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, too.
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 .
The Collard Shack
4639 S Lee St, Ayden, NC 28513