© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

NPR Commentator Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor Dies At 79


On Saturday, NPR lost a dear member of our family - the writer, performer and longtime NPR contributor Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor.


She wrote vividly of her roots in South Carolina and explored culture through food. Here's how she did that on NPR in 1983, while talking of collard greens.


VERTAMAE SMART-GROSVENOR, BYLINE: I was a collard-patch child, but don't feel sorry for me. Those of us raised in the collard patch did very well, thank you. Collard greens, an ancient vegetable enjoyed by the Greeks and Romans, are full of minerals and vitamins. Pot liquor, as we call the liquid the greens are cooked in, is the only liquor good for you. Now, you'd think with a culinary heritage like that, everybody would adore collards. Not so.

In our society, where almost everything, including foods, are seen as status symbols, collard greens are considered lowdown vegetables. Many of us from the collard patch on the upward mobile trek leave the collard behind. Well, I don't cook collards because they stink up the house. I eat collards occasionally. They don't sell collards in our neighborhood. Well, I love collards.

Fixing a pot of collard greens is a very satisfying experience. You have to handle each leaf personally, cleaning and cutting leaf unto leaf in green embrace. And then there is the smell of the greens cooking - full-bodied, deliberate, earthy. So I don't care if a legend ever wears a collard green or if I never see them in a commercial.

I think collards are ouiton (ph) vittles. There will always be a pot of greens cooking in my kitchen. Langston Hughes asked, in the quarter of the Negroes, in the pot behind the paper doors in the old, coal stove, what's cooking? What’s smelling, Leontyne? Leider, lovely Leider, and a leaf of collard green. Lovely Leider Leontyne, lovely leaf of collard green.

MONTAGNE: And lovely Vertamae grew up speaking Gullah Geechee. It's a dialect of English which developed among West African slaves along the Atlantic coast.

INSKEEP: Her first cookbook-memoir was called "Vibration Cooking: Or, The Travel Notes Of A Geechee Girl." For that and many other writings on African-American cuisine, she was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance.

MONTAGNE: She also won a James Beard Award among the many accolades she received for her storytelling. Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor died on Saturday of natural causes. She was 79 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.