We’ve been growing kale at Terra Firma since the beginning of the farm — actually, since before it was even called Terra Firma.
Kale is a great crop for anyone who has a limited amount of space. A handful of plants produce a respectable amount of greens over a long season — anywhere from 3 months to almost a year. Kale can handle all kinds of weather: cool and wet, hot and dry, even cold and snow to a certain extent.
Unlike its relatives broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, which are harvested just once, kale can be harvested numerous times. As you pick leaves off the plant, it continues to grow and make more. In the process it gets fatter and taller. As its root system grows, it becomes even more productive.
All these tendencies make kale a great crop for us in our “off season”. We plant it in September when it’s warm and dry and it grows quickly for a month or two. Later on, whether it’s a dry winter or a really wet one, the kale is there, ready to harvest whenever we need it. A hard freeze will ruin broccoli or lettuce, but for the kale it’s usually just a temporary setback. A few leaves may be damaged but the plants will soon sprout new ones.
The biggest problem with growing kale has always been selling it. With its strong flavor and chewy texture, it is an acquired taste. On the other hand, it is loaded with vitamins and minerals including anti-oxidants, which gives health-conscious eaters a strong motive to make it part of their regular diet.
The traditional way to make kale taste better was to boil it in a broth, often flavored with lots of salt and fat in the form of bacon or ham. In the southern U.S., they call the broth “pot liquor”. And in Europe, places as culinarily distinct as Scotland, Portugal and Italy all have soupy dishes combining kale and some form of preserved pork.
Kale is still not, and probably never will be, a mainstream food in the U.S. There may be eight flavors of kale chips now, but you will never see Lays or Frito Lay making them, for instance. And juicers may be fanatical about their green smoothies, but I don’t expect those to replace breakfast cereal any time soon for most people.
However, the growing popularity of kale salad might actually make it a household name outside of a handful of metropolitan areas. When I first saw a recipe for kale salad, I admit I thought it was a terrible idea. But as soon as I tasted it, I understood the concept.
Good kale salad is like a pickle or slaw — the leaves infused with a flavorful marinate that simultaneously softens their chewy texture. I’m less of a fan of kale salads with dressings that coat the leaves without penetrating them. And unlike most salads, you can make it in advance and it gets better over time.
Whatever new innovative methods the culinary world comes up with for eating kale, we will happily keep growing it. And we will keep putting it in your CSA boxes on a regular basis during the season.