Food & Drink

Here are the 2 most important things you need to know about collards today

Most stores and markets around Charlotte expect to have plenty of collards in time for New Year’s.
Most stores and markets around Charlotte expect to have plenty of collards in time for New Year’s.

The Great Collard Panic of 2018 has apparently ended before it began. Most sources we checked with in the Charlotte area Friday said that while collards were in short supply just before Christmas, there should be plenty in stores for New Year’s.

The temporary shortage, which was widely reported Thursday, was caused by flooding and heavy rains in the Southeast after hurricanes Florence and Michael. That worried people who follow the tradition of eating collards, along with black-eyed peas, on New Year’s to ensure good luck and prosperity.

“There were some extreme shortages on several produce items leading up to the holidays due to the hurricanes,” according to Harris Teeter spokesperson Danna Robinsol. “However, we appear to be in good shape on collards.”

Kimberly Reynolds of Publix in the Charlotte area also said they expect to have plenty. “We worked closely with our suppliers to have enough available to take care of our customers for the New Year.”

At Food Lion at North Sardis and Monroe Road, produce manager Gilbert Kinlow said some customers had said they couldn’t find them at other stores, but his store had plenty. “I don’t know how they got them, but they did,” he said. “We’ve got plenty.”

As often happens when a shortage is reported, there were a few empty spots in some stores. At the Walmart Super Center on North Sardis Road, one section of bagged collards was empty, but there several crates of bundled collards.

A few displays of collards were empty or running lows Friday. But mostly, collards were in good supply around Charlotte. Kathleen Purvis

But Jesse Leadbetter of Freshlist, which works with farms in the area to gather fresh produce for customers, including restaurants, said most farms in the region reported having plenty of collards in the fields.

“The farms in eastern (North Carolina) were off to a really slow start with the hurricanes but should actually be getting close to being back online by now,” he said in an email. “I would expect the shortage to ease up soon.”

Now, on to the second bit of good news on collards: We have a recipe that even collard haters usually like. It involves mixing collards and cabbage. The sweetness of the cabbage balances the bitterness of the collards. And there’s plenty of cabbage around as well.

Collards for Collard Haters

Adapted from the former Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Beulaville, N.C., and “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook” by Matt and Ted Lee.

1 large bunch collards

Half a head of green cabbage, core removed

1/4 pound slab bacon or sliced bacon, diced

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

2 cups chicken broth, divided

Wash the collards very well, in several changes of water. Cut away the ribs, roll up the leaves and slice into strips. Cut the cabbage into slices. Keep the collards and the cabbage separate.

Divide the bacon between 2 large pots over medium heat. Cook until the fat is rendered but bacon isn’t crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Turn heat down under 1 pot, add 1 cup chicken broth and about 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the cabbage and about half the bacon, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes, until tender.

While the cabbage is cooking, add onion and pepper flakes to the fat in the second pot and cook until the onion has softened. Add 1 cup chicken broth and about 6 cups water. Add the collards to the pot with the remaining bacon. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 1 hour, until tender.

When the cabbage is tender, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon, draining the liquid. Place cabbage on a cutting board and chop finely with a large knife. Set aside.

When the collards are tender, remove them with a slotted spoon, saving the cooking liquid. Place them on a cutting board and mince them. Mix the minced cabbage and collards and return them to one of the pots with enough of the cooking liquid to make a mixture that is juicy but not too soupy.

Reheat and serve hot, with hot sauce or peppered vinegar on the side.

Yield: About 8 servings. Leftovers can be frozen.

Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis has more than 25 years of experience in writing about food., cooking and Southern food culture. She also covers restaurant news (openings, closings, trends and food finds) and she knows where to find the best fried-chicken breakfast in town.