Collard Greens and Ribs for The Cooking Gene

Our latest Cook the Books Club selection, The Cooking Gene, by Michael W. Twitty, was quite a ride, "A journey through African Culinary History in the Old South," as the sub-title states. Though it is much more than that, being also personal history, a memoir of the author and his family, from the time of their arrival as slaves to the present day.  From the Publishers:

"A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom....
From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia."

It is the story of their sojourn in America, from enslaved times to now. Though, just my opinion, it would be both interesting and enlightening to take the story back to when that slavery actually began. The origins. He states that "only some African American families have knowledge of names, places, and slaveholders that would confirm their place before slavery." (p.81) However, they were enslaved in Africa, and arrived as slaves in America. It was Africans who sold their brothers and sisters, often from warring tribes who desired the goods offered by traders, who then brought them across the sea. Prepare for a rant.

We might ask who was more at fault, the original kidnappers, the traders who sold them on, or the buyer/slaveholders at the end port of entry.  Guilt and shame rest with all of them; it is too easy to sort and assign blame by color.  All is not black and white.  This history can be compared to the slaves taken and held between American Indian tribes, slaves in India, China, Europe and Arabia, now and throughout timeless ages.  The history of slavery is ancient.  In times of war, it was often the alternative to death. We can even go back to Joseph, in the Bible, who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.  Some of them wanted to kill him. Human nature hasn't changed any over the years, and knows no geographic border.  And, yes still going on!

For anyone seriously interested in the roots of African American history, I heartily recommend beginning with the biography of David Livingston, by Blaikie.  Livingstone spent most of his life in Africa, and is known for his efforts to stop the slave trade, as well as for his extensive exploration of the African continent.  The descriptions from his travels and work in this account are absolutely fascinating. He was a firsthand witness of it (slave trade) happening.  But, I digress.  Twitty''s book invites a whole lot of digression.  It is thought provoking, not lightweight, though frequently repetitious, and not all equally interesting. I did a lot of skipping back and forth. However it is a well researched and comprehensive look at the culinary history of the South.

From Twitty's book, I was inspired to make his BBQ Mop sauce for a batch of ribs, cooked in my pressure cooker, which gets them just to the right tenderness, perfection when you afterwards slather them with the sauce and caramelize in the oven!  Or pop onto your BBQ grill.  Served with Sauteed Collard Greens (I am truly blessed, they do so well here) and rice. I meant to make spoon bread, but got pushed for time and energy.

   from: Lauren Allen at Tastes Better from Scratch
Prep Time

20 mins
Cook Time: 1 hour 


  • 1-2 racks pork ribs (*see note below)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup apple juice, or 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke , optional*
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce - homemade or store-bought (*see note)

  1. Remove membranes from the back of ribs, if needed.
  2. Rubs seasonings over both sides of ribs.
  3. Place wire trivet rack in the bottom of the instant pot.
  4. Add water, apple juice (or apple cider vinegar) and liquid smoke (optional, but recommended for that great smokey flavor).  
  5. Place the ribs upright, with the meat side facing out. If you’re using one large rack of ribs, then circle them around the pot.
  6. Secure lid and close vent.
  7. Press “manual” or “pressure cook” and cook on high pressure for 25 minutes.
  8. When the timer beeps, allow the pressure to naturally release for 15 min, then turn the valve to quick release.
  9. Carefully remove ribs to a large, foil-lined baking sheet and slather them in BBQ sauce of choice.
  10. Optional: broil them in the oven for 2-3 minutes to caramelize the bbq sauce

 Tips for the perfect instant pot ribs: 
I prefer baby back ribs but you can also use spare ribs. Your cooking time will vary, depending on your altitude and what type of ribs you choose.
• Baby Back Ribs: 25-30 Minutes
• Spare Ribs: 30-35 Minutes
For low altitude, use the lower number, and for high altitude cook them a little longer.
Also, the longer you cook them, the more “fall-off-the-bone tender they will be. If you want them tender, without falling off the bone, use a slightly lower cook time.
Depending on where you buy your ribs, they may still have the white, shiny membrane connective tissue on the back (bone side) of the ribs. I buy mine from Costco and they already have the membranes removed. You want to make sure this is removed, and it’s really easy to do!
Just flip the ribs so the top (meaty part) is face down.  Slide your fingers or a butter knife under the membrane and rip it off. No special skills needed here, just use your fingers to yank it up and off the ribs.

Note*  for BBQ sauce, I used the recipe from Twitty's book - page 318, what he calls a Barbecue Mop
The collard greens recipe was also from his book - page 281, slightly adapted, as follows.

Sauteed Greens

6 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thinly 
2 garlic cloves, or 2 garlic scapes sliced thinly
1 very small hot pepper or pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups stock
2 pounds collard greens, washed stripped from the stalk and very thinly sliced into long strips
1 red, 1 yellow and 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
kosher salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pan.  Ad the onions and garlic and saute until translucent.  Add the hot pepper and 1/3 of the stock and cook for a minute.  Add the collard and bell pepper slices and cook over low heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the rest of the stock and cook over medium heat.  Season with salt to taste, mix, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

A truly finger lickin' taste of the South!  Be sure to visit the Cook the Books Club Roundup to see what everyone has been inspired by this book to cook up .  I'll also be sharing the goodness with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, and with Heather over at Foodies Read Challenge for November.  Lots of good book selections as well as good food.


Mae Travels said...

Very interesting review -- especially your digression! I've been meaning to read that. Did you read "Barracoon: The Story of the Last 'Black Cargo'" by Zora Neale Hurston? Very interesting story of one of the last men to be enslaved in Africa and forced into American slavery.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Debra Eliotseats said...

I came home to find my Instant Pot delivered and setting on my front doorstep (thanks to cyber Monday). Can't wait to try it out.

Simona Carini said...

What an interesting cooking process for the ribs. Some years ago I bought a pressure cooker but the instructions were unintelligible and I am scared about using it without a firm understanding of how it works, so it's been languishing in my cupboard :( Two great choices of recipes. And yes, digression is part of his story-telling style so we are all allowed to digress. Thank you for the pointer to Livingston's biography and for you contribution to this edition of Cook the Books :)

Beth F said...

I too have been meaning to read this book and now I'll try to bump it up on the (every-growing, gigantic) reading list. I have been cooking under pressure for years and years but never made ribs in my pressure cooker. This looks awesome and I appreciate your tips and timings. I know my husband would be very happy if I made them this winter.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

How did I ever manage without my Instant Pot- love it - Your recipe looks good

Lynda Hardy said...

Such a coincidence - my son-in-law just introduced me to pressure cooked ribs last month, and now I'm totally sold on doing them this way. LOVE the collards to go along with them. Twitty definitely does stir up much food for thought and discussion!

Carole said...

Never seen collard greens in New Zealand - are they a vareity of kale? Cheers

Claudia said...

Carole, they're the cabbage species like kale. The good thing here is they grow year round, very easily. Just keep on keeping on.

jama said...

Man, you've got me drooling. Those ribs and greens look so tasty!! Yum. I'd heard of Michael Twitty's book and was curious about it. Enjoyed your candid thoughts about it and the history of the slave trade.

Delaware Girl Eats said...

I haven't tried making ribs in a pressure cooker. We usually grill them. A family member gave me an Instapot recently and I haven't tried it yet so maybe this is the occasion..... cathy

Claudia said...

Right Cathy, at the end instead of putting them into the oven to finish, just pop onto your BBQ grill.

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

I agree completely with your views on slavery. A terrible travesty that continues to this day with more than enough blame to go around. Loving the Instant pot ribs too. I'm sorry I missed this selection.