15 April 2009


"The house stinks." That's what Walt said yesterday afternoon when he came back from walking the dog out in the vineyard.

"Well, yeah, I'm cooking collard greens," I told him. I had told him I was going to. "That's what they smell like when the first start cooking." It's a smell I don't mind. I grew up with it.

Collard greens

A couple of years ago I was at home in North Carolina and I called the mother of an old high-school friend to see if I could stop by for a visit. "Well, I'm cooking a pot of collards, but if you don't mind the smell, come on over," she said. So I did, and I don't remember even noticing the smell.

The fact is, collard greens, fully cooked, taste a lot better than they smell when you first put them on to cook. Today, I cooked a batch with a big chunk of poitrine fumée, smoked pork belly, that I bought from Mme Doudouille at the outdoor market in Saint-Aignan last Saturday.

A pot of greens cooking on the stove

Where did the collard greens come from? I grew them. And no, you can't find them in France otherwise. These are plants that I planted last October. They survived a cold winter. Then in March, they started bolting — going to seed. I waited a few weeks to see if they would grow more, if the leaves would get bigger, with the coming of warmer weather. But they didn't. Here's a link to a picture of the puny little collard patch I had.

Yesterday morning I decided the time had come. I pulled the dozen or so plants out of the ground and cut off the woody root section with pruning shears. Into the compost pile went the roots. I put the stalks and leaves in a bucket and took them to the laundry sink in our utility room. There I ran a sink full of water and let the plants soak for a few hours. That loosens up any dirt stuck to the leaves.

The hamlet just 1 km NW of ours is Les Bas-Bonneaux.
The grape-growing, wine-making Guerriers live there.

The afternoon was nice, so we sat outside and enjoyed the sun. After having mowed most of the yard (that was Walt) and tilled up another garden plot with the rotary cultivator (that was me), we deserved a relaxing afternoon. We worked hard in the morning.

Yard mowed, garden plot tilled (sunrise view)

We had gone into high gear yesterday because for days and days MétéoFrance kept predicting rain in Saint-Aignan. So we bided our time. It never did rain, except last Saturday. Sunday morning skies looked threatening, so we didn't go out to start any big projects in the garden.

Today's weather — Saint-Aignan is in the band of rain and
storms. The numbers are wind velocities in km.

Then Sunday afternoon the sun came out and it was very pleasant outside. But the village has noise-restriction ordinances — no power tools allowed on Sunday afternoons. That gave us a good excuse to relax some more. On Monday, exactly the same thing happened. Gray morning, partly cloudy afternoon. And because it was Easter Monday, the same noise restrictions were in effect. More relaxing for us.

Yesterday just light scattered showers were predicted. We decided we'd better take our chances. I harvested the greens and tilled up a plot. Walt picked up sticks all around the yard and mowed two-thirds of it. The prediction for today is a decent morning and then "sustained" rains and maybe even thunderstorms in the afternoon. So we needed to get things like mowing and tilling done yesterday, while we could.

Pulling the leaves off collard plants

In the afternoon, while we sat outside, I pulled the leaves off all the collard plants. I was surprised at the amount I got. It must have been about 2 pecks. If you don't know what a peck is, let me tell you. It's one-fourth of a bushel. And that means it's about nine liters, if that means anything to you. Two pecks = 18 liters. Take my word for it, it's more than I thought I would get from my little collard patch. Maybe you can judge from the pictures.

Here's the take

My mother told me on Sunday that she was eating some more of those prison-farm collards that we enjoyed back in February when I was back in N.C. on a visit. I haven't tasted my own collard greens yet. I hope they are as tasty as those "incarceration collards" (here's a link to that topic).

People in Saint-Aignan don't have collard patches, but they grow Swiss chard. We've been served chard by friends and neighbors here. And a lot of people have cabbage patches in their gardens. They grow not only cabbage but also a lot brussels sprouts. Collards, cabbages, and sprouts are plants that survive cold weather, so they give you something fresh and green to eat in winter.

One other good thing happened yesterday morning: I discovered a lot more asparagus growing out back, just outside our yard. First, I noticed wild asparagus growing on a patch of ground that was, last year, a big blackberry bramble, until a crew from Electricité de France came in with some major equipment and cut it all down, along with a lot of small trees. All that vegetation was growing directly under the power lines that feed electricity into our hamlet (9 houses).

Wild asparagus and the garden variety
that I gathered just outside our yard

You'll see from the pictures how much wild asparagus I was able to gather. The stalks are very thin and fine. I haven't eaten any yet so I don't know what the taste is like. Recipes I've found on the web say to cook them and then eat them cold, with vinaigrette, or hot, in an omlet or scrambled eggs.

After finding the wild asparagus, I walked over to the patch of ground that until last year had been covered by a huge compost pile, until the mayor (our neighbor) sent a crew in and haul it all away. She also had a sign put up to warn people that they could be fined for dumping anything on that patch of land.

We've been dumping wildflower seeds on that plot of ground this spring. I hope we don't get arrested. No flowers have come up yet.

Asparagus coming up out back where the big compost pile used to be

And what did I find there yesterday? More asparagus — the garden variety. I picked only two stalks, which were ready, but I noticed another dozen or more that are pushing up out of the ground now and might be ready to harvest in day or two. You can bet I will keep my eye on them and cut them as soon as I think they are just right.

Susan of Days on the Claise calls this kind of wildcat harvesting "vergetarianism" — it means foraging for food on the verge of the road. I might call it "edgetarianism" — gathering wild plants around the edge of our property, including asparagus, plums, and cherries (he says, ever the optimist).


  1. What does collard greens taste of?

    Is it like cabbage?


  2. Collard greens are probably more like broccoli rabe (rapini) than like cabbage. The collard greens have a mustardy flavor.

  3. Ken,
    Thanks for the translation help...the check's in the mail.

    I'm afraid you haven't sold this Yankee on collard greens. They look to me like they have the same texture as fiddlehead ferns. I'll be polite and not describe what I would compare that to.


  4. We like collards! Yours look especially good with the nice chunk of pork. How long do you cook them? My collard-cooking could stand to be improved and I think the key is the timing.

    Lucky you with the asparagus patch. To harvest, it's better to snap them off than cut them off (don't want to damage their up-and-coming neighbors).

  5. Carolyn, you cook them until they are done. It can take two or three hours. If they don't taste cooked enough, cook them some more.

    Bill, I'm tempted to say that you are hopeless. The texture of collards is meaty. I've never eaten fiddleheads, that I can remember. Are they slimy?

  6. Wow, you are finding asparagus everywhere now!
    Don't forget to tell us how the wild asparagus tastes.

    Your collards look delicious- two pecks are more than I would have thought also.

  7. Yes, I'll be interested in hearing more about how the wild asparagus is. It's great to harvest these volunteers (that's what we call them in our garden). We often get volunteer squash and tomatoes growing out of the compost. If we have space, we plant them somewhere and see what comes up. Some of the squash come out as really crazy hybrids... not really good for eating most of the time, but an interesting experiment nonetheless.

  8. Fun post. Euell Gibbons would call what you're doing "Stalking the Wild Asparagus," the title of his 1960's book about foraging.

    Bill, you obviously haven't tasted Ken's collards with roast pork.

    Ginny, we got 7 tomato plants from our compost last year, all of them different and good.

  9. Hi Ginny, we'll probably eat the wild asparagus tomorrow. Or at least taste it. We've always had a few volunteers in the garden each year -- cherry tomatoes are notorious volunteers; I think they are the weeds of the tomato family. But asparagus plants are perennial. They come up from the roots year after year. So we are pretty much assured of having some asparagus each spring, as long as other plants like blackberries just take over the land again.

    Chris, I'll save some collards for you next trip. In fact, I plan to plant some more this week so I might have a fall crop.

    Evelyn, I thought I had a pitiful collard patch but it really produced.

    And Bill, don't take me too seriously...

  10. Ken

    I make sautéed Fiddlehead with parsley and garlic and they are not slimy. I wash them in cold water and then pat them dry before cooking them with garlic in olive oil or a mix of oil and butter ~ 5 mins . Then i add the chopped parsley and cook the whole hting for an additional 1 minute or more until the fiddleheads are tender but still crunchy.

  11. I got fiddleheads at Trader Joe's last spring. They only had them for 1 month (next to the cut up fresh broccoli, cauliflower...). I followed the recipe on the package and they were good, not slimy but I wouldn 't go out of my way to find them (they are seasonal). I am pretty sure the Maoris in New-Zealand must eat them since ferns are such a symbol to them.

    Vergetarianism is a funny play on word, since verger is also the french word for orchard. I just hope it is safe to eat those wild asparagus since you don't know what chemicals could have been there. My mother used to make a killer blackberry jelly (hand picked ripe, by my sisters and me in summer). Have you ever made cassis liquor from blackcurrant bush? It is always fun when in France visiting family, friends and neighbors, they always have a bottle of homemade eau de vie, liquors (walnut, chestnut...and the usual "goutte"with fruit inside ).

    Ken, working on "Dancing with the stars", I am teaching my co-workers how to pronounce the name of one of the celebrity dancers. He is french and his name is Gilles Marini (he was the naked lover on the movie "Sex and the city""). Nobody seem to be able to pronounce the G and I. No need to tell you that my own name, Nadege, is butchered all the time. Believe me, Loches is a piece of cake to pronounce.

  12. Ken,

    Yes, fiddleheads are slimy...that's the word I wasn't going to use. But, I would try collard greens with your roast pork anytime if Chrissoup says it's too good to pass up. But I reserve the right to trade the collards on my plate for the roast pork on Chrissoup's!

    BTW, I sure don't take you too seriously (except when you obviously mean to be serious as when talking about your love for Callie).

    BBTW, there's a wonderful picture of the Prez and Bo on www.whitehouse.gov. It shows Barack running in The Whitehouse with Bo trying to keep up. It should be to the tune "I will follow you...".


  13. ...and OK, I'll try fiddleheads again, too, and not just leave it to Thebeaver.

    For some reason, The Roadkill Cafe came to mind when I heard the wonderful word vergetarianism.


  14. BBBTW, I meant to call your attention to www.mainelywinenews.blogspot.com. This my friend Bob from Portlyland, Maine drinking his way around France (again!).

  15. If collard greens smell that bad when you cook them, they must be very good for you.

  16. Nadège: yes, 'vergetarianism' is intended as a play on words. I didn't invent the word, but forget who did. The 'verge' is also the roadside in British English.

    So Bill, roadkill can be included in vergetarianism. I think you have to be quite hardcore for that though.

  17. I thought vergetarianism was a neat term once I understood it. In my dialect of American English, the side of the road is not called a verge. In fact, the Am. Heritage dictionary says that verge in that sense is "chiefly British. We use verge in an abstract sense: to be on the verge of doing something, or something that verges on being something else...

  18. Anonymous, a lot of people also think cabbage smells bad when you cook it. I'm not one of those. But I'm sure both cabbage and collards are really good for you.


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