Move Over, Kale, for Yellow Cabbage Collard

 

Yellow Cabbage collard“What’s this thing about kale?”asked a newbie in town, from Alabaman, sipping her beer on a warm June evening on the terrace of our local brewpub. “I miss collards! Have you all ever even heard of collards?”

I had. I was growing them, thanks to somebody—I don’t remember who—who had brought tiny, hand-folded envelopes of Yellow Cabbage collard seeds to our local annual seed swap.

I’d planted the seeds in late summer of last year, and the plants had grown slowly over the winter. Normally, if I plant brassicas too late for a fall harvest, they go to seed as soon as warm weather arrives, if they survive that long. But through the spring the collards grew lushly. By then I couldn’t remember what it was I’d planted. I racked my brain to remember, because these brassicas looked good enough to eat even in lettuce season, when we neglect other vegetables to stuff ourselves with sweet, tender lettuce before it turns bitter and milky.

By the time I met the Alabaman, the collard plants were three feet tall. And with scant watering they kept growing through the hot, dry summer. The plants were so beautiful that my husband asked me to grow some in the front yard, where the neighbors could admire them.

Today the tallest of my four collard plants is four feet, and still the plants aren’t going to seed. Although I picked about 40 snails off the leaves this morning, the damage is scarcely noticeable from several feet away. The collards are still gorgeous.

Like kale, collard is a cabbage that doesn’t form a head (the word collard comes from colewort, an old name for wild cabbage). The thick green leaves have a waxy coating that repels water as oilcloth does. Tronchuda cabbage, which Portuguese cooks slice for caldo verde, is a kind of collard; so are the greens that Brazilians serve as a side dish with feijoada. Collard is rich in manganese and vitamins A, C, and K.

My plants bear big, open leaves all around the stem; the biggest leaves are two feet long. Yellow Cabbage collard gets the cabbage part of its name, I guess, because the plant makes a half-hearted effort at head formation, with small leaves in the center turning inward. The yellow part of the name makes sense to me only when I look at the smallest of my plants, whose color I would call yellow-green. The other three plants look to me more blue than yellow–but perhaps they are all yellower than typical collard.

According to Slow Food, which has put Yellow Cabbage collard on the Ark of Taste, the variety got its start in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1887. There, Colonel Joe Branner developed collard with less bitter, thinner leaves and a yellower color than other collards had. Today Yellow Cabbage collard is grown mostly around Ayden, North Carolina, where Benny and Vickie Cox sell both bagged collard leaves and collard bedding plants from their roadside business, The Collard Shack, and the town holds an annual collard festival.

In North Carolina, the harvest of spring-planted collard begins around Mother’s Day. The leaves are considered best when they are young and small, no longer than a foot. Although in general people prefer to eat collard when it has been sweetened by cold weather, Slow Food says that Yellow Cabbage collard reaches its peak flavor in mid-summer.

You can use collard much as you might use kale. In the South, collard greens are usually boiled for a long time with smoked or salted meat. But long cooking isn’t necessary if you like greens with texture; you can instead briefly sauté the cut leaves in oil, with garlic. Southerners sometimes use collard instead of head cabbage in sauerkraut. According to Slow Food, Yellow Cabbage collard is traditionally pickled in vinegar, with hot peppers and a little brown sugar (if you have such a recipe, please share it with me!). You can even make the famed massaged kale salad with collard in place of kale.

collard saladWhether or not you’ve ever made massaged kale salad, you don’t need a recipe for the collard version. First pick a few collard leaves—fewer than you think you’ll need, because these leaves are surprisingly dense. Cut out the midribs, and slice the leaves into strips. Sprinkle some salt over the collard strips. Rub the strips with your fingers until they lose their waxy coating and turn bright green. Let them rest for twenty minutes or so. Then taste the greens, and rinse them if they are too salty. Now add lemon juice and other ingredients of your choice—pickled onions, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, black pepper, chunks of tomato, small pieces of fresh or dried fruit. Finally, toss in some olive oil.

Before you make your Yellow Cabbage collard salad, of course, you must plant some Yellow Cabbage collard. The seeds can be hard to find. But Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has sold them in the past and probably will again, and one member of Seed Savers Exchange offered them this year. I may have seeds to share, too—assuming my plants ever produce any. Until then, I’ll think of my collards as lovely, edible evergreen shrubs.

Save That Potato: The Makah Ozette

Ozette potato 4.jpgThe one little potato tuber I planted in my city garden this year turned out to be a good choice: My single Makah Ozette plant yielded nearly 13 pounds of tubers.

Until recently grown only by the Makah tribe of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the pale-skinned Ozette is called a fingerling for its elongated shape, not its size; my biggest tuber was 8 inches long by 2 inches in diameter. Some other fingerling varieties, of course, can also grow gigantic. A stranger thing about the Makah Ozette’s appearance is its profusion of deep-set eyes, evenly distributed over each tuber. The big and little fingers look puckered like a hand-tacked quilt.

ozette-plant
My Makah Ozette plant, just beginning to yellow at the start of October

Stranger still is the way the plant grows. Although I planted my tiny tuber in a back corner of the garden, where it competed with nearby shrubs and received little water, the plant grew five feet tall. And it kept growing into autumn.

It’s said that potatoes, like tomatoes, come in both determinate and indeterminate types. The determinate ones die soon after producing their tubers, more or less all at once; the indeterminate ones keep on growing until disease, insect predation, or freezing weather kills their tops. Makah Ozette, then, must be indeterminate, and unusually disease-resistant besides. My plant showed no shriveling or discoloration until well into October, after at least a week of steady rain.

Harvest time brought more surprises. First, although the tubers I dug were all close to the surface, they had spread widely from the center of the plant, a foot and a half in all directions. What a clever way, I thought, for a tuberous plant to protect its future generations from soil-borne disease.

Second, the thin skin of the Makah Ozette proved remarkably tough: I could scrub the potatoes immediately after digging without rubbing off any skin. I didn’t need to store these potatoes dirty while they hardened off.

All of the other potato varieties I’ve raised have grown only about two feet tall, have died back in August, and have kept their baby tubers close to Mom. The tubers have had tender skin and shallow eyes, clustered at one end. Why is the Makah Ozette so different?

A 2010 DNA study provides the answer: The Makah Ozette, unlike all the other potato varieties with which I’m familiar, did not derive from the Peruvian potatoes brought to Spain in 1570. Those varieties slowly spread through Europe, and eventually Scottish and Irish immigrants brought them to North America. The first permanent North American potato patches were established in New England in about 1719. From there the potatoes spread westward.

But potatoes reached the Pacific Northwest long before the first big wave of white settlers. The Pacific Fur Company planted potatoes near Astoria in 1811, and the Hudson’s Bay Company grew potatoes and other vegetables at its forts, beginning with Fort Vancouver in 1825. By that year, however, native tribes in the region were already growing and trading potatoes in large quantities. Among these tribes were the Makah.

The DNA study shows that the Makah Ozette, along with two other varieties traditionally grown by Pacific Northwest tribes, is more closely related to Chilean potatoes than to European, North American, or Peruvian cultivars. The researchers concluded that the potatoes reached the Pacific Northwest by ship from Chile, perhaps with a stop in Mexico. The ancestral version of the Makah Ozette may have been brought by the Spanish traders who had a garden with potatoes at Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, from 1790 to 1792, or by the Spanish explorers who, in 1792, built and briefly occupied a fort at Neah Bay, in Makah territory. Or the potatoes may have come with some earlier, forgotten expedition: In 1790, Manuel Quimper noticed natives along the Strait of San Juan de Fuca wearing Chinese, Portuguese, and English coins as earrings, although the people had never seen a ship before.

In any case, the Makah, like other Northwest tribes, took quickly to the potato. The tribes grew potatoes much as they did camas, on “prairies,” and they named this new vegetable after wapato, a water plant whose tubers, harvested by tramping in aquatic mud, taste similar to potatoes. Hunger for potatoes drew the tribes to trade with the fur companies, and success as potato growers drew them back to the posts to sell their crops. In 1854, the ethnologist George Biggs wrote, the Duwamish and other tribes cultivated about thirty acres of potatoes at the outlet of Lake Washington, and they harvested about three thousand bushels. That’s one hundred bushels per acre—the same average yield as for commercial farmers today.

The tribes got out of the potato business when white settlers took over their lands. Some tribes, however, continued planting potatoes in their gardens. The Makah have stewarded their Ozette potato, named for one of their ancient villages, for well over two centuries. Not until the late 1980s did the Makah share the potato with outsiders.

In 2005, the Makah Ozette potato was boarded to the Slow Food Ark of Taste, and in 2008 the Makah Nation, Slow Food Seattle, and local farmers together formed a Slow Food “presidium”—a project to safeguard the future of a traditional food by establishing production standards and promoting local consumption. Today the Makah Ozette is available for planting both by farmers and by home gardeners. I got my seed from Nichols Garden Nursery.

I know I’ve been trying your patience with so much history. You want to know what this potato tastes like, right? Gardeners have variously described the Makah Ozette as earthy, nutty, firm, creamy, and similar to cooked beans. To me the flesh is dry, not so different from that of a russet potato; any nuttiness or beaniness is subtle. Still, I like the Makah Ozette for roasting, and it is delicious boiled whole and dipped in aioli (or seal oil, I suppose, in Makah style), or baked, lightly smashed, and showered with roasted hazelnut oil. The Ozette is excellent for mashing; I boil the tubers whole, slip off the skins, and blend the flesh in an electric mixer with plenty of hot liquid (any combination of cooking water, milk, cream, oil, and melted butter). Along with high productivity and drought- and disease-resistance, good taste is one more reason to try this potato in your garden.

Now Aboard the Ark: Scio Kolace

Scio kolace.JPG

New to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste  are kolace (pronounced “ko-LA-chee”) from Scio, Oregon, my home for 21 years. I’m proud to have nominated these filled sweet yeast buns whose history is so tightly bound with that of the little town.

Kolace are made from a sweetened yeast dough enriched with eggs, milk, and shortening (butter, lard, or vegetable shortening). Proportions vary somewhat among recipes. After the dough has risen, it is rolled out and formed into small rounds. When the dough has risen a second time, it is brushed with melted shortening, indented in the center, filled, and baked. The most common kolace fillings, traditionally, are ground and sweetened poppy seeds and a jam made of prunes or apricots. Other fruit jams can be used, or a filling made from cottage cheese. Sometimes streusel (posipka) is sprinkled on top before baking, or the baked kolace are topped with powdered sugar or glaze.

Still popular in the Czech homeland as koláče, these little buns migrated with the Czechs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to communities across the West and Midwest, Scio (pronounced “SIGH-oh”) among them.

Now a village of some eight hundred people, Scio was established in 1866 by Oregon Trail pioneers around a water-powered grist mill built ten years before. The city soon became the commercial center of a region of fertile farm land known at the time as “the forks of the Santiam.” When Czech settlers began arriving in the area in 1888, Scio already had a population of more than five hundred, and the city was beginning to boom. The Czech newcomers established farms, stores, and other businesses, and more Czechs came. By 1937 there were 170 Czech families in the Forks.

In 1922 the ZCBJ (Zapadni Czechoslovakia Brakaska Jednota, or Western Czechoslovakan Fraternal Association) Lodge No. 226 built a gathering hall in the center of Scio. The ZCBJ Hall  was intended primarily for lodge meetings and Sokol activities (the Sokol program trained children in precision drill and gymnastics). But since its early days the ZCBJ Hall has been Scio’s main gathering-place for both Czechs and non-Czechs, for dinners, weddings, funerals, flea markets, plays (in Czech and in English), concerts, and, above all, dances. The hall had its own accordion band, and from the 1930s through the 1950s people throughout over the Willamette Valley knew the ZCBJ Hall as an outstanding venue for dancing.

A feature of all these events, at least when Czechs have been involved, has been kolace. Before lodge events people would order kolace by the dozen. When soldiers came to dances from Camp Adair, north of Corvallis, during World War II, they were given kolace for free.

Today most of the Scio Czechs have died or moved away, and in 1993 the ZCBJ Hall was given to the Linn County Lamb and Wool Fair. But some non-Czechs have learned to make kolace, and Scio residents continue to learn from the kolace recipes that have been passed along or published in community cookbooks. And so kolace are still made, now and then, for community events at the ZCBJ Hall. These treats help keep memories of the town’s past alive.

Scioans aren’t the only Americans who still love kolace. The buns are popular in many places where Czechs settled in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But kolace have evolved differently in different surroundings. Montgomery, Minnesota, for example celebrates Kolacky Days ]with squarish buns, whose dough is gathered at four points and stretched to the center, to cover most of the filling. Texas kolache  are sometimes filled with sausage, which is completely enclosed in the dough, like a hotdog in a corndog. Scio’s kolace have their filling entirely exposed, which means the cook must take extra care to keep the filling from running, falling out, or scorching.

Here’s my own recipe for kolace. I’ve adapted it from one in Carol Bates’s Scio in the Forks of the Santiam; Carol took it from the Scio Centennial Cook Book, published by Scio Home Extension in 1966. The original recipe calls for “shortening” instead of butter and “vanilla or any other flavoring,” amount unspecified. Over time, I have doubled the number of eggs and increased the amount of fat by half. I have also found it easier to cut pieces of dough from a rope than to roll out the dough and cut it into circles, as specified in the original recipe, and I’ve added a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.

Linda’s Kolace

Remember, there is no single recipe for kolace; cooks have always improvised a bit. Possible additions include grated lemon peel and mace or nutmeg in the dough, and a sugar glaze, powdered sugar, or streusel on top of the buns.

¼ cup lukewarm water
4 teaspoons dry yeast
1 teaspoon plus ½ cup sugar
2 cups lukewarm whole milk
14 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 eggs, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
About 8 cups all-purpose flour (about 2 ½ pounds)
About 1 cup jam (preferably prune or apricot, without much added sugar) or poppy-seed
        filling
Cinnamon sugar

Pour the water into a large bowl, and sprinkle the yeast over. Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar, and wait a minute or more for the mixture to bubble.

Add the milk, the remaining sugar, all but 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, the eggs, the salt, and the vanilla. Stir in enough flour to make a ball that pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured board, and knead the dough for several minutes, working in more flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and only slightly sticky.

Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl, and set it in a warm place until the dough has nearly doubled in bulk and fails to spring back when poked with a finger.

Punch down the dough, and form it into two long ropes. Cut each rope into 20 equal pieces, and roll them into balls. Place the balls on greased baking pans to rise.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

When the kolace have nearly doubled in bulk, brush them with the remaining butter (you may need to reheat it first). Hollow out the center of each kolace with your fingers, leaving a border of no more than ½ inch. Fill each center with about 2 teaspoons poppy-seed filling or jam, and sprinkle the kolace with cinnamon sugar. Put the pans into the oven, and immediately reduce the temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake the kolace for about 18 minutes, rotating the pans about halfway through the cooking, until they are lightly browned.

Makes about 40 kolace

 

Poppy Seed Filling for Kolace        

Hand-cranked metal grinders for poppy seeds are widely available in Europe but harder to find in the United States. Some people manage with an electric coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle. I’ve had best results by soaking the seeds overnight and then grinding them in a powerful blender.

1 cup boiling water
1 cup poppy seeds
¾ cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

Pour the boiling water over the poppy seeds, and let them sit overnight.

In the morning, pour off the water through a fine-mesh strainer. Grind the poppy seeds in a blender (I use a VitaMix) with the milk and sugar. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan, and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is thick, a few minutes. Stir in the honey, spices, and vanilla, and remove the pan from the heat.