for years now.
"First you gotta get your water right", his dialogue at a medium boil much like the contents of the pot. The salty swine stewed for about thirty minutes while he gently cut the stems from each leaf. The Q&A began with questions like "what made you join the Army", and as he explained how the draft pulled him from life as he knew it, his focus wasn't obscured once from his almost surgical dissecting.
I proudly practiced my culinary terminology, boasting "they call that chiffonade, when you roll up the leaves and slice them into ribbons". However in Uncle Drew terminology it's called "cut the shit up". After a good laugh, the greens were laid in their caramel colored salt bath to braise.
After half an hour he carved a sweet pepper in, along with celery hearts and home grown dried and ground chile pepper. Uncle Andrew has what they call "the Cooking Gene". Not only did he grow up on a farm, but he was pulled from school in the 10th grade to work full time in support of his family. Share cropping and Farming are two different beast, sharecropping was designed to continue and perpetuate the cycles of poverty, maintaining a pecking order during what was suppose to be reconstruction. There should be a much higher number of African American Farm ownership, but due to a system that paid it's agro work - force in food, shelter, or little to nothing, leadership in a this industry was stifled and made pretty much impossible.
Over time the people who purchased land and owned their own farms were denied vital loans they needed to stay afloat in hard times. Dr. John Boyd Jr. shares his experiences in this article by Yes Magazine. He Founded The National Black Farmers Association and recalls having his loan application thrown away, and being spat on by a white loan officer from the USDA. His organization now works with them to see that all farmers are treated equally.
"Won't none of them white folks fair...
not back then"
He stated this while remembering the family who's land he worked that paid him scarcely, and most times in food. When I asked about the wages he replied, "You took what you got, and kept your mouth shut". With all that said; prior to the army he thrived on the farm, and when they drafted him for Vietnam things would never be the same. The company right before his was the last to be sent to Vietnam, and he was instead sent to Germany.
He went on to say just about everything he worked for prior was gone. For the first time I saw a look in Uncle Andrew's eye's that explained so much more than any session of Q&A ever could. But the chicken was seasoned, breaded and ready to fry, so we carried on. The solid cloudy mass of lard melted clear and pure. Before I knew it he had laid a leg, back and a mountain of greens on my plate. My platter was not complete without the acidic heirloom tomatoes and cucumber that had been baptized in vinegar, salt and minced onion. Hallelujah.
We ate while watching the Carolina game. I realized that my Uncle has overcome a lot, and I have only scratched the surface...wait until you hear what he shared over his smothered veal chops...