by David Cecelski
I was on US 111 in southern Duplin County, on my way to a MLK, Jr. Day event at St. Thomas AME Zion Church in Swansboro, when I saw the sign for collard kraut. It was in the front yard of a farmhouse in between the little communities of Lyman and Fountaintown.
Collard kraut—collard greens that have been fermented in salt brine—used to be commonplace in a big swath of the American South. It’s made just like sauerkraut, except with collards instead of cabbage.
Of course I had to stop—I’m not sure I’d ever seen anyone selling collard kraut before. A very nice lady named Julia King answered the door and said that yes indeed she would sell me some collard kraut. She and her husband James grow about an acre of collard greens every year and sell both fresh collards and collard kraut.
This year the Kings put up 3 barrels of collard kraut, Mrs. King told me. She’d sell me the fresh collard kraut straight out of a barrel or pint jars of collard kraut that she had already seasoned, cooked, and canned.
Mrs. King said that her mother used to make collard kraut when she was a child. Just like her mother used to, she and her husband wash and cut up the collards, then put them in a barrel in a salt brine with a weighted lid resting on the top of the brine. Mrs. King, who was as nice as she could be, said that they usually ferment their collards about a month.
You can eat collard kraut as a side dish, a condiment, or as a main dish. Like a lot of people I’ve talked to, Mrs. King likes it better than sauerkraut. People often tell me that it is mellower and sweeter than sauerkraut. I got two jars and I’m looking forward to trying it—and if I like it as much as I think I will, I’m going to try to make my own next summer.
If you’re looking for a restaurant that serves fresh (not canned or frozen) collards—an almost unheard of phenomenon these days—I highly recommend a little soul food place called The Lickin’ Pot. It’s in the rural community of Rhodestown, in Onslow County, 12 or 13 miles from where I found the collard kraut today.
The Lickin’ Pot is a family business. The mom, Rose, got started by selling dinner plates by the roadside. Now she, her husband Robert, and their daughter run this fabulous little joint on a dirt lane surrounded by cotton fields. They serve ribs, fried chicken, barbecue, and catfish plates, as well as homemade desserts like banana pudding and sweet potato pie.
The Lickin’ Pot has no seating inside, but they have 3 or 4 tables outside on an open porch. It’s a lovely place to sit and eat on a warm, sunny winter day like today. Everything I’ve had there is good, but the collards are to die for: fresh, sweet, and seasoned beautifully.
The Lickin’ Pot is at 573 Rhodestown Road, Rhodestown (the mailing address is Jacksonville), and is open 6 AM to 8 PM, Monday-Saturday. You can reach them by phone at (910) 430-4175 or (910) 324-2811.