The Anniston couple has earned a reputation among family, friends and church members for serving up a mean plate of greens. Their collards, turnip greens, mustard greens and kale dishes are known to attract a crowd.
During potluck lunches, members of Greenbrier Church of Christ, where the couple attends, scout out the Nolan’s pot of greens as soon as it hits the table. Never canned, the greens are seasoned with salt, sugar and hog jowl, which is the smoked and cured meat from the cheeks of pigs.
The process of cooking the greens is a joint effort that starts when the couple buys three or four bundles of greens from any local grocery store.
“We take the rubber bands off and start the job,” said Minnie.
The 81-year-old, a retired custodian from Jacksonville State University, said she allows her 85-year-old husband to “stack” the greens as he removes leaves from their stalk and piles them up, much like one would stack sheets of paper. Next, Daniel, who is retired from the lunchroom of Randolph Park Elementary School, breaks the stem off from the leaves of turnip and mustard greens and kale. If they are preparing collards, which have tough stems, he cuts each stem away all the way up through half of the leaf.
“I used to help him, but arthritis in my thumbs makes the job hard for me,” said Minnie.
She assumes her job as soon as the stacks are finished. She said she picks up about 15 to 20 leaves, rolls them tightly and lays them on the chopping block. She uses a special knife — about 18 inches long — and cuts each roll of greens into narrow slices.
Minnie washes her greens three times in the sink of her kitchen, only steps away from where her husband often sits in the living room keeping an eye on boiled pots of food. She fills a large pot with water and pours in seasoned salt measuring only by eye. She adds a handful of hog jowl and then the greens. She allows the pot to boil for “awhile” — time is also measured only by eye — and drains off the water. She then put the greens into a pressure cooker with fresh water.
“We always use 10 pounds of pressure,” Daniel said, showing off the numbers etched into the pressure device.
The couple listens for the rhythmic swishing of the cooker for about an hour and a half, time enough for all of the flavors to blend. Once she decides enough time has passed, Minnie removes the cooker and sets it in the sink, allowing it to cool before finally lifting the lid and making any adjustments to the seasoning.
The greens are either frozen in empty butter bowls or placed in a Crock-pot to haul to church.
“We cook and freeze them during the winter for the summer,” said Minnie.
Both Nolans said they learned to cook from watching their mothers, and Daniel worked in the kitchen of a ship while in the Navy. Knowing how to cook was a necessity for their family, as Minnie had 15 children of her own before marrying Daniel, who had five. They raised most of the children together, although some were already grown when they married. The couple has also helped raise several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and they have one child living with them now.
The Nolans’ greens are popular among many of their kin, and they have other special foods they prepare together. Among their favorites are green beans, sweet potatoes and pound cake.
“I never measure anything, except for when I make the cake,” said Minnie. “That recipe won’t let me make any changes.”
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