by David Cecelski
This is a garden full
of yellow cabbage collards at the Collard Shack, a produce stand in Ayden, in Pitt County.
Operated year-round by Bennie and Vickie Cox, it’s the only place I know that
sells yellow cabbage collard seeds or bedding plants.
Yellow cabbage collards—we usually just call them
“cabbage collards” where I’m from—are an old variety of collard greens much
cherished in eastern North Carolina.
They’re not really yellow, though, more a slightly lighter green, I’d say.
I prefer the stronger taste of regular collard
greens myself, but many of my friends and neighbors like cabbage collards
better. They find them more tender and with a milder, less bitter flavor than
regular collard greens.
While almost impossible to find anywhere else in the
country, cabbage collards are usually not hard to locate in eastern North Carolina. Our
locally owned grocery stores often carry them, fresh from a neighborhood
farmers' fields, and quite a few produce markets and farm stands have them,
Many of our finest country cooking cafes also serve
cabbage collards. Just down the road from the Collard Shack, on 3rd Street in
downtown Ayden, Bum’s Restaurant is famous for the homegrown cabbage collards
on its menu.
Getting the seeds to grow cabbage collards is
another matter. I’ve never seen them in seed stores or garden catalogs. Not
even companies that specialize in heirloom seeds carry them.
In most parts of eastern North Carolina, you really have to know
somebody that has cabbage collard seeds and is willing to share. I’ll warn you,
though: that may not be easy. Most people jealously guard their cabbage
collard seeds. Some have been passed down in the same family for generations.
I’m not saying that collard growers aren’t generous
souls. In my experience, they’ll gladly give you an armful of their best cabbage
collards out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re more than happy to fix
you “a mess” of them for dinner, too. But unless you are blood kin—close blood
kin—they’re not likely to share their seeds. In eastern North Carolina, cabbage collard seeds are a
treasure meant for children and grandchildren.
As you can no doubt tell from this photograph, these
cabbage collards aren’t ready to pick yet. Most years they’ll be ready to
harvest around Mother’s Day, so it won’t be long now. At the Collard Shack,
though, you can already purchase the bedding plants and, if the Coxes haven’t
run out for the year, they might have some of those precious seeds, too.
The Collard Shack is located at 4639 South Lee Street, across a parking
lot from Pete Jones’ Skylight Inn, the legendary ‘cue joint. The phone number
is (252) 746-8661.
NCFOOD is the North Carolina Folklife Institute’s blog exploring our state’s traditional cooking and foodways. Every highway and byway in the state is a potential jumping off point for a food adventure, whether discovering the Restaurante Rosa de Saron in Sampson County or the Pakse Café in Greensboro.
You’ll find stories and personal experiences about farmers and food artisans, local recipes, and great traditional eateries -- a celebration of the rich and diverse food traditions of North Carolina. Celebrate the magic that happens when many cultures come together around a common table.
Title photo of Altapass Orchard by Cedric N. Chatterley