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Collard Greens: A Southern Thanksgiving Staple

Collards, State Farmers' Market, Thanksgiving
Leoneda Inge

'Tis the season for turkey, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole!

Well, around these parts, many tables may forgo the canned green beans for fresh collard greens.  The sturdy big-leafed vegetable is a staple for holiday meals, especially popular in the South.

Many parts of North Carolina have already had their first frost.  That means, the collards are ready.

The State Farmers’ Market recently celebrated Colossal Collard Day. Yes, collards everywhere.

“I’ve had two tastes already, they’re great!" said Jimmy Gore.

Jimmy Gore grew up in Sampson County and likes to eat collard greens year-round, especially during this time of year.  Gore and several of the people I spoke with made it clear, they either grew collards, cooked collards or just ate collards.

“My mother cooked collards.  I’m from the country.  So, everybody can’t cook collards," said Gore.

“I’m not a collard connoisseur but they’re pretty good," said Denise Rogers after a first taste.

Denise Rogers of Raleigh is getting her fill of collards.  The free samples were served at the Farmers’ Market with hush-puppies on top and a line of condiments to choose from, including sweet and hot chow chows, salt, pepper and vinegar.

Rogers says for the holidays, her brother-in-law cooks the collards.

“I don’t know what he does, all I do is eat it! So, I’m not quite sure exactly what his secret is," said Rogers.  "But normally they are cut fine, chopped fine and I’m sure he uses the traditional pork to cook it in.”

You would think with all the people who love to eat collard greens around here, the state Agriculture Department would know how much is grown and sold.  But they don’t. They say it has something to do with the leaf’s short, perishable shelf life. All they know is a lot of collards come from Johnston, Harnett, and Sampson counties.

Wise Farms of Wayne County has been selling collards at the state Farmers’ Market for 18 years.  And this time of year, Helen Wise says their vegetable stand is mostly collards. 

"Probably in a year's time, I would think we sell 25 acres of collards, or more," said Wise. "I'm just giving 25 acres as a good (estimate), because we grow them all throughout the year.”

Bill Peace of Bahama, just outside Durham, purchased eight pounds of collards for his family.  He eats, his wife cooks. Peace said these collards are for Thanksgiving.

"Yes, but she’ll probably try to cook them a couple of days before Thanksgiving to get the smell out the house," Peace laughed.

Nelson Ellison is the Kitchen Manager at the State Farmer’s Market Restaurant, a very busy place.

Ellison has cooked the collard greens here for a decade.  He says this is the busy season.

“The majority here, the people eat the collards here.  The cabbage and the turnips, they’ll eat them, but they eat more of the collards.," said Ellison. "And now Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, we sell more.  We cook more.”  

Ellison cooked the collards for Colossal Collard Day that people were raving about.

The recipe handed out at the farmers’ market calls for smoked ham hock, salted fat back, crushed red pepper and salt to taste.   

Ellison says he boils his seasoning for about 30 minutes and then the collards cook another 45.  Not all day long!

“And then you have to also cook it with love," Ellison said with a smile.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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