N.C. Town Cooks Up Yellow Cabbage Collards

Vickie and Benny Cox own The Collard Shack in Ayden, N.C. i i

Vickie and Benny Cox own The Collard Shack in Ayden, N.C. They specialize in yellow cabbage collards, an heirloom variety that's popular in this part of eastern North Carolina. Adam Hochberg/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Adam Hochberg/NPR
Vickie and Benny Cox own The Collard Shack in Ayden, N.C.

Vickie and Benny Cox own The Collard Shack in Ayden, N.C. They specialize in yellow cabbage collards, an heirloom variety that's popular in this part of eastern North Carolina.

Adam Hochberg/NPR

Want to make Vickie Cox's collards? Find her recipe here.

Cox sells his yellow cabbage collards fresh or frozen, raw or cooked. i i

Cox sells his yellow cabbage collards fresh or frozen, raw or cooked. Adam Hochberg/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Adam Hochberg/NPR
Cox sells his yellow cabbage collards fresh or frozen, raw or cooked.

Cox sells his yellow cabbage collards fresh or frozen, raw or cooked.

Adam Hochberg/NPR

Collards Q&A

Want to know more about yellow cabbage collards? Here, the basics on preparation and storage.

Collards served with ham, boiled potatoes and bread at Bum's Restaurant in downtown Ayden, N.C. i i

Lunch at Bum's Restaurant in downtown Ayden, N.C. Larry Dennis' collards are served with ham, boiled potatoes and bread. Adam Hochberg/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Adam Hochberg/NPR
Collards served with ham, boiled potatoes and bread at Bum's Restaurant in downtown Ayden, N.C.

Lunch at Bum's Restaurant in downtown Ayden, N.C. Larry Dennis' collards are served with ham, boiled potatoes and bread.

Adam Hochberg/NPR

Farmers Market Finds

This is part of a series of stories about farm fresh foods. Start thinking about what fills your shopping bag after a visit to your local farmers market or roadside stand, and plan on submitting your favorite recipes.

With the kind of pride that only a small-town chamber of commerce could muster, Ayden, N.C., trumpets itself as the "collard capital of the world." For as long as anyone can remember, this community has tied its civic identity to the thick, leafy vegetable.

And Benny Cox does his part.

Benny and his wife, Vickie, run a roadside stand called The Collard Shack. You won't find the green collards here that are common throughout the South. Instead, the Coxes grow yellow cabbage collards — an heirloom variety that's rare outside this part of North Carolina.

"The yellow cabbage collard has a different taste than what is called a green Georgia collard. The yellow cabbage collard is more tender. It's got a yellow tint to it, and it's not as tough," Cox says.

When we visited the Coxes, several customers were buying collards by the bagful, which Vickie says isn't unusual in the rural South, where collards seem to be a major food group of their own.

"Growing up, when Daddy farmed tobacco, we had collards five days a week at least. We might have a different meat to go with it, but I've been eating collards as long as I can remember," she says.

The Coxes do their biggest business around special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and during the fall Collard Festival, when Ayden crowns its collard queen. But because the crop grows year-round here, you'll almost always find someone in town cooking up a batch.

At Bum's Restaurant in Ayden, Larry Dennis starts cooking them at 4 a.m. In one pot, he boils the collards until they're soft, while in a second, he makes Southern gravy.

"I put me in an assortment of ham — some fresh ham, some tenderized ham and some country ham. Then I put a lot of different kind of sauces in it. And I'll boil that until everything in there gets just like butter. Then we pour that sauce I've made over the collards," Dennis says.

Though Dennis serves 200 gallons of collards some weeks, he says he's never thought of marketing them outside Ayden. Likewise, Benny Cox says he has his hands full just tending his roadside stand. So yellow cabbage collards remain just a local delicacy in this small North Carolina town.

Yellow Cabbage Collards

Summertime Preparation

5 pounds yellow cabbage collards

1/2 cup bacon grease or other grease

1 red pepper

1 piece of slab bacon or 2 ham hocks or country ham

1 pack of corned pig tails or 1 piece salt rib side

Salt and pepper to taste

Take stems out of collards and wash them thoroughly two or three times. Have your meat already in the pot boiling. Add your collards, grease, red pepper, and salt and pepper. Boil for about 2 hours, until tender. Take them out using a colander and press the water out of them. Use a food chopper to chop them up fine. Skim some of the grease just off the top of the pot and pour back on the collards.

Optional: You may put Irish potatoes or dumplings in the pot about 30 minutes before the collards are done. If so, take them out first.

Winter Preparation

Winter collards should be put in the pot when meat is almost done. Cook them about 30 minutes. Top with chopped hot green pepper.

Recipes have not been tested by NPR.

Recipes from What's Cooking in Your Kitchen and reprinted with permission by Vickie Cox.

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