This tale of turnip greens started out with one intention, but it somehow morphed into a legend, much too long to put in one post. It reminded me of my father’s talent of telling wonderful stories of Lebanon and our family past. But more so, it produced a picture in my head of his sister, Aunt Naomi (pronounced “Aunt Noni” by the Jewell children) standing regally in the middle of the room, tall and lithe with elegant white hair, regaling me with stories on end, one leading to an idea about another, and wonderfully on, and delightfully on.
So when i realized after writing all that is enclosed here didn’t even mention the original idea this should be a serial, two posts, unless another thought takes me in a yet another different direction.
i just couldn’t stand it.
i had gone to the Navy Commissary for one item. ONE.
Maureen is not big on sausage, at least the breakfast kind. She prefers bacon, burnt to a crisp. After all, she is a native of Southern California. But i like my sausage. In fact, i’m damn particular about it. i have been in culinary heaven for over thirty years since i found the commissary at the San Diego Naval Station, adoringly called “Thirty-Second Street” by the old guys, carried Tennessee Country Pride sausage, mild and hot varieties.
i don’t go there very much anymore. Since Maureen retired, our groceries come from her shopping at Trader Joe’s; Valley Farms Market, a family owned store in Casa de Oro with great meats and sea food; a few particular items at Henry’s ( a place that has gone corporate and has been rebranded as Sprouts, but i don’t care and still call it Henry’s) and Costco (That used to be Price Club, but Sol Price sold out to Costco and made a gazillion dollars); but she shuns the commissary.
Perhaps her shunning was produced by her first visit to the commissary in 1983. We had married in July. i left my bride in San Diego after a ten-day honeymoon for about six-weeks in Mayport (Jacksonville), Florida, the homeport of my last ship, the U.S.S. Yosemite, which then deployed to the Indian Ocean for eight months.
Maureen had become a military dependent and decided one day at lunch, she would check out the commissary for a couple of items. Now Maureen worked for Parron Hall Office Interiors and was polished and always dressed to the nines at work.
So she took off for the Thirty-Second Street commissary, which was a great deal different then than it is now. To begin, it has upgraded buildings twice in the last thirty-three years. Back then, it was a very large quonset hut tucked back into a corner on the “dry side” of the base. It was also in the age when credit cards were not fully entrenched and Navy personnel, especially the lower ratings, lived from paycheck to paycheck. This meant the commissaries and the Navy Exchanges were packed on paydays (the 15th and the 30th each month).
Unwittingly, Maureen went on a payday. She picked up her two small items and went to the checkout line. That is when she discovered the line wound around three aisles and every dependent wife (even though i was with some of the first women Navy personnel on ships, women in the Navy were still sparse) had shopping carts piled to the top — no, there were no “express lines” back then. She reluctantly got in the back of the line. Then she noticed the very large woman in front of her was pushing one cart and pulling another. They were both piled up to the absolute limit (i’m guessing one of the carts was all Twinkies). Maureen calculated it would take her at least an hour to get to the cashier.
She put her two small items on the shelf and left. Since then, she only goes back under duress.
Before Maureen retired, i did a great deal, if not most of the grocery shopping. i nearly always came home with Tennessee Pride Country Sausage and a couple of items for Southern fare, which the commissary did well in stocking.
But Maureen retired and loves to cook really good and really healthy food.
Occasionally, she admits she would like me to cook some of my limited dishes: mostly my mother’s meat loaf, black-eyed peas, and biscuits as well as my own concoction of okra, tomatoes, and onions, grilling steaks, and my smoked turkey for special occasions.
But for the most part, my quick runs into the commissary are snuck into my being on base for other reasons, and nearly always just for Tennessee Pride. But Monday as i walked by the produce department, i spotted turnip greens. i couldn’t pass them up. i just couldn’t stand to pass them up.
So late this afternoon, while sipping on a blueberry and rosemary modification of a gin and tonic, the instructions courtesy of John Moriarty, the whisky expert and bartender supreme at the Park Hotel in Kenmare, Ireland, i tried to remember Mother’s way of cooking turnip greens. And that leads to the second part of this legend.
But i must end this part by saying the blueberry and rosemary gin and tonic was beautiful.