For most of the 20th century in the U.S., kale was grown for its beauty rather than for its superfood attributes. Unlike its cabbage family members, it chooses not to wrap its leaves tightly around its head. Instead it spreads colorful, lacey leaves wide and welcoming, attracting the eye of home gardeners, florists, landscapers and people who just gravitate toward beautiful things. Its texture might be serrated, crinkled or feathery. Its hue runs from a dark blue-green to purple to a golden yellow and ultimately a snowy white. Truth be told, it is gorgeously showy.
It is native to the eastern Mediterranean, particularly Anatolia and has been cultivated for the table for at least 4,000 years. Edible kale and much of its family wandered as far north and west as Ireland and as far east and north as Siberia. It thrived at all stops along its many routes. Russian fur traders are credited with bringing it to Canada from where it traveled south. During the Middle Ages, kale was the most commonly grown and consumed vegetable throughout Europe. Today the Dutch mix it with mashed potatoes and bits of bacon to make stamppot boerenkool. In Asia, it is most often braised with slivers of beef or pork. Kale is a prime ingredient in the Tuscan ribbolita, a rich thick vegetable and bread soup. A Portuguese traditional soup, caldo verde, blends kale with pureed potatoes, broth and a spicy sausage. In Ireland kale is an intrinsic element in their national dish of Colcannon. Kale was promoted during the WWII British “Dig For Victory” campaign to supplement the severely restricted wartime diet of the British population. This veggie contains significant amounts of vitamins C and K; is high in beta carotene and provides anti-cancer properties that boost DNA cell repair, and block the growth of cancer cells. Recently re-discovered as a food in the U.S., in our more health conscious environment, it has spawned a new industry: the production of a healthy snack: kale chips.
In recent years, a locavore Vermont artist launched a promotion for kale and produced tee-shirts declaring “Eat more kale”. The corporate fast-fooder, Chick Fil A, took them to court claiming an infringement on their slogan, “Eat more chickin”. The powers that be agreed and Chick Fil A won their point. Perhaps we should consider a lawsuit against anyone who so clearly cannot spell for claiming ownership of language.
So kale is not just another pretty face, but a pretty face with distinctive merit behind it. As such, our website has many recipes including Kale Fondue on Crostini, Ribollita, Ginger Garlic Kale and Portuguese Kale and Red Bean Soup. This week we are offering one of Kay Carroll’s recipes, which takes a lighter leaf from this nourishing plant, to create a delicious dish, Kale, Apple Pancetta Salad which balances the flavors with an interesting dollop of maple syrup.