Easy Growing the Best Kale Ever!

By now most everyone who eats regularly knows that kale is a superfood* and obediently includes kale in their suppers…sometimes.

For those who’ve heard the word kale but have avoided it due to unfamiliarity–and maybe a little fear, I mean it is so healthy and that can be the kiss of death for any food. Well, dears, kale is a perennial plant whose ancestors grow wild along the coasts of western and southern Europe, “…a nonheading cabbage that most closely resembles the wild plants that evolved into cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi.”** I read it was common on the table in medieval times. Flavor? Depends on the cultivar, but the ones you want to eat are delicately cabbagey.

As gardener and family cook, over the years I’ve grown and store-bought armloads of kale. Until now, the kale I favored was the bluegreen Lacinato–also called Tuscan and/or Dinosaur or Cavalo Nero–Dinosaur because the deep green leaves are pebbled. Flavor is on the mild side with just a hint of snap. Next to that I’ve liked Red Russian with purply stems and tender blue-green leaves, beautiful in the garden and equally fine-flavored.

About the flavor. I am–and it’s hardly unique to me–fascinated by how different are our tastes. Once I lived with someone who didn’t like strawberries. Imagine not liking strawberries. Now I live with someone who doesn’t adore cracked crab…almost unthinkable. Recently I sent a kindred spirit a sample of my discovery of a ginger-turmeric tea–she hated it. At the moment I’m amused by another woman I much admire, the late Jane Grigson, distinguished British food writer. With wit, knowledge, an informed palate, Mrs. Grigson wrote volumes devoted to the subjects of Vegetables… Mushrooms…Fruit…Fish…Charcuterie and Pork…English Food. For years I’ve treasured “Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book”*** but just now I had to laugh when I read under her entry for Spring and Winter Greens:

“Kale I have always hated though curly kale will pass…It goes without saying that there is no point in buying any of these varieties of herbage unless it is beautifully fresh, with the dew on it. Or to be truthful the drops of morning rain and fog. Once the leaves flag, such pleasure as they might have given is no longer to be hoped for.

“As to their treatment…if you dislike them and only give them to the family to do them good (or to work off your sadistic impulses), you may well resent lavishing trouble and buttery attentions on them…few of us are desperate for vitamins and do not need stoking up with greenery like sheep in a kale field…”

Yep, I’m happy to acknowledge I’m a lamb in a kale field…no, although I may feel it, I’m past the lamb stage…I’m a ewe…(should it be “an” ewe? doesn’t feel right).

Last spring stocking our garden’s new raised beds, at Home Depot I casually picked up a quart-size plant of a kale called (please forgive the spelling) Prizm.**** Leaves were very fluffy, frilly, and on the gray side–not the usual deep green. Now in August the plant has grown to a handsome 30 inches tall, already sent up seed sprouts, it’s happy.

I had no idea grabbing this plant I was bringing into the garden a 2016 AAS winner,*****  superior, a potential classic. But it was just kale, after all. No biggie.

I’d not yet cooked any leaves because, well, I guess all summer I’ve been more excited by our fat tomatoes, multicolored lettuces, and the Italian-seeded Romanesco zucchini–now THAT is a star! I’ve never seen such a plant and such slender pale striped green squashes. I also haven’t bothered cooking the kale because we three love spinach and I’ve made another discovery: frozen Stahlbush Island Farms Cut Spinach, close to home-grown. Why buy frozen spinach? Because as you likely know, spinach leaves cook down to practically nothing and I don’t have space for enough plants to feed our spinachlove.

Friday having brought home some locally-caught rockfish I thought, Tonight is the night for our kale. For Bill, Cameron, and me I picked a good handful of leaves–was surprised to find very short stems, most of the stalk is leafy, edible. I forgot my kale-picking etiquette–you’re supposed to pick from the bottom of the stalk but I was in a hurry and picked willy nilly. Well, I read Prizm grows new leaves lickety split.

As for Jane Grigson’s “trouble and buttery attentions,” I rinsed the leaves, no critters hiding, pulled the tender parts away from the stalks–fibrous stalks can be chopped and cooked separately but I don’t have the patience…they go into the compost. I sliced the leaves into inch-size pieces and while our rockfish was frying, dropped the greens into an inch of boiling salted water for simmering. Graygreen immediately turned glistening dark green, lovely. The leaves cooked much faster than I anticipated–tender when the fish was done. I lifted the greens from their pot into a serving dish, topped with a knob of butter, set it on the table. Cut a couple of lemons in quarters for the rockfish and kale (our carb vegetable was baked purple sweet potatoes) sat down to supper.

Prizm kale is a treasure. It was delicate. Delectable. Amazing.

Grow it! Kale is a cool-weather plant, so if you live in a moderate climate, find a plant now and tuck it in a sunny (6 hours daily) spot where it will likely live a couple of years. Prizm will grow in a pot! I just ordered six Prizms from Burpee’s, more than I wanted but I can set another in one of the raised beds, two in 5-gallon growing bags, give the rest away to friends, have delectable kale in salads and soups and on its own for some time.

But I do wonder at the Bonnie’s leaves being grayish…Burpee’s Prizms look greener…I’ll let you know when the plants arrive in September.

I’m excited. Can you imagine being amazed by KALE!

*Vitamins A, B6, C, K, and folate, fiber, carotenoids, and manganese.

**”The Kitchen Garden,” by me, Bantam Books, 1995.

***”Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book,” Jane Grigson, Penguin Books, 1981.

****From Bonnie Plants Harvest Select.

***** All-America Selections is an independent non-profit organization that tests new, never-before-sold varieties for the home gardener. https://all-americaselections.org/about/ accessed August 27, 2023.

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