On vegetables and pork products

Published 9:16 pm Monday, July 16, 2012

Let’s face it. I’m never going to be mistaken for a vegetarian. One look at the rotundity of my features in the photo that appears nearby, and it will be abundantly clear that I embrace my carnivorous nature. At least, I embrace whatever portion of it I can get my arms around.

Ribeyes and strips, filets and cutlets, chops and ribs and briskets and loins.

Oh, and bacon. Don’t get me started on bacon.


Email newsletter signup

But something special happens during the summer. During the summer, it’s not unusual for my family to sit down on Sunday afternoon to a table groaning under the weight of cooked vegetables. Squash and okra and green beans and corn and sweet potatoes fill the steaming bowls that are passed around for those Sunday dinners. And as my plate is filled with the bounty, I find it hard sometimes to make room for even a ham slice or a chicken breast.

I have my grandmother to thank for the broadening of my palate that takes place in the summer. As a Carolina native, she well understood the proper application of fatback, ham hocks and other pork products to a steaming cauldron of stuff that otherwise might be described as healthy food. I’m pretty sure that adding bacon drippings (known to the rest of the world as “grease”) or pork fat to any vegetable immediately renders the health benefits of the dish null and void.

But Grandma knew what was good. And she knew how to make a bowlful of collards disappear in a second: Season it with pork and make sure to set one of the big spoons on the table nearby for serving.

She’s gone now, having cooked countless delicious meals for me before she died at the ripe age of 90, but I often think of Grandma when I’m wandering around a farmers’ market. She loved fresh vegetables and looked forward to the summer, when they were abundant. She wasn’t well enough in her later years to get to the market herself, but she appreciated it when folks would bring her a bag of goodies they’d picked up during their own visits.

With farmers’ markets in two different locations open at various times from Wednesday through Saturday, it’s easy in Suffolk to find fresh, locally grown produce this time of year just about any time you’d like it. Which brings me right back to those wonderful, summertime Sunday dinners, with a plate full of vegetables and hardly any room for the meat.

Take a look at the most recent edition of Suffolk Living magazine — free and available now at locations around the city — for a feature on the Suffolk Farmers Market, behind the Visitor Center in the downtown area. Once you see what the vendors have in stock, you’ll find the city’s markets are just the place to satisfy that craving for seasonal vegetables. Just don’t forget the ham hock.