Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
October, 2011
Regional Report

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Curly kale is a beautiful ornamental that is also delicious.

Frost Sweetened Kale

It seems that this time of year, I always tend to wax philosophical about greens. But how can I not? The peppers and tomatoes are almost finished for the year, but the greens are going strong.
A walk through my garden right now yields a basket full of kale, lettuce, mustard greens, mizuna, Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage and a few peas to add to the mix. All of these greens are quite tolerant of the cool fall nights, and the still occasional warm days give them an incredible growth boost.

Of course we have more greens than we can eat right now, so I'm chopping and blanching them in small batches for the freezer. I like to add them to soups, stews, omelets, and even spaghetti sauce (don't tell my kids) for an extra vitamin boost in winter. I know how much of a vitamin load the dark green vegetables have, so I always feel good about serving a strong dose of cancer-fighting vitamins in our evening meal.

Besides tasting good, kale and many of the other greens are well suited to the way I like to garden. I sow them in very early spring, almost before the snow is gone, and they grow by themselves, with little intervention from me.

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about whether kale is really edible. He is of the opinion that it is not. I tried to explain that there are all kinds of kale, none of which taste like the cardboard or straw kale usually available in the grocery store or as garnish on a restaurant buffet.

There are smooth-leafed, crinkly-leafed, and even a type called Red Russian that turns purple-red in cold weather. My favorite is a dark blue-green type called dragon kale because it has such unusually shaped leaves. It also grows to about three feet tall, so makes quite a statement in the garden! Now that frost has sweetened the kale, I plan to fix my friend a plate of sauteed kale with garlic and onions, and have him eat his words (and my kale).

Two secrets to using kale: saute or steam lightly until just tender and use only young, tender leaves. As tempting as it is to use the abundant large outer leaves, they really don't taste good unless cooked to death and heavily flavored. The tender inner leaves, however, are delightfully sweet. My personal favorite is gently sauteed greens with onion, fresh garlic, lots of pepper, fresh tomatoes, all topped with Romano cheese. I can eat greens three times a day!

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