In Season: Collards

Some time in the 1970s, Sarah Cooper went to a New Year’s Eve party in Orlando. The hostess served a Cuban-style collard soup. Cooper thought it was so good, she asked the hostess for the recipe. But it turned out she already had it — it was from an ancient Junior League cookbook that Cooper’s daughter had given her years earlier.

“I thought it was absolutely wonderful, so I decided to make it myself,” said Cooper, who now lives in Gainesville, Ga. The recipe became a family favorite.

For years, Cooper closely followed the recipe, which called for bacon fat, short ribs, Cuban sausage and ham hocks in addition to collards and great Northern beans. But in the late 1980s or early ’90s, she decided it was time to make some healthy modifications. “I realized it could be made a lot less fattening,” she said. “So I changed to lean ham, lean stew beef, olive oil and deleted the sausage.”

Then she traded the great Northern beans for black-eyed peas, and the Cuban-style soup wasn’t so Cuban anymore. “I made it into a Southern soup,” she said.

Cooper’s Southern soup has all the necessary ingredients to make it a New Year’s tradition, but Cooper actually makes it all winter long. And with each batch, she honors another tradition forged between two old friends.

Each time Cooper makes the soup, she delivers some of it to her friends John and Madge Harper, who live down the road. (John “licks the bottom of the bowl, his wife says,” Cooper noted.) In return, during summer months John Harper shares his gorgeous home-grown tomatoes with the Coopers.

“We’ve been doing that for years. We never weigh anything; it’s always on the honor system,” Cooper said.

Winter collards for summer tomatoes, and prosperity for all. If ever there were a New Year’s story of neighborly cooperation and good will, told with food, that has to be it.

At local farmers markets

Apples arugula, beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collards, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, escarole, fennel, frisee, green onions, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, mixed greens, mustard greens, parsnips, peppers, radicchio, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, sunchokes, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, tatsoi, turnip greens, turnips, winter squash

From farther afield

Looking good: Apples, Caribbean asparagus, Chilean avocados, Florida and Mexican beans, Texas and Mexican beets, South American blueberries, Arizona and Mexican broccoli, cabbage, Arizona and California cauliflower, Florida corn, Florida and Mexican cucumbers and eggplant, Florida escarole, Texas grapefruit, Brazilian and Peruvian grapes, Carolina and Texas greens, Caribbean honeydews, Italian kiwifruit, California lettuce, Arizona and Texas oranges, Washington pears, Florida and California peppers, Caribbean and Mexican pineapples, Florida strawberries, Florida and Mexican tomatoes, Caribbean watermelon

Coming in: Chilean apricots, Argentine cherries, Chilean grapes, nectarines, peaches and plums

Variable quality: California artichokes; Mexican blackberries; Caribbean cantaloupes; Mexican carrots, corn, cucumbers and honeydews; Arizona lettuce; California and Caribbean peas; Mexican and California raspberries and strawberries; Mexican watermelon

Local reports and the Packer

Southern Soup

Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 3 hours, plus overnight soaking Makes: 18 (1-cup) servings

Aromatic and hearty, this soup is perfect on a cold day. The collard greens and black-eyed peas make it a natural choice for New Year’s Day, too.

1 cup dried black-eyed peas

1 pound cubed ham

1 pound lean stew beef, cut into bite-size pieces

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons salt

1 large or 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

24 ounces fresh or frozen collard greens, roughly chopped (if using fresh, remove the large stems before weighing)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

Optional garnish: Salsa or chowchow

Wash and pick over the dried beans. Cover with 2 inches of water and allow the beans to soak overnight.

In a stock pot, combine 2 quarts water, ham, beef, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Rinse the soaked beans and add them to the pot. Cook, uncovered, until tender, about 1 hour. Add the potatoes and collards. Boil for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add onion and bell pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the vegetables to the soup pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour. Salt to taste.

Optional garnish: Top each serving with a spoonful of salsa or chowchow.

Per serving: 143 calories (percent of calories from fat, 34), 14 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 5 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 30 milligrams cholesterol, 587 milligrams sodium.