Before I left Mexico for the Thanksgiving break, my baby brother and I were already discussing the logistics of serving mustard greens for dinner Thanksgiving Day.
I am in love with food and all its processes: Growing, cooking, and eating. The growing of food is part of my family heritage, and cooking is not something that, in my family, is just a chore that must be done just so people won’t starve; it is a task performed with love and enjoyment, and eating is something to be done together.
The first idea for procurement of the greens–to pick them from an uncle’s garden–bombed when the uncle informed us that the greens in his garden were finished.
So I sat in stop-and-go traffic for over an hour to get to the farmer’s market to buy fresh mustard greens because not only did my baby brother want to eat them, I wanted to prepare them. I wanted to immerse myself in the whole mustard greens process: washing and trimming them, boiling the bacon and then adding the greens, which would be coming over the top of the pot at first, then wilting down into the hot water almost instantly. I wanted to experience the changes in the smell as as the fragrance changed from sharp and raw to rich and mellow. I imagined the poached eggs I would have for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving, cooked gently in the rich pot liquor that would be left after the greens were served.
My daughter had plans to make four pumpkin pies (from canned pumpkin) for the Thanksgiving dinner: two for our family and two for her husband’s family. When my other brother brought in a pumpkin from the porch that my sister had bought for decoration and started chopping it into hunks, I sent my daughter a quick text to let her know that making four pies might not be necessary. My brother was doing this not because it’s the easy way to make pumpkin pies, but because much of the pleasure of eating them comes from the enjoyment of repeating the process of preparation that’s been part of the family tradition throughout his life.
Eating mustard greens for Thanksgiving Dinner wouldn’t have been done in our family fifty years ago. Mustard greens were served for plain, everyday meals, with beans and cornbread, because during the winter months they were one of only two or three vegetables available from the garden (and that was only if there had been a good harvest of snap beans the previous summer, put up in jars). But these days, because we are all too busy to prepare them, never mind grow them, they have faded away from the weekday dinner table, replaced by spring mix from plastic supermarket containers. Now, they are a special treat to be enjoyed on holidays alongside the turkey and cornbread dressing, not just as another side dish, but as a symbol of a heritage.
And the pumpkin in the pie arrived to the table only a day after the pumpkin was just a porch decoration.