Shad Festival, Watermelon Festival, NC Apple Festival and now the Collard Festival! North Carolina has more local food festivals than any other state. It natural for us, as locally food minded celebrants, to consider how we can enjoy those local foods on a daily basis, or at least weekly. If you have never eaten a collard, you don't know what you are missing!
North Carolina produces an abundant supply of collards, which is an economically valuable crop when you look at the amount of money one acre of collards can produce for a farmer. This week is the Collard Festival at Ayden NC and everyone attending will soon learn the pride that North Carolinians take in their collards. It is an eastern NC food festival not to miss!
When I talk to people at the Pitt County Farmers Market who are buying collards, they often explain that they are not the one who cooks them, they are just buying them for the cook. Cooking collards has long been regarded as an art that not everyone can do. However, it is important for our local cuisine for collard cooks to start passing on their recipes to the next generation so the tradition can continue. The Collard Festival will have a Collard Cooking contest and many cooks keep their recipes secret.
Traditional NC Collards
Here is the best traditional collard recipe I have ever collected. It came from a collard farmer in northern Pitt County, who will not be identified. He says that his wife is the best cook of all but he makes the collards.
1 smoked pork shoulder with bone in
1 onion, whole
2 red cayenne peppers
1 tsp black pepper and 1 tsp salt (don't add too much salt because the shoulder is salty)
5 – 7 lbs collards, cleaned, stemmed, and cut into one inch strips
Place pork shoulder in a large cooking pot. Add whole onion, peppers and salt and pepper. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 4 -5 hours until it is falling off the bone. Remove the pork shoulder, and discard the onion and cayenne peppers. Save the liquid. Bring the liquid back to a boil. Put the collards in the liquid and cook until they are tender, 15 - 30 minutes depending on the maturity of the leaves. Many collard cooks cook the collards to death…. for a couple of hours, but that makes them mushy. I like a collard that I can still chew and taste some texture. Shorter cooking times insures more retention of nutrients in the leaves.
Cut the meat off the bone and return it to the pot when collards are done. Serve with boiled potatoes and cornbread for a delicious eastern NC meal!
Hint: to reduce the fat in the collard greens I cook the meat the day before and put the cooled liquid in the refrigerator overnight. The fat will rise to the top and get hard. I take off the fat and discard it, leaving a much leaner broth, but one just as flavorful. Then I cook the collards an hour before serving them and add the meat back in as the recipe says.
For the vegetarians and those who are adventurous, here is a great new recipe for collard pickles!
There are all kinds of ways to cook collards, just use your imagination. Just remember, they need to be cooked because they are a tough green. Also, they do have a sweeter flavor and more tender texture after a hard frost.
1 cup cider vinegar
2 whole cayenne peppers, red
½ large Mattamaskeet or other local sweet onion, quartered and sliced thin
1 tbs sugar
2 tsp non-iodized salt (one for the pot of collards and one for the brine)
1 tbs mustard seed
1 large Bay leaf
4 lb young collard leaves, washed, stemmed, and sliced on the diagonal
1 cup pineapple tidbits in juice, drained, or 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tsp salt.
Mix vinegar, peppers, onion, mustard seed and Bay leaf in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover and let sit while you cook collards.
Add collards to boiling water and cook for 8-10 minutes or less, just until they are tender and bright green. Drain in a colander and let cool. Make sure they are well drained.
Add collards to a large glass bowl and toss with brine solution. Then add the pineapple and toss. Let the mixture marinate at room temperature for 4 hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Good with meat dishes or sandwiches. Makes a great tailgate food to eat with barbecue or ribs. Also is tasty as a burger topping. I am thinking of trying it as a pizza topping too!
Traditional or post-modern, collards remain one of the healthiest vegetables we can eat fresh any time right here in North Carolina. We celebrate the collards, not just because they taste good, but because they are part of our heritage and of our economic fortunes. Local people can all grow a row of collards here, sell them to make money, or just eat like a king. They remind us that we are still rooted in our rural heritage, that are small towns are economically viable, and will remain so in the future. As Andy of Mayberry might just add.....maybe those fellas (and gals) up in Raleigh ought to come down and have a bowl of collards to help them keep their priorities straight.