Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Saving Collards, the South’s Signature Greens

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Nearly-lost collard green varieties are being preserved and propagated across the country. ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF THE HEIRLOOM COLLARD PROJECT

Debra Freeman writes in Gastro Obscura about one of my favorite greens. The only place I can readily find it here is Whole Foods, so I buy a couple of bunches on every visit.

Her article begins:

IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH, MANY people have fond memories of a pot of collard greens simmering on the stove for hours, seasoned with a ham hock and stirred by a parent or grandparent. Cousins to cauliflower and broccoli, collards are a hearty green known for their robust, slightly bitter taste and the rich, nutritious “pot liquor” they produce when cooked. These greens and their liquor have been lauded for generations, but few in the South know that there’s more than one kind of collard green. Even fewer know that there are dozens of different varieties, and that many are now on the verge of disappearing forever.

That’s where the Heirloom Collard Project comes in. By distributing and growing rare and unique collards, this massive collaboration has created ties between chefs, gardeners, farmers, and seedsmen who hope to preserve the plant’s genetic diversity.

Collards are not native to the United States. Instead, they’re Eurasian in origin, and ancient Romans and Greeks feasted on them thousands of years ago. As for how they became prevalent in the American South, scholars have a number of theories. Collard seeds may have been brought over from Portugal in the 18th century, or from the British Isles to the early colonies. However, the most prevalent theory is that enslaved Africans introduced them to the region, since collard greens were a staple crop in many parts of Africa. Historian John Egerton, in his 1987 book Southern Food, declared that “from Africa with the people in bondage came new foods,” such as okra, black-eyed peas, yams, and collard greens.

Regardless of when or how they arrived stateside, collard greens flourished in Southern gardens. 20 main varieties, from the Yellow Cabbage collard to the Old Timey Green, established themselves as garden favorites. But after World War II, many Americans moved away from both their farmland and their agricultural lifestyles. One victim of this shift was the collard green. With fewer people farming, variety after variety dropped off the map, leaving only five types that could easily be found—Georgia Green, Champion, Vates, Morris Heading, and Green Glaze.

But five years ago, Ira Wallace and the members of the Seed Savers Exchange asked the USDA for over 60 collard green varieties to plant in Iowa. Wallace, as worker/owner of the cooperatively run Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, had been promoting the versatility and resilience of collards for years. Her inspiration for spearheading the Heirloom Collard Project was a series of photos taken by Edward Davis.

Davis and John Morgan, both geography professors at Emory & Henry College, traversed the South to collect rare heirloom collards between 2003 and 2007. The pair published a book on their quest, Collards: A Southern Tradition from Seed to Table, in 2015. They then gave the dozens of collard varieties they had gathered to the USDA. When Davis shared photos of all of the collards he tracked down, Wallace knew she wanted to help make the seeds widely available once more.

The project has several goals, among them seed preservation, documenting the stories of the still-living seed stewards that Davis and Morgan met while writing their book, and, perhaps most importantly, providing seeds to companies and gardeners interested in growing these storied old varieties.

So far, many have risen to the challenge. That’s according to . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by Leisureguy

23 March 2021 at 12:35 pm

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