This is the first post in a regular series I will be doing on the vegetable varieties we grow.
I am starting with collards for several reasons. They have been a southern staple food for many generations. My father-in-law, Joe Fail, might be their biggest fan. At 78 years young he still grows, cooks and eats collards by the truck load every year. His wife Joyce got so tired of the smell of collards a couple of years ago she said she was going to buy a red pickup truck, fill the bed with collards, drive north until she found a place where no one knew what they were and she was going to move there. As are all of the vegetables in the brassica family, collards are very nutritious, high in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. Our friend Terry J., a long time survivor of aids, says he attributes his longevity to eating collards and black eyed peas on a regular basis.
We grow the Champion variety of Vates collards. Vates collards were developed at the Virginia Truck Experiment Station in S.E. Virginia near Virginia Beach in the 1930's. The idea for them came out of the Great Depression. The goal was to breed a collard that could be grown, harvested and eaten over the longest period of time possible so people could have fresh, nutritious food through the winter. The plants needed to be cold tolerant and go to seed (bolt) as late as possible the following spring. The researchers selected the plants that survived the cold and flowered the latest, saved the seed and planted them the following year. They continued to do so until they got plants with the characteristics they were after. This was the beginning of the Vates variety of collard. It is an open pollinated variety so you can save seeds from them, plant them again next year and get the same results.
The researchers continued to work with the Vates variety to improve it even more. In 1979 they introduced the Champion variety. It was vigorous like Vates and bolted even later in the spring, providing nutritious food from October until April. What other vegetable can be counted on the provide food for 7 months out of the year? Not many!
Here is a traditional Southern recipe for collards adapted from the Cullipher family recipe who has grown Vates collards commercially for 3 generations in coastal North Carolina and Virginia.
A Pot of Collards
-2 pounds collards
-1 teaspoon sugar - optional
-1/2 lb. country ham, smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or wing, bacon etc.
-Salt to taste (may not require salt if your meat is very salty)
-Water to cover well after they are wilted
Wash the leaves well. Fold the leaves in half and pull out the stems. Roll several leaves together and cut into strips. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender and buttery. About an hour or 2.
When done, take collards out of pot. Drain collards well and put in bowl.
Chop or cut through collards well. Then, if you like, you can spoon some of the fat off the top of the pot likker and put on top of the collards.
Garnish with chow chow. When the bowl is empty, sop up the remaining pot likker with fresh corn bread. Get another bowl and repeat.
Source for seed: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.
Happy New Year Y'all!