I knew that I wasn’t the only organic gardener flaunting the vegetable gardening rules and trying ideas that stray from the norm.
Jack recently sent in the following email in which he shared a tip for harvesting collard greens, along with some interesting observations on the state of affairs in the dwindling seed industry:
“Hi Kenny, I liked the page you have on the web about collards, and I though you might find my somewhat unconventional harvest method interesting. I discovered this method by chance or maybe desperation.”
Doing Away with the Book… and Tough Collards
“Collard greens are not part of my culinary heritage. I started growing them to expand my repertoire of fall and early winter vegetables, and so I harvest the big outer leaves for cooking as all my garden books said I should. This made for healthy eating, I kept telling myself, but it also seemed like a sort of penance, not to mention the long cooking time.”
“The second year I was growing them, it was a loose-head type, I had a real nice row, way more than I could eat, and a severe and early cold snap was headed our way so I knew I would soon lose them all. (I am in eastern PA.) One night I said, I’m just going to cut one of these tender blanched hearts, forget the chewy strong flavored big leaves.”
“I brought it in, chopped it up fine and cooked it in a frying pan with some bacon, onions and just a little bit of water – steamed it really. I have never bothered with the big outer leaves again. The tender hearts are mild and sweet and cook up fast. The only downside is you have to plant a longer row.”
Gourmet Quality Collard Greens and Seeds
“In the spring of 86, I lived in England, down in the SW on the Devon Cornwall border. The local green grocer offered what looked to me like collards, which he said was grown down farther in Cornwall where the weather is milder.”
“It looked like the collards as I had harvested them with loose inner heads of frilly chartreuse colored tender leaves. So that is apparently how they do them there too.”
“It’s getting harder to get much choice in collard varieties these days. The seed companies are drying up and trimming their offerings. And even the Seed Savers Exchange only offers a handful. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has four varieties including Morris Heading.”
Jack, thank you for sharing your tips for harvesting tastier collard greens. I usually shake my head when I see the bundles of huge collard leaves for sale at the grocer. I agree with your preference for picking leafy greens when they are young, tender, and much smaller in size.
Mother Nature’s Natural Seasoning for Leafy Greens
The only down side is that if you harvest the growing tip in the center of the plant it will not continue to produce additional leaves. That’s not a concern at the end of the season but can limit overall production during earlier harvests. To get around this harvest the leaves individually and allow the very center of the plant to continue growing and expanding.
When harvested long before maturity, collards and other leafy greens are delicate, tender, and will cook in a matter of just a few short minutes. Baby collards or kale picked while the leaves are just a few inches in size are also great for including in tossed salads or simply eating raw.
Frost and cold temperatures also have a way of sweetening and enhancing the flavor of greens. While the leaves can be harvested and enjoyed at any stage, the taste is improved by harvesting leaves that have been seasoned by exposure to cold and frost. The cold temps will bring out the subtle colors of the greens in addition to the naturally sweet flavors.
I share your concerns over the loss of seed varieties. There aren’t a lot of collard varieties to begin with so the last thing we need is to lose any. And while there seems to be a healthy number of small heirloom seed companies around, there are also huge corporate seed conglomerates buying out the smaller seed companies and discontinuing more and more seeds.
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