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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now, another stop in our series on local farmers markets and roadside stands.

Today, NPR's Adam Hochberg takes us to Ayden, North Carolina, known for its twist on a Southern staple.

ADAM HOCHBERG: With the kind of pride that only a small-town chamber of commerce could muster, Ayden 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.

Mr. BENNY COX (Owner, The Collard Shack): This is example of the actual collards we sell right here.

HOCHBERG: Benny Cox and his wife Vickie run a roadside stand called The Collard Shack. Here you won't find the green collards 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.

Mr. COX: The yellow cabbage collard has a different taste than a green, 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.

(Soundbite of cash register)

Mr. COX: Come back (unintelligible)

HOCHBERG: 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.

Ms. VICKIE COX (Owner, The Collard Shack): 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.

HOCHBERG: 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 here year-round, you'll almost always find someone in town cooking up a batch.

(Soundbite of utensils)

Mr. LARRY DENNIS (Cook): We'll put the collards in this pot.

HOCHBERG: At Bum's Restaurant, Larry Dennis starts cooking them at 4:00 in the morning. In one pot he boils the collards until they're soft, while in a second he makes Southern gravy.

Mr. DENNIS: I put meat 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 that I've made over the collards.

HOCHBERG: 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.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can find collard recipes at our Web site, npr.org.

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