Food is Love | Swiss Chard with Smoked Ham and a Memories of a Tasty Childhood
Sometimes food is so much more than food. Food is Love.
There are dishes that elicit precious memories from the senses. Pot roast cooking reminds me of my mother and how, as a child, the house smelled delicious when we returned from church and made that seemingly endless hour of absolute quiet and stillness in the pews under threat of my pretty mother's scary eyebrow almost worth it. It was my job to slice the scallions for the potatoes and set the table. I think it was my brother's job to put ice in the glasses. We waited impatiently for the rolls to brown and the gravy to thicken, and to the faint background sound of referees' whistles from the console television in the next room, we'd finally sit down to Sunday dinner.
Savory meatloaf reminds me of my Granny Mac, and the way she cut it into perfect cubes for my brother and me, served alongside simple mashed potatoes and canned sweet peas. Always such an orderly plate, and I can close my eyes and almost feel the dish towel tucked into my collar. We were a tidy lot. We took naps at Granny's, settling down midday to the opening theme of Days of Our Lives and waking with the imprint of her cotton bedspread on our little sweaty red cheeks.
The day long process of putting by bread and butter pickles reminds me of my great grandmother Josie-- and while it is her chicken and dumplings I craved, and still do, I suppose my young brain tucked away the fragrance of sweetened vinegar and spices from visits to her Arkansas kitchen. Josie had a way of making you feel like you were more special than anyone else. It seems like just yesterday that she'd give me a warm tight hug and I'd feel her soft, crepey powdered cheek against mine.
The heavenly scent of greens cooking down on the stovetop takes me back to summer dinners at my Gana's. My grandfather kept a garden, and during the Oklahoma summers, he would have a bountiful harvest. I loved those times when all of the cousins came, and my uncles and aunts and my Dad would laugh and argue and tease each other and we kids would play hide and seek. If we were lucky, Gana would fry chicken, and all was right with the world.
I also remember with fondness the Sundays when my father picked us up and spent the day with us-- we had only a faint idea of the meaning of custody but we knew we loved every minute of Sunday. And my Gana would fix a big lunch of Papaw's freshly-picked vegetables-- maybe okra, maybe squash, maybe peas, depending upon the season, but there was always sweet iced tea, sliced cucumbers in cider vinegar and a stack of sliced bread on a brown melamine plate for us, and quite often, a bowl of smothered greens for the adults. I suppose our palates were not quite developed, but nevertheless, the fragrance now transports me to a sweet childhood long ago.
Luckily for me, I get to visit those memories often by way of the produce available at the farmers market. Last weekend, I prepared several types of greens several ways. Yesterday's post included vegan, vegetarian, and virtually meat-free options prepared at TFM Lakeline. The following day at TFM Mueller, I offered those as well as a more traditional preparation highlighting Belle Vie Farm & Kitchen Smoked Ham.
I trimmed the unctuous, velvety fat from the ham, and rendered it in a hot cast iron skillet over medium high heat to liquefy, then reduced the heat and added one large sweet yellow onion, sliced, and browned them slowly, stirring frequently, to yield a golden, slightly sweet caramelized pile.
I scooted them off to the side and added the smoked ham, cut in small cubes, and allowed them to slightly brown on the edges, stirring around occasionally. I then added two healthy bunches of JBG Organic Rainbow Swiss Chard, sliced thinly, piled high. I added salt and freshly ground pepper, and let them cook down until they were wilted. I added a sprinkling of apple cider vinegar-- perhaps a teaspoon or two, and stirred it down into the crusty bits in the bottom of the pan, scraping a bit until they were loose and stirred into the greens. I corrected the seasonings, and served them to a hungry and appreciative crowd.
At home, this would yield 2-4 healthy servings, and I think it would not be embellishing it too much to say they'd be absolutely heaven with a wedge of southern-style cornbread.
And maybe a glass of sweet iced tea.