I didn’t start out life as a picky eater. According to my mom & the apocryphal lore of my grandparents, I loved food as a baby. I would eat anything they gave me and enjoy it. I begged for potlikker from greens and spinach before I could even eat solid food.
But then something happened. I went from being easy to feed to not being willing to eat much of anything that wasn’t cheese. For years. Mom kept a Kraft single in her purse for me whenever we went out because it was a given that no matter what I ordered, I wouldn’t eat it. Even that little orange slice wouldn’t cut it sometimes, so they tempted me with wedges of Laughing Cow or snowmen made from cream cheese or the ever-popular port wine cheese ball (you had to scrape the nuts off, though).
Even after I grew out of being quite so picky, sometime in my late teens, I still had issues. First of all, I still didn’t like any food items that touched other food items on my plate. I was a master at using my butter knife for leverage to create a slope to ensure that anything that was juicy kept its juice to itself. More than one juicy thing? That’s what bowls are for. Secondly, there were textures that I just didn’t handle. If I found a piece of gristle in my beef or sausage, I was done. And if there was a piece of gristle, I would find it. Chunky sauces were a no. And just about anything green.
So greens just had so many strikes against them. They were juicy. They normally had ham in them. They had texture. And the smell reminded me of going to visit my great aunt with my grandfather where I had to be still and quiet in a little house that I remember as being dark and stuffy and often smelling of cooking greens.
I started working spinach into my diet in my mid-twenties. Not boiled spinach, of course, but fresh spinach in dishes like lasagne or spinach salads. And then I tried palak paneer at an Indian restaurant, and totally fell in love. So maybe in that way, spinach was my gateway green.
I didn’t try the hard stuff until I was past thirty. I really didn’t intend to, but you know how sometimes you end up at a party and everyone else is doing it and they’re all looking at you expecting you to join in and you don’t want to be left out? That’s how it was. Total greens peer pressure. Now, these weren’t just any greens. This was a special event at the Center for Southern Folklore, and these were greens prepared by the queen herself, Ella Kizzie.
I took a first tiny hesitant bite. And they were good. And then it was just all downhill from there. I was dipping my hoe cakes in the potlikker, and I just couldn’t get enough. And after that first time, I wanted to try them everywhere I went that had them on the menu. I still do.
So I guess I went full circle. I’ll try anything these days, and like it more likely than not. Yes, I still love cheese far more than is rational, but that’s a whole other story. For now, I’ll just enjoy a taste I had lost that I finally found again.
P.S. My favorites around town? Bryant’s at lunch, The Four Way, Southern Hands in Collierville, and Alcenia’s.