A Southern Tradition — Collards

Carolina Collards

Originally a wild and rather unpalatable green, the collards we know and love today have been developed over centuries to sweeten their flavor, breeding out the bitterness and rough qualities of the original “weed.”

Today, we enjoy the largess of such breeding and also the development of cuisine devoted to this green, Brassica oleracea. Traditionally, they are slow cooked with some type of pork, but vegetarian recipes abound as well.

There is a another reason for Collard Greens’ popularity. It is ranked as one of the most nutritious greens, second only to mache. High in protein, calcium, Vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and potassium, nothing beats collards fresh from your own organic garden. And a recent study  at the University of East Anglia found that a compound in collards called sulforaphane can help prevent and slow cartilage damage and osteoarthritis.

Perhaps no other vegetable so represents the South as this one. It was relied on during the American Revolution and grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. It has historically been enjoyed cross-culturally, though we certainly owe a debt to the African Americans enslaved here for learning the best and most economical ways to prepare and store.

Easy to grow, and often seen in large family patches, you can grow just four collard plants in a 4 x 4 raised bed and harvest a leaf or two at a time from the bottom of the head over a very long growing period, or you can harvest the whole head leaving the stalk in the ground to sprout again.

Collards do require at least 4-5 hours of sun and a loose sandy soil for Spring crop or heavier loamy soil for Fall/Winter crop. They are extremely cold hardy and can survive frosts and light to medium freezes (which converts some of the carbs to sugar, making them sweeter) but will bolt in the heat of summer, so grow either very Early Spring or in the Fall/Winter. Starting seeds indoors or in the greenhouse will give you a jump on either season. They are heavy feeders and need nitrogen for consistent growth. They also need consistent water, 1.5 ” each week, either by rainfall or irrigation. Do not cultivate deeply. You can mulch for weed prevention.

Depending on the variety, collards may suffer munchers, though not as much as other brassicas. But in an organic home garden, especially in a raised bed situation, you can address by several organic methods including a strong spray of water, companion planting by nasturtiums and tomatoes as well as aromatic herbs, which will also improve flavor, and finally a homemade hot pepper spray really works (just be sure to wear gloves when applying and reapply after a rain).

Georgia Collard

I am pleased to be selling three different organic heirloom varieties this year each with its own regional interest.

  1. First introduced in 1879, and popularized by Burpee in 1944, the popular variety Georgia is a non-heading type that forms large rosettes 3′ high. It takes 80 days from early transplanting to harvest.
  2. Carolina Cabbage Collard, also known as Yellow Cabbage Collard, is a North Carolina heirloom variety for which it is very hard to acquire seeds as they are closely guarded by the Eastern NC families that grow for market stands. Many prefer the tender, silky texture and mild, non-bitter flavor of this variety. Not really yellow, but a lighter green than other varieties. A choice of the ‘Ark Of Taste’ which writes: “Making its appearance in the late 1880’s, Yellow Cabbage Collard continued to be prominent with readily available seeds for purchase in North Carolina until approximately 1975. Colonel Joe Branner, proprietor of the Asheville Greenhouses, began the production of the seed in eastern Carolina in 1887 by sowing full collard seed in his greenhouse, which responded to the local soil by growing a bit shorter and more cabbage-like, naturalizing over time to its new environment.” Non-heading it grows year round in full sun or partial shade with a 45+ day growing cycle. Plants grow to 2′ x 2′.
  3. Green Glazed Collard is a rare resurrected variety whose lineage dates back 200 years.It not only has a beautiful waxy appearance, it is more resistant to cabbage worm and cabbage looper, thus easier to grow organically. It is also heat and frost resistant and slow to bolt, making it a good choice for Southern gardens. The Cascade variety I offer was developed in the NW, and retains the recessive gene for the glossy appearance but occasionally kicks out a regular collard which should not be allowed to go to seed (to protect the strain). Non-heading and early. 60 days.

Green Glazed Collards

I hope you will give collards a try in your home garden this year … even if you are a “Nawthener” Happy gardening y’all!

Oswego Tea … Beautiful Native, Historical Herb, Useful Medicinal

Oswego Tea

I wait with anticipation for the appearance in Spring of my beautiful bed of Monarda Didyma, or Oswego Tea. Before the blooms, I can enjoy the fragrant and delicious foliage.

Also known as Scarlet Bee Balm, it is an ancient American native plant. The genus is named after Nicholas Monardes, a Spanish physician who wrote in the 16th Century about New World medicinal plants. The common name was bestowed by John Bartram (1699-1777), a Quaker farmer known as the “Father of American Botany”, who observed Oswego Indians using it for tea. It was used as a substitute for black tea during the American Revolution.

Monarda Didyma is less medicinal in taste that its cousin Monarda Citriodora (Lemon Mint). Like all members of the mint family it has a square-shaped stem. The large shaggy brilliant red flowers grow 30-36″ high and are aromatic and edible. Unlike other Bee Balms, it does not invite mildew — that unattractive “frosting” on the foliage so common on Purple Bee Balm in particular — in the garden. It is delightful and impressive to scatter the red petals over any entree or salad. An important bee forage plant it is also very attractive to hummingbirds. Here in North Carolina it fills out beautifully from early Spring and then blooms for weeks May-June and, if you deadhead the blooms, you will enjoy another burst of color again in August. Also a nice cut flower, wonderful tea and potpourri when dried.

Native Americans used this plant to cure flatulence and insomnia. The Blackfeet used poultices of this plant for skin infections and minor wounds. It is also used for mouth and throat infections since it is a natural source of the antiseptic Thymol, used in modern mouthwashes.

The seeds are somewhat difficult to harvest as they appeal to many birds. You can either bend the stem over a bowl gently, so you do not snap it and tap the base of the flower. If the light brown seeds fall out you are in luck! If you miss them, there’s always next year, as this wonderful flower WILL be back! An alternate method, and one which may yield a second bloom, is to cut the spent flower heads back to a leaf union and carefully place the head on paper for drying. If you do this properly, your plants will sprout new stems with flowers at the union, and once your harvested flower heads are dried, you can gently crush and shake them over a white paper plate until the seeds are ejected. Now — this is important — you will see many many more little black square irregular grains that look a bit like pepper. These are NOT seeds. But there are lots of them and you need to carefully search for the few seeds which are roundish, smooth and light brown.

Finally, a note about harvesting for tea or medicinal use. When gathering herbs for fresh use, pick early in the morning, when still kissed by dew. But when gathering herbs for drying, wait until the sun has dried the dew, to prevent mildew. Gather small bunches of the healthiest plants and tie at the ends with string with a tail. Then hang in a protected environment. For me, it is from the shutters of my interior kitchen window over my sink. No sunlight at this window but plenty of fresh air as an overhead fan circulates during warmer months. This is ideal. Otherwise, special drying racks work well. The idea is to dry quickly, without sunlight, but plenty of air circulation to keep mildew from forming. Turn if necessary to make sure the bunch dries completely. Once dry, crumple the leaves from the stems and store in airtight canisters.

CherryGal.com is offering this wonderful and special herb in two organically-grown forms, both in LIMITED SUPPLY — as Seed and as lifted Seedlings in Spring. Don’t wait until they are all gone! Get your seeds now, or reserve your seedlings for shipment at the appropriate time for your growing zone.

My established bed of Monarda Didyma

 

Historic Garden Lima Bean … Sieva Carolina Baby Limas

This wonderful and hard to find bean was grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. According to their website, “Lima beans were a hot-weather favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who sowed them yearly from 1809-1824. Monticello’s gardener, Robert Bailey, saved seed of White Carolina beans in 1794. Also known as Sieva, this variety is small and delicately-flavored. Originally from South America and grown by Virginia native tribes, lima beans were also called “bushel,” “sugar,” or “butter” beans in the 1700s.”

Very happy to be able to offer this year at CherryGal.com. Its been several years since it has been available in organic form. SIEVA CAROLINA LIMA BEAN, also known as Carolina Butter Bean, is a Southern heirloom with excellent flavor and dark green 9′-10′ vines. Sieva Carolina bears even during extreme heat, which is why it is a native in this Southern region. Pole habit. 60-75 days.

Limited Supply so don’t wait!

New CherryGal.com is here!

My web guy has been telling me for months I had to do this, and being the frugal (i.e., poor) businesswoman that I am, I resisted. And resisted. AND resisted. But finally Google pushed the urgency because they changed their security viewpoint and I was forced to do this “update.” It’s more than an update. Its a totally NEW website, with all sorts of bells and whistles which I am just beginning to learn. But for the moment, it works quite well at processing orders and I am even able to offer a discount if you hurry and purchase $50 or more in CherryGal.com items, you will get $10 off. Just use coupon code at checkout NEWWEB. What could be simpler. Hope you do … this update cost me a LOT! 🙂

The “new” CherryGal.com is here!

Enter Fraises des Bois …

I love strawberries! All kinds. But the strawberry that really grabs me is the delicate heirloom alpine variety known as Fraises des Bois. The elongated conical pointed fruits grow on mostly runnerless crowns, making this an ideal plant for containers or window boxes. I have grown mine organically for 10 years in two window boxes outside my kitchen door opening to my garden, and they have weathered unbelievably capricious summers and cruel winters without blushing. Each Spring they begin their unending offering of red, intensely flavored sweet, piquant fruits — it takes only a few to brighten a morning bowl of cereal. The fruiting lasts until the first freeze. The crowns are evergreen and regenerate themselves each Spring as if by magic. I give them an occasional shot of Espoma Organic Grow fertilizer, and remove any tired leaves but that is all I do and they repay me with such treasure!

If you have a medicinal herb or ayurvedic garden, you should add Fraises des Bois for their remarkable and little known health benefits. Not typically associated in the modern mind with medicinal use, Alpine Strawberry was historically part of the pharmacopeia and used in many different ways: the root for diarrhea; the stalks for wounds; the leaves as astringents. Today, teas made from the leaves are wonderful for digestion (and diarrhea) and to stimulate the appetite, and recent study indicates a high element of ellagic acid, a known cancer preventative. The crushed fruit is very soothing to the skin and has antibacterial properties, AND can be applied to teeth (with baking soda) or skin to “bleach white.” The berries are an excellent source of Vitamin C and recent studies show them to be high in antioxidants, making them one to add to your cancer protection diet.

I have harvested and sold the seed for this wonderful fruit for many years, but this year decided to offer a few plants at Farmer’s Market. So this Saturday you can pick up one of these rare heirlooms and start your own back porch strawberry patch! It is easy to do with just one or two plants. Hurry before they are all gone!

 

 

The End Of The World …

I have come to the conclusion that the “End of the World” will come with a whimper, not with a bang. I base this on the many signposts we are all witnessing —

  • Weather Pattern Changes — Let’s set aside the controversial issue of “climate change” and its causes for the moment, we ARE seeing severe changes to weather patterns that are disruptive to our lives, and in certain parts of the world, destructive to the food supply. Up to this point, wars have usually been the major cause of starvation in troubled parts of the world, but now the drastic changes in climate are producing profound bands of drought across Africa and elsewhere that may be difficult to overcome. And starvation isn’t limited to the human family — many species are being adversely affected and experiencing die offs.
  • Poisoning of the environment — This one IS unquestionably human generated and nothing gets me as mad. Species die-offs as a result of adverse climate change is one thing — it has happened for billions of years — but species die-offs because of  the poisons we subject them to, whether in the soil, plants or waterways, is inexcusable and it would seem, also difficult to stop. With the bees alone, once they are gone, we starve.
  • Wars and Rumors of Wars — Another one that is preventable. Wars over territory, wars of aggression, wars because of dwindling resources … all preventable if we have the will to beat our swords into plowshares.

I am just wondering how long we can hold on as a planet. I remember the first smog alert my family experienced in our bucolic countryside home. It was in the early 1960’s. It was followed by Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking research in “Silent Spring” about the poisoning of our environment. Then came the Thalidomide story and Love Canal … and on and on and on. It is no better today, despite regulations and bureaucracies for every type of grievance. Why? Because greed will always find a way around rules if there is money to made doing it. And greed today is so much more powerful and monied, the only way to fight it is on a personal level.

Instead of looking out … Look IN. What can you personally do in your own little world to change the way YOU interact with the environment. Don’t say, oh it won’t make a difference … because that is, in the lexicon of the 60s, a “cop out.”  Here are a few suggestions, but I’m sure you have many more, and I’d like you to share them here.

  • Garden or farm organically and sustainably. There are a ton of resources now to help you. It’s not hard and it actually will save you money in the long run.
  • Stop throwing things away! Re-purposing and re-using and composting are all the rage. Again, there are a million resources out there with such creative ideas!
  • Know the purveyors of this violence to our world … know the companies they own and refuse to be a part of them. For example, Monsanto / Bayer / Syngenta are busily buying up Organic Seed producers. What is their ultimate goal? I don’t know, but I want no part of it. You can google an extensive list of these companies. Don’t support them.
  • Become or remain an active voter and participant in the process. I don’t know your politics, and I don’t want to know. I only want to know that you are involved. If you are not, you are contributing to the debacle.

Forgive me for this diatribe. It came to me as I laid in bed last night contemplating our current weather of 1F which will become 70F in just a few days. Never seen anything like this. I did a mental inventory of my garden, wondering which plants might succumb – not necessarily to the cold, but just the whiplash weather we have experienced for the past few years. I wondered if somewhere in our planet’s future would aliens need to reclaim and terraform our Earth, in the same way we are hoping to do on Mars. And I got mad. Really mad. I hope you get mad too.

 

North Carolina Native Heirloom Varieties

There are many heirloom varieties of garden seeds that originated here in North Carolina (or thereabouts) but I offer some of my favorites on CherryGal.com which I’d like to recommend to you:

A very rare find is The African Queen Tomato which hails from Western NC, but probably was brought here by Caribbean slaves. It dates here to the mid-18th Century. Many fine qualities!

Another NC heirloom tomato is the German Johnson Pink, notable for being one of the four parents of the venerable Mortgage Lifter tomato.

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A heritage variety claimed by many Southern areas, the Sieva Carolina Pole Lima Bean is noted for its ability to bear even in extreme heat. Grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson.

These are just three — but if you know of other heritage or heirloom varieties that are claimed by North Carolina, I’d love to hear about it!

 

Baking with Wild Caught Sourdough is …

  • MAGICAL because you are capturing these invisible creatures, feeding and caring for them, and then asking them to work for you to make something delicious
  • INSPIRING because it allows your imagination to take flight, creating new and different breads, muffins, biscuits, cookies, pizzas, tamales, noodles, hush puppies, cakes, crackers, pancakes and pie crust
  • HEALTHY because Wild Caught Sourdough Starter is made from natural yeast which requires a long fermentation to rise and this is what creates the immune enhancing, macro-biome promoting, and nutrient rich properties
  • ECONOMICAL because of its long shelf life … it has natural preservative qualities so you don’t waste and don’t need to refrigerate
  • MUCH MORE FLAVORFUL — compared to commercial yeast breads which taste like kleenex tissue, natural sourdough is tangy, rich, deeply delicious and actually becomes more so the longer it sits out
  • MOOD ALTERING — not only because of the different kind of candida that it produces, but also just the slow, rhythmic kneading, the waiting, anticipation and reward that baking with sourdough provides. It can enrich your life!

Each time I bake with my wonderful Sourdough Starter which I named Audrey II (after the insatiable plant in Little Shop of Horrors) it is an adventure. There are so many things I can do with it. This past week I made a delicious pizza. This weekend I will be baking Challah for my Church’s Fellowship Hour. I’ll be baking two loaves — just as is done for Shabbat, representing the double portion of mannah given to the Israelites in the wilderness so they would not have to forage on Shabbat. The braided form which we now associate with Challah, was not used until Medievil Times. Challah made with Wild Caught Sourdough Starter seems to me somehow more traditional, as it is natural yeast, as opposed to commercial yeast, which wasn’t available until the 20th Century. The recipes and form vary, but always incorporate eggs, giving the bread full flavor, fine grain and a golden hue.

New Year’s Challah with 6 Braids

Regional Comfort Foods … The Cornish Pasty

My paternal great grandfather hails from Cornwall England near St Austell according to one relative — an area full of tin, copper and china clay mines. Cornwall is known as the home of a recognized distinct ancient tribal peoples called “The Cornish.” My great grandfather was a miner, and his son (my grandfather) became a mining engineer when he emigrated (as part of the great Cornish diaspora) to the great open pit Iron Ore mines of Northern Minnesota.

cornwallmine

We were taught as children (and I presume it to be true) that a traditional lunch prepared for miners by their wives was the Cornish Pasty (rhymes with nasty, though it is anything but) carving their husband’s initials in the half moon pastries so that they would not be confused with others’.

The traditional pasty that we grew up eating and baking consists of a pie circle, filled with chopped beef, suet (which I now have to beg the butcher for), onion,potatoes and — most importantly — rutabaga (called turnips in Cornwall but milder in flavor). But many iterations contain other meats (like pork) and vegetables (like carrots). Folded in half and crimped on the unfolded side, these are baked for about 45 minutes at 350 F and are delicious! You can brush the tops with egg wash or milk.

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Preparing for the bake …

I have a hard time finding rutabagas here in NC and when I do they tend to be so large as to be difficult to chop, so I recently substituted purple top turnips, which have a somewhat sharper flavor but are tender and smaller, and the pasties are still delicious! In our family, we always ate them warm, with ketchup on the side. But the ketchup is not mandatory. In fact, I have met folks who eat these with mustard as they do tend to be a little on the dry side undressed. But there are any manner of things you could dress them with if you do not like ketchup.

pasty

If you have a special family comfort food that you can trace to ancient times, please let me know!