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Planet Janet: Greetings from collards country

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Janet Combs

I was about to splurge on couple of artichokes yesterday but didn’t, because after picking one up, I noticed it was lighter than a grapefruit and all its leaves weren’t tightly cupped around its core. I know my artichokes: they should not be dry or a dusty, faded green with split, opening leaves for $1.99 each. Disappointed, I passed them by and picked up some brussels sprouts instead, which immediately met the Planet Janet vegetable standards for freshness, color, and price point.

As I pushed my diminutive cart through the produce section—I always use the small cart as a way to harness impulse shopping, though it inevitably turns into a leaning tower of pizza by the time I get to the final frozen foods’ aisle—I thought about the first artichoke-eater. What an ingenious and persistent individual, to look at this softball-sized growth on a stalk, frequently with sharp thorns on its outer leaves, and think, “Mmm-hmm, dinner! Let’s pluck this and take it home, boil it for at least an hour and enjoy it by skimming only the buttery inner edge of each leaf with our lower teeth until we reach the delectable heart, which is puny and not at all filling!” This clever individual was probably kin to the person who figured out that the entire crustacean family was worth the bother to eat, along with the one who dug up a knot of garlic in the dirt and discovered its magic. Thank you, early gastronomes, for paving the way for some of my favorites.

These days, I try to make healthy choices, so I have predictably jumped on the kale bandwagon, periodically jostling my digestive system down the suddenly trendy rows of beet greens, mustard greens and collard greens. Frequently, I purchase my greens pre-washed in bags, which, while emblazoned with the words “fresh” and “all-natural,” are a far cry from the farm.

I know this because I purchased some just-picked collard greens last week, unexpectedly, at the office. It is a little-known benefit of working for Georgetown County that, after a time, you may be rewarded with a private culinary connection to individuals with relatives who run rural South Carolina farms.

I was let into the secret network of fresh produce by one of our custodians, who told me that if I wanted to buy some collard greens, she knew someone who knew someone whose father grew them. She heard they were only a dollar a bunch and would be available at the end of the week.

“Put me down for two,” I said enthusiastically.

“I’ll bring them by when I come back Friday,” she offered.

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This is how the covert vegetable transaction went down. It was quick, it was discreet, it was exhilarating.

Imagine my surprise when she returned to our office Friday with a large, heavy-duty trash bag filled with my order. I could host all seven of you readers at the week-long Planet Janet Collard Greens Festival and I would likely have leftovers.

I severely underestimated the size of a head of collards. I assumed I was purchasing your typical Natalie-Portman-sized head of iceberg lettuce, but what I got was more the Dwayne-Johnson- (“The Rock”)-style head of collards. I donated one bunch to my boss and went home and cleaned the other. The drying leaves took up my entire kitchen.

I offered some to a neighbor, but she politely declined, because collard greens are not everyone’s cup of tea. Which makes me wonder if you can make tea from collards? I’ll have to try, since I have plenty.

This afternoon, I fixed them in my huge lobster pot so I could freeze them in small side portions. I took a taste to correct the seasonings, and I have to admit they were fabulous—remarkably different in flavor from the prepackaged greens. And it’s a good thing, because we’ll be enjoying them through 2025.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Contact her at www.janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com.

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