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The secret of Farmer's Daughter's brilliant collard kraut

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On a recent weeknight, up late with a looming deadline and the need for a nocturnal snack, I peered into the refrigerator, poking around for something that didn't require preparation or wouldn't lull me into a subsequent sugar daze.

My hand at last landed on a pint jar, its black screw-top lid still sealed by a paper sticker that exclaimed: "RAW//PROBIOTIC-RICH//DELICIOUS." Sure, I thought, why not have some late-night collard kraut?

A quarter-hour later, I forced myself to return the lid to my inaugural jar of collard kraut, traditional if somewhat obscure Eastern North Carolina fare now sold by Farmer's Daughter Brand Pickles & Preserves in Hillsborough. A Mississippi native who has been canning jams and jellies and pickling most any produce she could buy for nearly a decade, Farmer's Daughter owner April McGreger didn't even know about the idea of collard kraut until a folklorist who tried her collard kimchi at a farmers market tipped her to its existence.

PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner

She soon found that the customary way of making it—soaking whole leaves in salt and storing them for several weeks, then cooking them—left a lot to be desired. To her, they just tasted like vinegar-doused collards.

So McGreger started to experiment. Some versions were too soft and chewy; when she used collards harvested before the first frost, the results were too tough. At last, she thought to merge the two kraut staples—cabbage and collards—into one.

"Anywhere in the South that has a history of sustenance farming, where people were growing their own food and preserving it year round, they used a lot of different methods to preserve food," McGreger says. "And cabbage and collards are two of the more important foods in Southern history."

Farmer's Daughter's turn on kraut, available on the company's website and in area food and wine shops, indeed sports a musk with which you will be familiar from piling shredded and fermented cabbage atop hotdogs. And it has that customary crunch, too, as the liquid has only loosened the fibers without making them limp.

But the start of the bite is strangely smooth and tender, as if your teeth are expecting resistance long before they meet it. After the first wave of flavor passes, you'll notice a zing that dances across your tongue and toward your nose, like apple-cider vinegar. There's no vinegar in the recipe, though. That's the tang of the collards—rubbed by hand with salt and then ladled with red and black pepper and garlic and cumin and allowed to ferment for weeks—calling.

Actually, the refrigerator is calling, too: I need to preserve some of these for my next hotdog.

Eat This is a recurring column about great new dishes and drinks in the Triangle. Had something you loved? Email food@indyweek.com.

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