A Journey Thru Lifewith Food, Drink, Music and Adventure
Lesson: Race Relations thru a Pot of Greens
Posted on July 19, 2019
I did something totally out of character this week. I left a job with no notice. It was not a bad job, it just was not the job for me. In doing so it brought back memories of the only other time I have ever done something like that. It also brought back memories of one of the most amazing women I have ever known and all the Lessons she taught me. The First Lesson: Race Relations thru a Pot of Greens
If I knew then….
I want to tell the story of Ms. Gibson. I know it would be a fascinating story because she was strong, independent, hard-working and was filled with life. If I knew then what I know now I would have sat her down and had her tell me her life story. I did not do that so the story is of her and I and our time and interaction together.
I graduated from college in 1991, and one day shortly after walking the graduation walk, I was flown to Chicago for a job interview at the University of Chicago. The South Side institution where Nobel Laureates resided and the speed of light was first recorded. Surgical Anesthetic was invented and the modern Nuclear age was ushered. I was thrilled for the opprotunity and I got the job.
Heading to chicago..
I left my world of Minnesota and small town Wisconsin and moved to the third largest city in the country. I was a fish out of water. both in the kitchen and in daily life. About those kitchens, I cannot do the kitchens justice they were huge and beautiful at one time women cooked from scratch in them and I am sure the food was magnificent. There are three things that stand out on my arrival to the kitchens of the university. The first is the huge wood chopping block style prep tables. They were 10 feet long and 4 feet wide and they were stunning. Grooves where people for nearly 100 years worked on food preparation. They were meticulously clean .
One of these tables sat in front of a bank of 4 ranges with six burners each. My guide that day was the man who hired me, a pale-skinned gentleman who wore a suit and bow tie had little round glasses and talked quietly with what appeared to be an accent of his desendents. Who obviously came over on the Mayflower.
We entered the range room and met two people who made my guide and I look like Bilbo Baggins and Frodo. The man dressed in overalls and holding a torch with greasy hands standing at about 6’4′ and next to him the second thing that stood out on my first day of adulthood was a woman, a tower of granite with her grey afro standing on end telling him he had no idea what he was doing that woman was Ms Gibson It was the first time of many times I would see what I call the Gibson pose. Hands on hips one foot in front of other. Looking like she could swing a punch or run the 50 yard dash either one of her choosing.
Mr.Baggins never went fully into that room. He dropped Frodo like a hot potato at the end of that long butcher block table and beat it out of there.
On this day Ms. Gibson was about to do the 50-yard dash. It all happened very fast. She turned on her heel to make haste out of the room. As she rounded the end of the table she said: “child you may want to come with me.” I turned to scurry along behind her and that is when it happened.
Lurch stuck his flint to light his torch for the pilot light as the kitchens had been shuttered for the summer. Whooosh the air left the room my chest was sucked in. There was an explosion that shot across the room and into the air. The flame shot between Ms. Gibson and I. My eyes were wide as I turned to if see if Lurch was even still alive. He was, though his hands were a dark red and for the next month or so one half go his upper body did not have hair.
She never missed a beat called over her shoulder as we went down the Hall “I told you so” . All this before I had even dropped my brief caseoff in my little office. A little office that had no air and no windows.
Shortly that office was to become even more claustrophobic. It was also where I learned my first real lesson in life a Lesson: Race Relations thru a Pot of Greens. I did not know that is what it would become but that is what it was. Up until this moment, I had learned school stuff and kids stuff and my mom and dad shaped me into someone with a big heart and a love of life. but there were things I did not know and Ms. Gibson was about to become my teacher.
My first real assignment after I dropped that brief case, funny how you don’t see those any longer. was to meet the staff and see what they did and who they were. I met Ms Qwen a woman who was labeled a trouble maker but who I came to love. Her partnersname escapes me but only because she was not around very long. She moved to somewhere down south where her family resided shortly after I arrived.
I was left with “the Twins”. They were really not twins but everyone in the kitchen called them that because they were two very short round Mexican women both named Maria. I was standing trying to communicate with them in my broken Spanish and their Broken English when I pointed across the room and said “the colored lady over there said I should have you show me” that was when I felt a big hand and a big presence on my shoulder and behind me. Ms. Gibson said in her big voice. To your office now!
Lesson: Race Relations thru a Pot of Greens
I could tell I was in trouble but I had no idea why? Ms. Gibson came into my little room and shut the door behind her. It was the second time in a day all the air left a room I was in. She said “sit down” so I did. Then she just stared at me. She looked for several minuets and I just sat waiting for her to speak. Her stature commanded respect and I was not about to not follow that command. She then said, “child where are you from?” I was scared so I just said Minnesota.
Listening to Each Other…
Her stance relaxed and she started a dialog that changed my life. She asked about my childhood and how many black kids I knew. not many and the one closest to me had been adopted. she was like a sister she had no pigment to her skin she was just one of us. By us I mean there were four girls in her family and two in ours. We were us, six little girls, spending time together because our parents loved and cared about each other. I suppose when people saw all of us kids skiing or trapsing thru the woods they saw one little girl that was darker than the rest but it never once entered our minds we were different because we wernt
I told her about the family that moved in not too long before I moved away for college next to my parents. Some in the neighborhood talked about them because of the color of their skin. But their skin color was never an issue my dad took the time to teach the dad about mowing his yard and caring for their house because he had asked. He had a shadow in their young son who followed my father around the yard asking him questions, I had prepared my father well for this as I was that same kid years before. They remained my parent’s neighbors until my Dad passed away several years after my Lesson: Race Relations thru a Pot of Greens with Ms. Gibson.
It was at this stage Ms. Gibson gave a commanding “stop” She said a lot in the next hour and I listened but her point was words matter as much as actions and your words will make people think you have other intentions. In the closed up room with no air, she spent over an hour explaining to me that she understood that in what she called the whitest state in America(and back then she was not wrong) the word colored was not probably as racist as someone who heard it in Chicago. As I listen to her air came back in the room and I could see that there was a whole world and culture to chicago that I wanted to learn and know. I was given a crash course in racial relations in Chicago 1991.
I wanted to make sure I did not offend anyone I worked with or anyone I would get to know. If I think about it it was probably the beginning of Tripping Vittles. I got my love of food and adventure from my parents but the idea of learning to be a better person about someone’s culture and community and crossing bridges came from that hour and my remaining 8 months or so at that job. The whole time learning all I could from Ms. Gibson.
When we walked out of that office it was lunch time. One of the great joys of working in the hospitality industry is family meal. Ms Qwen called out as we emerged from the office “white girl you come over here lets see what you got.” I looked up at Ms Gibson and she said “go on child make them see you are more than a white girl”
I walked over to that long wooden workbench the staff was standing around. “the twins” had a taco concoction in a pan. I could see everyone watching me as I stepped to the plates and started to make a taco. I only took one tortilla and they were corn not like the flour I was used to. The “Twins” stepped forward chattering quickly they took my plate laid another tortilla directly on top of the one i had taken and scooped a portion of meat onto the tortilla, sprinkled with onions and cilatro tossed a lime on my plate had a breif conversation and ladeled some green salsas into a monkey dish.
I took my plate and moved down the line. Rib tips in BBQ sauce. at the time I had no idea what a rib tip was but I took a big scoop. I will eat anything with sauce on it!
There was a big plate of something fried. Everyone stopped watching me approached that stainless steel pan full of fried food. I did not ask I just scooped it up and put it on my plate.
Next was macaroni and cheese. Just like my mom made. From scratch!!
After that greens! We had a garden. I had eaten greens in my past swiss chard was a favorite covered in butter and vinegar after wilted. But these greens were different they were super dark in color and chopped up and in a little bit of dark juice. Here was the beginning of my first Lesson: Race Relations thru a Pot of Greens I did not ask I just scooped. Sweet potatoes but not like the kind we had in Minnesota there were no marshmallows they were cubed and baked nothing on them but set to the side was some butter and molasses. For dessert fruit mango and watermelon with lime and salt.
I took a seat and picked up my fork. Ms. Qwen told me, girl, you need to get you some hot sauce for the chitlins before you start this meal. A bottle of Louisiana hot sauce was set out. I never even thought to ask what chitlins were.
My fork hit the mac and cheese first. It was just as good as my moms which is saying something because hers rocks! Next I put down my fork and I dug into the taco. I hesitated at the green salsa but took a leap and used some, it was spicy and tangy and went perfect with the beef that was in the taco. The beef was tender and a flavor I was not familiar with fatty but delicious. I would come to find out that was Lengua or Beef tongue. They are still my favorite taco. If you are in Columbus and try Los Gouchos their Tongue Taco You can thank me later.
I had to ask how to eat the rib tips. I was told you just pop them in your mouth suck off the juice and sauce and chew the meat off. if you do it right you will have a little white piece of the joint left. Awesome!
The greens and chitlins were next. Everyone stopped to stare. The white girl was about to eat chitlins.
Yes, she was and boy they were good. the batter was light and the hot sauce added a vinegar taste but the chitin was soft and buttery. I have heard many times these chew like rubber or they taste gross because let’s face it if you don’t clean the intestines well and over fry them it will be like eating souls of your shoe that stepped in poop. But when done right like that august day in Chicago they are divine and followed with Greens that I wish you could taste but I will say the angels sang when I ate my first bite. They were smoky and sweet with a touch of sour. The greens melted in your mouth rather than having to chew them. They were like nothing I have ever tasted. I was in love!!!
I wish I could tell you we ate like this everyday but we did not,. there were a few times that the spread was this elaborate it was when we had to work and there were not students around to feed. More often than not Ms Qwen or the “Twins” would bring me something they made from home to taste.
Respect is Something You Earn…
No one ever called a white girl after that. Ms. Qwen had made her point and I learned from Ms. Gibson. I learned many more things from Ms. Gibson some were lessons that my parents had taught me but she reinforced. Others were things you only learn having a mentor and living in a big city. I took those lessons with me and after 28 years, I can make a mean pot of greens. Every time I make them they taste just a little bit better. There is no real recipe but I will share with you what she taught me. Then you can spend the next 28 years trying to make them taste like butter and sweet and sour.
More… Lesson: Race Relations thru a Pot of Greens
I told you above that this past week I left a job with no notice. Only one other time had I done that. A new boss came to run the foodservice, he worked for a management organization. He was a corporatists shill who was there to break the union and remove the people who they deemed were costing too much. They were there to get rid of Ms Gibson. That was disturbing. I had seen both the positives and negatives of the union. At 23 years old I out of my element. I did not know what was right or wrong about that.
We were all called to a meeting where I was the only female in a room full of men. I was lowest on the pole and had no voice so I listened. As I listened to the management call the staff a bunch of Dirty “N-word’s” and how they were going to plot getting rid of people. I left there feeling dirty and scared once again.
I went to my little office and called Ms. Gibosn in and told her to close the door. Once again, the air was no longer in the room; it became claustrophobic. I began to cry. I wept. She probably thought someone had died. Finally, I was able to explain what I had heard, and she reached over with her big hand rested it on my shoulder and said: “We know they are coming for us child we are ready.”
But I was not ready. By association, I was part of them. I said to her I can’t be a part of this. I love you and the crew here. She said what I already knew to be accurate, and that was it was time for me to leave. I had applied for a few jobs and was quite sure I had got one. So I went down hugged the women and men who changed my life. Those that taught me lessons in race relations over a pot of greens. Lessons I still carry to this day. I dropped the key and the beeper on the desk and walked out the door.
I wish I could tell you I remained friends with Ms Gibson and Ms Qwen but I did not. Ms Qwen came up to visit me once. she filled me in on all the gossip and told me they had weathered the storm. That everything was fine.
I never saw Ms. Gibson again my path was far different than hers. Where she lived was not somewhere I could just drop by. Time passed, and shortly before I moved to Ohio I drove down to the university. I don’t know what I was expecting to find. The University Had remodeled all of the kitchens. The Big Beautiful table where we all ate our family meals had been removed. There was no who had heard of Ms. Gibson.
The most Important Lesson…
Here is what I know to be true. We all can say or do things that are offensive but if we care we can also learn from those experiences. Now some 28 years later I can see how privileged I am to live this life. I have and can learn more every day, can I be better? always. But the Lesson: Race Relations thru a Pot of Greens that I learned from Ms.Gibson and all those people at the University will be with me forever. She made me a better person not perfect just better.
Like I said this is not really a recipe as much as it is a map. There are many ways to get to the end. Just follow the process and enjoy the ride. Serve this with any grilled meat and a side of potato salad or Macaroni and Cheese. it can also make a meal in itself with a big chunk cornbread
Ham Hock one nice meaty one. or two smaller. You can make it without the Hock but don’t.
bacon(use jowl because it is so much better) don’t argue I am right.
at least 6 cups of chopped greens. I always use collard there is no alternative here. then add in what You like The photos of what I made last week have turnips and kohlrabi in there too.
chop up a big onion add that.
salt and pepper(I used my Bourbon Barrel smoked flake salt)
Chicken stock you can use beef or pork or vegetable I like chicken stock
1/4 –1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar more greens more vinegar.
clean the greens. Seriously clean them and then clean some more. greens are gross if they have earth grit in them. No one wants to eat dirt or sand. Soak them then chop them and squeeze and squish them rinse them again let them sit in some water.rinse. You get it now right clean the greens.
salt and pepper the hock and in a big cast iron pot brown it. when it is almost brown toss ina bunch of chopped up bacon
cook the bacon until you have a nice rendering of fat.
toss in the greens and the onion saute and stir untill they start to wilt and all the greesn are coated in fat.
dump in the viigar bring it to a bubble while stiring the greens and getting it all over evertyhing in the pot.
now take enough chicken stock to cover everything and then some.
bring to a boil and then take it to a simmer.
you will not cover for an hour
stir and then leave a little crack for steam to escape. and let it cook. for a minimum of 4 hours but go for 5 or 6. if you want stir every once in a while. this is low and slow cooking. you will cook it tlll nearly all the liquid is gone.
you should be able to at this point lift the bone to the hock out of the pot and the meat should just fall away. break up that meat and disperse throughout the greens.
The greens are now ready to serve.
You can make this vegetarian by using vegetable oil or coconut oil instead of Bacon fat to wilt the greens. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
Here you will find what I use to make the greens. It goes without saying if you buy one of these Items there is a chance I will make a little cash for what I do. Dutch OvenChef’s Knife