Saturday, February 09, 2013

I got them Bessie Smith Blues. I need some of that good Potlikker

 Yestrday, I woke in a cold sweat.  

I dreamt that the Chicago Police Department had been privatized and small deadly drones were patrolling the streets of Chicago and that Penny Pritzker had purchased the rights of the word, "Revolution". 

I'm so sorry Hadia, Peace. 

It's dark more often than not in Chicago and today was the funeral of 15 year old Hadiya Pendleton who was gunned down by an anonymous Native Son. But that doesn't matter, because if any one cared about responsibility for this sweet child's tragic murder, their was more than enough culpability sitting in the front row VIP section of her funeral, and I certainly don't mean her parents and family who are victims as well. 

 Tonight I've turned up all the lights and am burning saffron, nagi, and sandalwood incense, to keep the bad spirits away, a large dog barks in the distance, and my body feels cold.

So I put a mess of greens on my stove and turned on some Bessie Smith, cause I got the blues and I need some Potlikker.

Bessie Smith St. Louis Blues 

My crazy but  much loved Aunt V left Chicago years ago after all most killing an abusive boy friend who was trying to kill her.  I never liked him, he came off as  robotically nice and quite, in the way of men who've learn to hide their violence behind a thin practiced calm, but as a child I could also sense fear of him on his younger daughter, the child of another women.  My Aunt's relationship with him finally ended, with his hands around her neck and a knife in her hand, both unconscious and close to death inside his white Cadillac wrapped around a light poll on 80th and Cottage Grove. She wasn't supposed to walk again and he still can't, which at least provides some safety for women, because apparently he was a smooth talker.

Aunt V never looked back, except for her yearly New Year pilgrimage to visit my mother and to remember why she left this city for good. 

This year she looked me up and down and said "boy you aint drinking enough Potlikker!" She's the only person besides for my late Grandfather ( my mother's father) to call me boy. 

Taking umbrage I said I work out and can do 100 push ups and sit ups, straight. 

"Boy, don't bullshit me!  I'm talking about yo life force, it's all gray. You need to drink your Potlikker once a month in the summer and twice a month during the Winter.  Didn't you learn nothing from Englewood?" Yes she's part of the old Englewood crew, some good people gone.

I informed her that generally, I eat greens about once a month. 

Well niggah,  she said (like me my aunt has no problem appropriating the N word of course she says it better than I), " then you aint making em right". 

So the next day my Aunt dragged my non cooking mother along as her driver, over to my house to supervise the making of Potlikker. 

I purchased a large quantity, colloquially called a "mess" of collard, mustard, and turnip greens.  My Aunt had no problem with the way I cleaned them.  I experience taught me how grime will ruin a mess of greens and I also I finally checked my desire to over season food, common for a man who is alone trying to maintain a tradition of great southern women cooks in the family .  

I put the large pot on the stove and as soon as I turned up the heat high, she snapped. " Niggah  you free! You aint cooking for white folks. Turn that dame flame all the way low. The fire needs to be blue just dancing around the burner, boy, just flickering.  And you gotta keep watch on it to make sure the flame don't go out on that old stove of yours.  For the first time my greens cooked for four hours, which is the difference between regular greens and greens with Potlikker. 

 My Aunt and mom only stuck around for the first two hours because they had a card game to hosts and Aunt V had already diagnosed the problem ( I was cooking them for around an hour and a half on high heat as oppose to four hours on very low heat) while explaining the history and importance of Potlikker, while teaching me to make corn bread.  V now informed me that corn bread is generally served as part of a meal along with just the Potlikker, but she wanted me to know how to make both. The rest of the history I filled in with old New Orleans and African cook books that I've been purchasing on line as part of my collection.

Greens were originally from West Africa where they were cooked as a sauce and served over rice as they are still today. In America they came over with the enslaved Africans, becoming a staple not just for them but for their captors as well. The captive Africans and Black people shared many of their traditions, which drastically changed the drab European food for the better,  but they kept important aspects for themselves, like Polikker. 

When they cooked the greens for their captors, they took the Potlikker back for their own families to supplement the often meager and poor quality rations provided them. Potlikker is the most beneficial part of the greens because it's loaded with vitamins including A, B, C and E and nutrients like potassium and iron, that flow from the greens to what becomes with regular tap water an elixir at the bottom of the pot, that is generally stored in the refrigerator or frozen for later use.

Potlikker separated from the Greens

 During the days of chattel slavery and Jim Crowism, Potlikker was often proscribed by rural doctors and healers as a cure-all for any thing that ails from common colds, to colic, rabies, and fatigue. 

Clearly I'm feeling well enough to write this tribute to Potlikker and the African Diaspora who created it.

 Potlikker and Corn Bread 

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