Monday, May 21, 2012


At our local Hannaford supermarket one day, I happened to overhear the following interchange:
“I'm doing a lot more with kale these days”.
“Really? Kale?”
“Yeah, we love it. We're going to try growing it”.
“It's really good, you should try it!”
It’s the second voice in this conversation, the questioning one that we are most familiar with in regards to kale. Although it is a staple vegetable for us, it is still not well known. Another familiar comment is: “My husband (or kids/sister/boyfriend/etc) won’t eat any of the strong vegetables”. Strange for us to hear, because kale eaten at the right time of year is not a strong flavor at all, but is actually sweet.
Last year's kale ready to go to seed
We unequivocally love kale, and for many reasons. It’s simple to grow, can be harvested almost year round, stores on the stalk, reseeds itself, and has nearly endless cooking options.
Besides all of its other qualities, kale is one of the most beautiful of the veggie garden plants. There are three basic varieties, and we grow two of them. One is a plant that covers itself in fat, frilly blue-green leaves. The other has purple veined flat leaves shaped somewhat like large oak leaves with slightly frilled edges.
Kale is a brassica, a plant family that includes cabbage, broccoli, and collards. The brassicas are said to provide antioxidants which are wonderful for your health. In doing a little research, I found a website that elaborates on the health benefits of kale including that it may be a cancer preventative; "Kale is an especially rich source of glucosinolates, and once kale is eaten and digested, these glucosinolates can be converted by the body into cancer preventive compounds." The site is here: http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?dbid=38&tname=foodspice
Cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are crops we sometimes grow, but they are grown for one harvest and then the plant stems are pulled and composted. Kale, on the other hand is used by harvesting only a handful of leaves at a time. It is very hardy and lasts through the winter. We have dug through three feet of snow to grab a handful of kale. No storage needed!
Although it can be picked and eaten at any time, kale has a lovely sweet flavor after a hard frost. This is when it is at its best. It is such a delicacy that we typically ignore it throughout the growing season and then feast on it as far into winter as it lasts.
By spring, the main stems of the plants have been picked at until they are nearly leafless. Some of the rugged looking stalks begin to sprout new leaves, while others have died out and are then pulled up for compost.
Now, in May before most of the garden is planted, the over-wintered stems have leafed out and the new leaves can be picked and eaten. Seed heads are forming, and this is yet another benefit of this plant. As a biennial it goes to seed in its second year. The seeds fall to the ground and new plants start up. If it weren’t for slugs who love baby kale, we might be overrun with it.
Simple to grow, seeds itself, overwinters, sweetens when chilled, and pops back up in spring. What could be better? If only the rest of the garden were so easy...! -jmm

Kale Slaw

The easiest ways to serve kale are to steam it, or to tear the leaves into little bits and add them to a green salad. Kale can also be added to just about anything you are cooking: potato salad, stews, soups, stir fries, mashed potatoes, etcetera. Here is an especially tasty way to prepare it using Gil’s special Ginger Dressing.
Combine in a large bowl:
2 cups kale, ribs removed, sliced thin crosswise & cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup red mustard leaves, sliced thin crosswise & cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup chives, cut into 1" lengths
1 med carrot, coarsely grated
1/2 cup raisins
Ginger Dressing
4 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp brown rice vinegar
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp honey
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 cup organic mayonnaise
1/4 tsp ground pepper
Heat the sesame oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Turn down to medium low, then add the grated ginger. Saute until the flavors absorb (4-5  minutes). Remove from heat. Add vinegar, honey, lime juice and pepper. Stir until blended. Place the mayonnaise into a bowl, then stir in the blended mixture. Add about 1/4 cup of the dressing to the kale mixture and mix well. Add more as needed to taste. -G.H.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gil's Fabulous Beer Garden Chili

It's mid-May and peas are sprouting. The first harvest of lettuce and arugula are already used up. Mache and claytonia have gone into our salads since March. The second planting of greens is up and the new batch is being thinned for baby mesclun salads. Spinach, swiss chard, and red mustard have gotten big enough to start using them. Chives, perennial onions, and ramps have been in use for some time now.
And, we still have things left from last year. Green beans, collards, beet greens and cabbage are still in the freezer. Four dried Habanero peppers are all thats left of a long string of them over the kitchen window. There are a couple of jars of plum chutney and homemade ketchup left.
And so I decided to make chili.
Feel free to substitute as indicated in parentheses. Instead of green beans and collards, other veggies may be used. Add kidney beans or serve on pasta if desired. Serve with a big salad of fresh greens.
Serves 2
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup chopped perennial onion (or one large onion)
1 tbsp beef tallow
4 ramps, chopped (or four cloves of garlic)
1 Habanero pepper * diced (or Jalapeno, which is not as hot)
12 oz micro brewed dark beer
1 cup green beans, frozen or fresh
1 cup collard greens, frozen or fresh
1 6 oz can tomato paste
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
In a cast iron skillet, heat the tallow on medium heat. Add the ground beef and cook until brown, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped onion and cook until soft, another 5 minutes. Add the ramps or garlic and cook another 3 to 4 minutes. Add the beer and bring to a boil. Add the green beans and greens. Bring back to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium low. Add the tomato paste, Habanero, salt & pepper. Lower heat to just high enough to keep the chili simmering. Cook for an hour or so. To serve, ladle into shallow bowls and top with grated sharp cheddar cheese. G.H.
* The heat of the pepper is in the ribs and seeds. Habeneros are among the hottest of peppers. You may want to use only half the ribs and seeds if you don’t want it "muy caliente" (very hot).

Monday, May 7, 2012


Fiddleheads are a sign of spring here in Maine. Although they are often foraged in the wild, we can also find them at the supermarket. Unlike other vegetables, however, they are only available at this time of year. They are a local phenomenon, and we love the local-ness and the fresh, sign-of-spring flavor. An annual delicacy.
Ostrich fern in the shade of a Striped Maple
Fiddleheads are the as yet unfurled fronds of the ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris. They are found in the woods and typically along rivers and streams. It takes a small amount of knowledge to identify them. It's important to know exactly what to look for, and then one hopes to find enough for a dinner. There are many kinds of ferns, but among them, only the ostrich fern is considered edible.
In scouting for them early in spring, look for a brown colored bump on the ground. These are really hard to spot because they blend in. As the fern grows you will see a green, hairless stem with a furled top of delicate-looking frilly little leaves. The ferns' stem is hollowed on the underside. Other types of ferns may have stems that are covered with a fuzzy white substance, or are red, or are hairy looking, or are rounded without being hollowed. There is a facebook page for fiddleheads, click here
The nice thing about this fern is that you can grow them. Here, we have two patches started. The ostrich fern prefers a shady spot and moist soil although one of our patches is in full sun and soil that dries out. The other patch is next to the trunk of a striped maple tree, and the ground is not especially moist there either.
These patches were started a couple years ago and we are still waiting to be able to pick some. This may take several years. A patch spreads as ferns send out runners with a new fern starting from the end of each of them. Several new ferns pop up each year, and we are waiting for the patches to colonize thickly enough that picking some won't deplete the patch.
We ordered the fern plants from the Fedco tree catalog. Other sources may offer this fern, google search “ostrich fern,” then make sure the scientific name is the same.
Harvest fiddleheads while they are still a tight spiral near to the ground. If the spiral has unfurled, it is too late. To eat them, clean by swishing in several changes of cold water, and remove any brown bits. Steam for about five minutes, then saute in butter and garlic. -jmm