Collard greens have become a southern New Year’s meal staple, rumored to bring good luck and prosperity.
And area farmers work hard to provide them.
Since the ‘70’s Sherrie Criscitiello and her family have been growing collards, among other things, at Mallard Farms and Vineyard in Maysville to distribute to area grocery stores.
The folklore surrounding collards dates back to the Civil War, the North stripping the South of anything nutritional after their victory, forcing Southerners to begin eating collards and black-eyed peas, originally used to feed the animals, to survive.
For Sherrie Criscitiello and husband Craig, the tradition of collards goes much deeper than a good outlook for the coming year.
“This land where these are planted, my uncle and granddaddy farmed,” Sherrie Criscitiello said. “That’s why this is so important to me.”
The Criscitiellos tackle the planting, cutting, bundling and delivering of the giant green leaves on their own, something Craig Criscitiello said is hard work, but worth it because Sherrie enjoys it so much.
As she walked through the slightly damp, almost sandy soil, armed with a small, razor-blade like knife, Sherrie Criscitiello pointed out that each collard plant is unique, with a different leaf patter, shape, size and color.
“They are just so pretty,” she said. “Each one is different from the next. Sometimes when I am out here I’ll see a really pretty one and I’ll tell him I don’t want to cut it. I just want to leave it alone because it’s so pretty.”
From the planting to the harvesting, the Criscitiellos enjoy the gamble of farming and providing the surrounding area stores in Jacksonville, Maysville and New Bern with the nutritious green.
“When I retired from Lowe’s after 18 years I knew I wasn’t going to just sit around the house,” Craig Criscitiello said. “All of the equipment was still here so we have just kept the family tradition going. It’s great exercise and gets us outside.”
While the pair focuses on growing collards for bulk wholesale, they will also sell to anyone that gives them a call and ventures out to the farm, Sherrie Criscitiello said.
The Criscitiellos are proud to be able to supply several Piggly Wiggly stores with quality collard greens for the community.
“Not knowing where your food is coming from isn’t the best,” Craig Criscitiello said. “In the store you never know how long the produce has been on an airplane or on a truck. These you know where they are coming from.”
Sherrie Criscitiello added that their collards tend to be more vibrant and soft, as opposed to some of the store’s collards that can be leathery and dark.
It may be because the Criscitiellos plant all 10,000 plants themselves around Labor Day and harvest nearly every day starting in November, up until almost April sometimes, Craig Criscitiello said.
“We are kind of a dying breed,” he said. “There are a lot of big farmers starting to take over now that some of the traditional farmers are starting to pass on.”
Even after decades of growing and cooking the green packed with vitamins A, B and K as well as manganese, calcium and potassium, Sherrie and Craig Criscitiello still enjoy collards as part of their traditional New Year’s meal.
“My secret, I guess you could say, is corned ham,” Sherrie Criscitiello said.
“Everyone has their own special thing they add,” Craig said. “Some use chicken necks, or pig’s ears.”
Whatever the additive is Sherrie Criscitiello suggested cutting up the collards to make them easier to stir and adding the smaller, more delicate inner leaves towards the end of the cooking time, to get a near perfect pot of collards.
Don’t forget to add a side of black eyed peas to your meal for good luck.
To buy collards from Mallard Farms directly call 910-389-2905.