‘In the Kitchen with Eartha & Angeles’ is a series on what I imagine it would be like to cook with my black and Filipino grandmothers, neither of whom I actually knew.
The last time I saw my grandmother Eartha alive, she said my mother and I were just there because someone told us she was dying; she was right. My cousin let us know she wasn’t doing well, and if we wanted to say goodbye, we should do it sooner than later, so my mom and I planned a trip to Philadelphia. My sister, seven years my senior, refused to join us; nothing about that era of our lives sits well with her. I was only 6 when my parents divorced and we left Philly, so I don’t remember too much.
Memories of seeing Eartha are always a bit blurry for me. I’d only seen her twice in the 15-plus years since we left Philadelphia, and both trips sort of meld into each other. One visit was about a year after my father passed. She missed him so much that the unplugged refrigerator from his house down the street sat smack in the middle of her living room, cans of Colt 45 still inside. She pulled a tiny white envelope from a drawer and put a lock of my dead father’s hair in my hand (“…Feel how soft it is. And look, his hair was red. You see that?”). I’ve heard rumors of her force-feeding the grandchildren shots of cod liver oil with peanut butter-spoon chasers, but other than that I don’t know much about what went down in her kitchen.
She made greens, though. Eartha had to make greens — every black grandmother makes greens, right? I’m sure Angeles made greens in the Philippines, too. Black and Filipino cultures have so many similarities when it comes to food.
There’s a magic in being able to turn the bitterest of thick, leafy greens into something luscious and nourishing. That kind of sorcery can only be acquired through generations of struggle. It’s ancestral alchemy.