Throughout the 20th century, kale was grown in the U.S. primarily as an ornamental for fall planting. Guess that’s what happens when you forget your roots. Kale has been cultivated as food for at least 4,000 years. It’s native to the eastern Mediterranean, particularly Anatolia. Though it is a member of the cabbage family, it chooses not to wrap its leaves up tightly around its head. Instead, it spreads colorful lacey leaves attracting the eye of florists and gardeners alike for its texture and hue. Kale leaves may be serrated, crinkled or feathery and its colors run from a dark blue-green and a purple through a golden yellow and finally a white.
Edible kale and its family wandered from its birthplace as far north and west as Ireland and as far east and north as Siberia. It has thrived at all stops along its many routes. Russian fur traders are credited with bringing it to Canada from where it traveled south. In its long history, it has recognized few borders. 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. Recently re-discovered in the U.S. kale as a food, it has spawned a new industry: the production of kale chips. The Irish, for whom kale is an intrinsic element in their national dish of Colcannon, have created a little ditty called The Skillet Pot that, in its turn became a cultural something for home.
"Did you ever eat Colcannon, made from lovely pickled cream?
With the greens and scallions mingled like a picture in a dream.
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?
Yes you did, so you did, so did he and so did I.
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I'm to cry.
Oh, wasn't it the happy days when troubles we had not,
And our mothers made Colcannon in the little skillet pot."
Now classified as a superfood, kale is sufficiently hardy to extend its harvest well into autumn. In the late 1990s, kale became a trendy offering of the U.S. foodie circles due to its impressive nutritional value. Which is only a new rendition of an old story. Kale was promoted during WWII by the U.K. “Dig For Victory” campaign to supplement the severely restricted wartime diet of the British population. It 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. Kale outlasted the usual arch of trends and is well on its way to regaining its place as an integral part of our daily sustenance.
Of all the varieties available, the Tuscan varieties are justly popular, especially the bumpy leaved black varieties called cevolo nero. It is interesting to note that these Tuscans producing kale the superfood are also producing a group of world-class deep red wines known as SuperTuscans. Fortunately for most of us, the superfood Tuscan kale is nowhere near as expensive.
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.
Today’s recipe and photo are from some of our newest market participants, Acre of Independence. The recipe Ginger Garlic Kale, is one that keeps fuss to a minimum while maximizing the unique flavor. Please also check our website for other Kale recipes, including the Tuscan Ribbolita.