How Greens Was My Valley: Collards

My mom cooked up batches with a big old ham hock!

Image 2

Brassica oleracea:  Growing collards from seed in the Brooklyn Bear’s Community Garden

So, according to an academic paper I recently read, collards originated from the eastern Mediterranean, brought over to western Europe by Celtic invaders.  Originally called “colewort”, “collard” is a bastardization.

“In the South no word, as no dish, is better known among the poorer whites and Negroes than collards…” (Smith, 1883)

Fry it up in a pan

“You say colewort, we say collards…”

Although I grew up eating it, I always equate collards with Southern food, food come up from the Deep South, but in a public radio segment I heard that the common denominator in one urban garden in Newark, NJ is collards.  It was the one crop that gardeners, no matter their race and ethnicity, were harvesting.  Greens of the people!

All for you

From Norman Rockwell’s table to yours!

The collard suffers from the Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome: It gets no respect.  Despite its steadfastness as a crop for the people, hearty enough to withstand cold weather and the Union Army during America’s Great War, the collard is often relegated to a lower status food (Smith & Morgan, 2005):

In Flannery O’Connor’s (1988) short story, “A Stroke of Fortune,” a Southern woman who aspires to join the middle class is disgusted at her brother for enjoying collards.

Greens for the people

Greens for the people

By the late 1940’s Virginia was shipping close to 300,000 bushels of collard plants, with 25% of the crop coming up north to NYC.  Certainly it was the Southerners who came up North for factory jobs and their longing for food back home that spurred this “opportunity for the production of new truck crops.”    Not to mention, many urban dwellers did not have access to land to grow.

Equal opportunity green

Equal opportunity green: Good in dumplings!

So I am growing collards from seed this fall, and while I haven’t cooked them with a ham hock yet, I do saute them with garlic and chili flakes.   And I also discovered them to be a good substitute for spinach when making Korean dumplings.

Greens of the people.

Sautéed Collards

The ingredients

1 bunch collard greens

3-5 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

1 big pinch of chili flakes (Guajillo or Chile de Arbol)

olive oil (or oil of choice)

salt and pepper to taste

The steps

1.  Rinse your collards of all their grit.  Remove the stem if they are overly tough.  Cut along the vein and chop.

2. Heat pan and add enough oil to make sure collards won’t stick. Add garlic and chili flakes.  Stir and let sizzle for a minute or less.

3. Add collards.  Add a pinch of salt and a little water before covering with a lid.  Let simmer until collards are tender.  You may need to add a little more water along the way so check your collards occasionally.

4. Season to taste with more salt and black pepper.


2 thoughts on “How Greens Was My Valley: Collards

  1. Pardon my ignorance but I’ve actually never eaten collard green in my whole life! I just have always known that they are popular in the south and that’s about it. What do they taste like? I imagine that have a chard-like flavor?

    Great post, btw! Very informative! ^.~

    • If you can get tender young collards, I would highly recommend those. The bigger, tougher leaves are good too, but you’ll have to simmer them down for a while. A great green for soups and sides!

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