Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Eat More (free) Kale

Versatile kale. Emblematic kale.
Puzzling kale. 

Beedy's Camden kale in the heat of summer

In my home garden, my four plants of ‘Beedy’s Camden’ are thriving. I put the vitamin-rich green on pizza, and in stir-fries. I invite friends to cut the big wavy leaves.

At the inn where I grow vegetables, the flea beetles uglified what the cabbageworms missed. I pulled it out by the roots and replaced it with a bed of beautiful buckwheat. In a couple of weeks I will gamble on lettuce. 

What is it with kale?

At Morven, in Princeton, the virgin kitchen garden sports beautiful ‘Red Russian.’ It is too beautiful to uproot, even though everyone knows kale is a cool weather vegetable … and it has been anything BUT cool. And I need the space for summer squash.

What is it with kale?

Now that “kale chips” comes up number 2 on a Google search for kale (and they get 5 STARS from foodnetwork.com) “Eat More Kale” t-shirts are losing a little of their counterculture authenticity. (“Eat Kale Not Cow” tees sport the trigger word “Woodstock” and sell for $23; “Kale is the New Beef” can be had at a bargain price of $19.95) One kale-lover’s blog states, “In the past week there has been an exciting accumulation of kale sightings.”

What does that mean?

Beedy's Camden for the taking
Why kale? 

Go to eatmorekale.com and you can read about the “eat more kale philosophy.” Go to the “Eat More Kale Princeton” facebook page to read about a month-long celebration of kale.

Why not beet greens (which, I’ve read, are less dominant in a smoothie)? Broccoli? Bok choy? Is it too late for “Eat Bok Not Beef” t-shirts? Or is bok choy too mild, too appealing? Kale is “of the earth,” strong in taste and real in texture. It is not my mother’s frozen peas.

Those who live by the “eat more kale philosophy” gained great publicity when their slogan was attacked by the “Eat Mor Chikin” folks (“Eat More” being Chick-fil-A’s intellectual property, according to their lawyers). Chick-fil-A should have known better. The cease-and-desist order gave “Eat More Kale” t-shirt designer Bo Muller-Moore the opportunity to say, “I am one man with one squeegee and that's how I like it.” People (not chickens) flocked to his side – no surprise.

So here, in my humble opinion, is what it is about kale:
1. There are not many people who really like it. That’s not to say kale isn’t very very tasty sautéed with garlic and olive oil. But what isn’t?
2. Therefore supermarkets do not devote a lot of space to it, and the dinosaur kale they do carry tends to be limp and not worth buying. Curly kale is perkier on the shelf but, as all kale (with garlic and olive oil) lovers know, it is more bitter and less tender. It gives kale a bad name.
3. It’s safe to say that kale is a gardener’s vegetable. It grows in the spring, persists through the fall, and sometimes, if the flea beetles and cabbageworms don’t get to it, endures the heat of summer. I offer everyone who comes to my house a bag of kale … and my four plants of Beedy’s Camden (named for Beedy Parker of Camden, Maine) still carry more green than I can spend. 

And so, 

4. “Eat More Kale” isn’t about kale. It’s about the “kale lifestyle”—fighting the good fight with muddy knees and dirty fingernails, being one with the flea beetles and cabbageworms. Sending friends home with bags of zucchini and kale whether they want them or not. It’s a revolution that refuses to be pigeonholed. It has beta-carotene on its side, and vitamin K, and calcium! It conjures mental aromas of thick soups with white beans and carrots, and plenty of garlic. Bo Muller-Moore fueled the fire with his squeegeed shirts and his dreams of changing Manhattan into Vermont (and making a little money in the process). Chick-fil-A played right into the plot.

And now, with kale chips “processed at low temperatures to maintain the living enzymes and nutritional values”—and sold for upwards of $2.50 an ounce—it is actually possible that people will eat more kale. In the words of Don McLean, “the more you pay the more it’s worth.” So much for the revolution.


  1. Having recently pulled up all the Red Russian kale in the community garden plot, as no one was eating it as it was impossibly tough, and I for one am not turning on an oven in this heat, even for kale chips (which I have never tasted), have been struggling with the question of kale. Thanks for the enlightenment! I do plan to plant some more for the fall garden as I think kale is most appreciated in the winter months.

  2. Do you cut out the ribs and braise it with a little water in the pan? Some people parboil it first. Like collards it needs water when cooking to break down the fibers.

  3. Maybe I do need to parboil, but the Red Russian also had an infestation of white fly, so it had to go.