At our local Hannaford supermarket one day, I happened to overhear the following interchange:
“I'm doing a lot more with kale these days”.
“Yeah, we love it. We're going to try growing it”.
“It's really good, you should try it!”
It’s the second voice in this conversation, the questioning one that we are most familiar with in regards to kale. Although it is a staple vegetable for us, it is still not well known. Another familiar comment is: “My husband (or kids/sister/boyfriend/etc) won’t eat any of the strong vegetables”. Strange for us to hear, because kale eaten at the right time of year is not a strong flavor at all, but is actually sweet.
|Last year's kale ready to go to seed|
We unequivocally love kale, and for many reasons. It’s simple to grow, can be harvested almost year round, stores on the stalk, reseeds itself, and has nearly endless cooking options.
Besides all of its other qualities, kale is one of the most beautiful of the veggie garden plants. There are three basic varieties, and we grow two of them. One is a plant that covers itself in fat, frilly blue-green leaves. The other has purple veined flat leaves shaped somewhat like large oak leaves with slightly frilled edges.
Kale is a brassica, a plant family that includes cabbage, broccoli, and collards. The brassicas are said to provide antioxidants which are wonderful for your health. In doing a little research, I found a website that elaborates on the health benefits of kale including that it may be a cancer preventative; "Kale is an especially rich source of glucosinolates, and once kale is eaten and digested, these glucosinolates can be converted by the body into cancer preventive compounds." The site is here: http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?dbid=38&tname=foodspice
Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are crops we sometimes grow, but they are grown for one harvest and then the plant stems are pulled and composted. Kale, on the other hand is used by harvesting only a handful of leaves at a time. It is very hardy and lasts through the winter. We have dug through three feet of snow to grab a handful of kale. No storage needed!
Although it can be picked and eaten at any time, kale has a lovely sweet flavor after a hard frost. This is when it is at its best. It is such a delicacy that we typically ignore it throughout the growing season and then feast on it as far into winter as it lasts.
By spring, the main stems of the plants have been picked at until they are nearly leafless. Some of the rugged looking stalks begin to sprout new leaves, while others have died out and are then pulled up for compost.
Now, in May before most of the garden is planted, the over-wintered stems have leafed out and the new leaves can be picked and eaten. Seed heads are forming, and this is yet another benefit of this plant. As a biennial it goes to seed in its second year. The seeds fall to the ground and new plants start up. If it weren’t for slugs who love baby kale, we might be overrun with it.
Simple to grow, seeds itself, overwinters, sweetens when chilled, and pops back up in spring. What could be better? If only the rest of the garden were so easy...! -jmm