- Cullman, Alabama

November 14, 2013

Southern Style: A Tale of Turnip Greens

Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — Most people love turnip greens. I never could bring myself to give the slimy looking things a passing glance for most of my life, but recently, for some odd reason, I’ve been craving them.

Don’t ask me how you can crave something you never really ate and didn’t like, because I don’t have an answer. All I know is that when I finally figured out what it was I was craving, I couldn’t find any that tasted like what I remember the one bite I took years ago.

I sure wasn’t going to go out and pick any the way people who cook them all the time usually do, because I recalled that once Danny’s Aunt Dora called to ask Danny to repair her refrigerator. When I answered the phone she mentioned that she was about to put a bushel of turnip greens into her washer because someone had told her that if you washed them on the gentle cycle it would clean them really well.

When we got there she was picking turnip greens out of every single hole in the tub of her washing machine with a Q-Tip. Bless her heart…

But when I got to the grocery store I found a bag of pre-washed turnip greens!

In fact, this brand of greens boasted that they had been “triple washed.” Who could argue that washing them three times wasn’t enough? Surely any grit and sand or little critters could never survive “triple” washing.

I hurried home to start cooking my very first turnip greens. I didn’t think it would be so complicated, because everyone always said that all you have to do is season them, put them in a pot with water and boil them.

After cooking for what seemed hours the result was disappointing to say the least. Danny didn’t look to happy either, so that whole pot got chucked into the garbage.

However, I’m still craving turnip greens for some reason, so I went to a web page where people post “down home cooking” because there’s bound to be a recipe for turnip greens in a site with a name like “Amy’s Downhome Cooking” — right?

There it was, among about a dozen recipes for turnip greens. I knew this would beat the others, because almost all of them said that you simply put them in a pot and boiled them, and I’d already been that route…

But one lady started out by saying that her mother taught her to cook greens and that the only way to get them seasoned properly was to first cook the meat, which had to be smoked meat, by the way, then take your turnip greens and toss them into the same, un-drained pan with the drippings. This, said the lady, would get the flavor all the way into the greens. Only after doing this should you put them in water, she cautioned.

Well, never one to let failure get me down, I go back to the grocery store and choose the same brand of triple washed greens because the first bag had been really clean and fresh.

I took my smoked meat and let it brown slowly in a big pot, then carefully went through the greens looking for bad spots or any grit or anything that might have slipped through all that triple washing.

I did just as the lady instructed, browning, adding the greens, tossing, turning, reducing them to less than half the size of the original bag, then adding water to just cover them.

I added salt, a little vinegar, a pinch of sugar and turned the heat down on low and left them all afternoon. When Danny got home I tried them out on him, mainly because I wasn’t sure how they were supposed to taste, having never really eaten them, remember?

Much to my delight he loved them! “These taste just like old-timey turnip greens!” he exclaimed, asking for a second helping and then a third.

I liked them, too, although I was still puzzled as to just why I was even tempted to try them.

We both ate them until there was only a little bit left in the cast iron pot. Later that night as I was cleaning the kitchen, I noticed something behind the pot of greens that had no business being on top of my stove…a little green tree frog. You know the kind that has suckers on its feet and can climb on your storm door?

I almost had a heart attack. I had to look twice to make sure I was really seeing a frog there, but it was there alright, within an inch of my leftover turnip greens, on a stove top that gets cleaned at least five or six times a day?

Now, I know those greens had been cooking all afternoon, and I know it seems impossible, but how else would a tree frog get to the top of the stove, and what are the odds that it would be so close to that pot if it hadn’t hitched a ride in that bag of turnip greens?

I did the humane thing — really I did. Caught the little bugger with a paper towel and deposited it safely in a potted planter outside the kitchen door.

That taught me a lesson about washing turnip greens, it takes four washings to make sure, and you can be certain that the last one will be from my very own sink, ever since the frog incident.

Nutritional Facts about Turnip Greens

One cup of cooked turnip greens has 1.2g of protein, 4.4g of carbohydrates and 3.5g of dietary fiber. A cup of turnip greens also has 27mg of vitamin C, 118mcg of folate, 203mg of potassium and 137mg of calcium. In 1 cup of turnip greens, you'll get about 20 calories.