Most southerners with any trace of agricultural roots are familiar with the New Year’s Day tradition of cooking and eating collard greens and black-eyed peas.
An article in the January 2013 edition of “Our State” magazine explained “some say the financial good fortune comes because peas look like coins and collards resemble folding money. Others claim it’s an inexpensive meal that sets a frugal tone.”
That article gets into the long association of luck with black-eyed peas, and it mentions a couple of other “lucky” New Year’s foods too. The newer tradition of including collards may simply be a result of practicality as “collards are often the only fresh vegetables left in the garden come January.”
If you partake in the New Year’s tradition, there’s a chance you’ll have a variety of collards developed right here in North Carolina several decades ago.
The Morris Improved Heading Collard is still available, after first being sold to the public in the early 1930’s. It was developed by Elisha Morris and his son Fairly Morris in Scotland County, with help from N.C. State University.
Elisha Morris moved to the area between Laurinburg and Maxton in the early 1900’s. In 1919, he and Fairly Morris began E. Morris and Son Plant Farm. Soon they began trying to grow a tasty collard that could withstand cold weather. The resulting Morris Improved Heading Collard remains one of N.C. State Extension’s recommended varieties. It was first put on the list in the 1950’s, said Eric Morris who now runs the family plant farm.
Eric Morris is the great grandson of Elisha. He said back when his great grandfather and grandfather (Fairly Morris) were first introducing the new variety to the public, they had to go to other places to get the word out. They often stood outside other stores in town.
Of course, there was no internet or social media that made free advertising a possibility.
“Word had to travel by mouth,” Eric Morris said. “So he went out and spread the word face-to-face.”
After nearly 90 years, the plant farm is still growing and selling seeds and transplants. Gardeners and farmers remain customers because of the variety’s proven track record. Sometimes Eric Morris sends his collard seeds or transplants to states as far as Texas and Indiana.
There are newer varieties, including some hybrids that are more common at larger commercial operations that send collards to sell in grocery stores. However, Eric Morris said he is happy to stick with his family’s variety – grown from seeds harvested every year since the 30’s. The preservation of the same seed line for generations means the Morris Improved Heading Collard is an heirloom variety.
“Everyone has their own opinion,” he said. “We think it’s a sweeter collard with better overall quality.”
Eric Morris said his business isn’t in selling directly to customers. That means that if you want to cook with his collards, you’ll need to find a grower that uses E. Morris and Son Plant Farm as the source. It may be worth checking with your local roadside stand or farmer’s market if you want to be sure your collards come from the Morris family.
Just like it was generations ago, it’s up to customers to keep E. Morris and Son Plant Farm in business. Eric Morris hopes people will continue to enjoy his family’s collards like they have for so many years already.
“We’re very blessed,” he said. “God is good.”