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Definition: collard from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1755) : a cabbage (Brassica oleracea acephala) related to kale and having a loose head of stalked smooth leaves; also : its leaves cooked and eaten as a vegetable — usu. used in pl. —called also collard greens


Summary Article: COLLARDS
from World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States

The collard green (Brassica oleracea acephala) is a nonheading member of the cabbage family eaten as a leafy vegetable. Although the cool-weather vegetable originated in Eurasia, and its American name comes from a corruption of an Anglo-Saxon term “colewort,” meaning “cabbage plants,” it became most closely associated with slaves in the South. Collards found favor with enslaved Africans because of their similarity to wild and cultivated greens that were staples of their traditional diet. In some markets in West Africa, dozens of varieties of these greens are offered for sale, destined for pots of stew or as a base for sauces. Collards may have been introduced to West and Central Africa by the Portuguese, who valued them for use in caldo verde, a soup of greens flavored with preserved pork. Full of vitamin C and fiber, collards form a culinary link between the American South, West and Central Africa, and the Portuguese world, including Brazil, where enslaved blacks also made collards key in their food traditions. In 1709, John Lawson noted “coleworts” as one of the common “salads” of the Carolinas. On August 17, 1781, Capt. William Feltman saw collards growing in the cabin gardens of an enslaved community in Hanover County, Virginia, noting, “The Negroes here raise great quantities of snaps and collerds [sic] they have no cabbages here.” The variety he saw most likely resembled “Green Glaze,” a large branching, waxy-leafed heirloom sold by the Landreth Seed Company in Philadelphia in 1820. Because vegetables typically were not used for rations, the growing of leafy greens such as collards and other vegetables like turnip greens, kale, and rape were essential to a more balanced and nutritionally complete diet. Collards were typically grown in fields as livestock fodder, as was done by 18th-century Virginia planter Landon Carter, and called “cow-collards.” This added to their common availability in most of the lower South. Collards were most valued for the by-product known as “pot-liquor,” a rich stock produced by boiling them with salt meat that was soaked up with bland-tasting hoecake or ashcake. John Patterson Green, who wrote about his slave times in his native North Carolina, observed that

To the inhabitants of the country districts of the South, the collard is a very great blessing: because when boiled in a pot with a piece of fat meat and balls of cornmeal dough, having the size and appearance of ordinary white turnips, called dumplings, it makes palatable a diet which would otherwise be all but intolerable.

Easily cultivated, nutritious and tasty, the collard was a key staple in many enslaved communities.

See also Pigs and Pork; Pot Likker.

Further Reading
  • Carter, Landon. The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter of Sabine Hall, 1752-1778. edited by Jack, P. Greene. 2 vols. Published for the Virginia Historical Society by the University Press of Virginia Charlottesville, 1965.
  • Feltman, William. The Journal of Lt. William Feltman 1781-82. New York Times New York, 1969.
  • Green, John Patterson. Recollections of the Inhabitants, Localities, Superstitions, and KuKlux Outrages of the Carolinas. By a “Carpet-Bagger” Who Was Born and Lived There. Cleveland, 1880.
  • Greene, Wesley. “Brassicas.” Colonial Williamsburg. At www.history.org/history/cwland/resrch3.cfm.
  • Weaver, William Woys. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. Henry Holt and Company New York, 1997.
  • Twitty, Michael W.
    Copyright 2011 by Martha B. Katz-Hyman and Kym S. Rice

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