North Carolina’s Yellow Cabbage Collard
For collard connoisseurs, the small town of Ayden, North Carolina is ground zero. Not only is it home to Bum’s Restaurant, the Skylight Inn, and the Collard Shack – three firmly rooted establishments in the canon of BBQ and greens – but every September heralds a three-day long celebration of the humble brassica—the Ayden Collard Festival.
For years we have been hoping to get to the celebration, and this September was our moment. Soon after arrival we realized that the Ayden festival is not a celebration of just any and all collard greens. No, sir. The Ayden Collard Festival, replete with concerts, line dancing, parades, races, and (of course) eating, honors Carolina’s own heirloom variety—the yellow cabbage collard.
People in Ayden are so particular about their collards that the local restaurants are known to serve only collards they grow themselves. If you want to eat these local delicacies, Bum’s Restaurant is holy ground for the Ayden Collard Festival. The barbecue at Bum’s is whole hog roasted tenderly over pecan and hickory colas and the perfect companion to collards and cornbread. The Saturday of the collard festival is their biggest day of the year. Despite the demand of the crowds, Bum’s warm welcome and good cooking never falters.
Thanks to the work of Dr. David Shields, a professor at the University of South Carolina, the yellow cabbage collard this year “boarded the Slow Food Ark of Taste,” where it will be preserved for future generations to savor. The Ark of Taste is a “living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.” By identifying and championing these foods Slow Food USA aims to keep these heritage plants and animals in production and on our plates.
According to Dr. Shields, production of the Yellow Cabbage Collard began in Asheville, NC in the 1870s by Col. Joe Branner. The collards are almost solely grown today in Eastern North Carolina with Ayden, “The Collard Capital of the World,” as their epicenter.
If you want to introduce yellow cabbage collards to your own garden, the Collard Shack run by Benny and Vickie Cox is one of the very few places to get plants or seeds. The Collard Shack stands right next to another barbecue mecca, the Skylight Inn on South Lee Street. For those traveling, the Collard Shack also sells frozen ready to eat cabbage collards by the quart. Ours made the five-hour drive back to Charlottesville in perfect form.