Kale has enjoyed a well-deserved resurgence in popularity since it was hailed as a superfood. As a child I would never had eaten it; it was regarded as cattle feed! It is a hardy and easily grown plant and I am sure it was more popular with other families because it is a ancient crop. It is a relatively primitive brassica, having not been bred into a head like cabbage, a curd, as in cauliflower or something as odd as Brussels sprouts.
Recently, with the popularity of ‘Cavalo Nero’ or dinosaur kale, breeders have been busy making lots of new kinds. The most primitive and ancient kales have rather plain leaves, such as ‘Pentland Brig’ while the most popular have frilly or laciniate leaves. The latest kinds, bred in the UK by Tozer, have been crosses between frilly kales and ornamental kales and have feathery pink or white leaves and are very edible too. The most primitive of all is Daubenton’s kale, Brassica oleracea var. ramosa, which is a perennial with lightly ruffled leaves. It will live for two or three years and the young shoots are picked and eaten throughout the year. I have a small plant of a variegated kind waiting to go out into the garden. It is called ‘Luigi Leopold’ and I know nothing about it apart from the fact that it is going to be a constant worry to keep pests off it!
The most popular of all are the curly kales, in both green and red, though ‘Red Russian’, with deeply cut leaves is a good plant too. It is sometimes grown for baby leaves now, along with the green ‘Fizz’. The problem with the curly kales is that grit and fallen leaves can accumulate in the leaves which is a pain in the kitchen. I think this is why ‘Cavalo Nero’ is so popular – the leaves are narrow and blistered and easier to prepare. This ancient Italian kale is dark green so very nutritious. Look out for ‘Black Magic’ which is more compact and easier to fit into raised beds. This year I am trying ‘Red Devil’ which is a recent cultivar with the usual ‘Cavalo Nero’ attributes but with red midribs. I have high hopes for it because even the plain ‘Cavalo Nero’ is an attractive plant.
Kale is very adaptable and can be sown from March to June. Because it is hardy and so useful as a winter crop the traditional way to grow it is to sow in May to plant out in June or July so the plants are mature by winter. Leaves can be picked from autumn until spring. When the weather warms in spring the plants start to shoot and flower and if you remove the flower shoots before the flowers open these can be used as a kind of sprouting broccoli – it is very good to eat. You can also sow in early spring to use the young leaves as salad leaves and for juicing.
Kale is another of the brassicas and needs similar cultivation to broccoli so rather than repeat myself you can see the basics here.
It is amazing what a bit of good publicity does for a plant but I wonder what most people that buy kale in the shops think of it as a vegetable. You see bags of cut kale that has been chopped across the midrib and it must be awfully tough. It is much better to grow your own. Then you can pick only the young leaves, hold the base of the midrib and, with the other hand, strip the leaf blade off the midrib so you only eat the tender, tasty bit. You could always push the midribs through the juicer.
I said that I would not go on about nutritional values of the veg but kale is rather exceptional, packed with vitamin K and high levels of vitamin A and C as well as folate and B vitamins.