Monday, July 18, 2011

Collard Greens


I planted collards last year and had a good yield, once I got control of the cabbage caterpillars and loopers. The plants produced greens throughout our zone 6A summer season, right into late fall. Finally facing a hard freeze, I harvested the remaining leaves for a final pot of greens. Given the poor quality and high price of supermarket collards up here in New England, I considered my collards effort a great success and collards were on my planting list for 2011.

This year I have raised beds, so I had to consider the size of collard plants in my planning. I decided to devote a 4x4 box to collards and kale, 4 of each to 16 squares,alternating the plants. I inter-planted the brassicas with lettuces and onions and flowers which I hoped to harvest before the kale and collards got big. I also covered the box with floating row cover to hopefully ward off the cabbage moths. So far, it’s working. I just harvested my first “mess of greens” today for dinner, a treat for my mother-in-law visiting from Mississippi. See the details below the fold.

I have tried to advocate for the lowly collards among my fellow New England gardeners to no avail. This year I had extra plants but could find no takers for the plants, even though large areas in the community gardens are unplanted and being wasted. The idea that it takes 60 minutes to cook the greens turns off some. That’s the time it takes to roast a chicken, but maybe they only do rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Maybe there’s some prejudice about things country, the “pot o’ greens”. Whatever, gardeners are missing out on a nutritious and tasty vegetable that will yield throughout the season. The following pictures will show how I grow, cook and eat collard greens.

The variety I planted this year is collard Georgia, an heirloom variety with blue-green leaves. I purchased locally grown plants as I did last year, which is amazing considering how uncommon collards are in New England. The plants have done fine under the floating row cover, but still have a few holes in the leaves. I don’t know what is producing the holes, but I’m confident it isn’t cabbage caterpillars. Here’s the harvest. Note that one leaf is green and one is blue-green. This is an open pollinated heirloom variety with a lot of variation. Two of my plants have green leaves and two have the blue-green color.

collard greens

I will now show you how to prepare collards. Dinner tonight is roast chicken, cauliflower, and collard greens. To prepare the collards, the tough stems have to be removed. My MIL turns the leaf over and pinches the stem, tearing it off the leaf (right), then tears the leaf into pieces. I prefer to use a knife, laying the leaf on a cutting board and slicing along both sides of the stem (left).

de-stemming collards

I stack up the leaves and use the knife to chop the leaves into pieces. A bonus is the nice pile of stems for the compost pile. The chopped collards are then thoroughly washed in a pot of water to remove any dirt or sand.

prepped collard  greens

In a large pot, I cook 2-3 slices of bacon, diced. I like to add a little olive oil to help start the bacon. When the bacon is cooked and the bacon fat is rendered but before the bacon browns, add in the chopped collard greens. Toss the greens to coat, then add enough water to just cover the greens. Add salt and bring to a simmer. Cover and turn heat down so the pot just barely bubbles. Cook for 45-60 minutes until the greens are tender.

steaming collards

The other secret to enjoying your collard greens is pepper vinegar, which is sprinkled on top of the greens. Pepper vinegar is impossible to find in New England supermarkets. We pick ours up on trips south. Maybe you can mail-order it, or make your own with tiny hot peppers packed into s small glass bottle. The good thing is you can top it up with more vinegar to continue to enjoy greens.

pepper vinegar

Here’s dinner: herbed roast chicken, roasted cauliflower ( a satisfying low-carb alternative for potatoes), and a big mess of collard greens with pepper vinegar. My MIL declared the meal “delicious”. You, too, should try collard greens in your garden.

collards with dinner


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