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Kale: A Fashion Statement

Cutting kale in my otherwise dormant garden -- New Year's Eve, 2014

Cutting kale in my otherwise dormant garden — New Year’s Eve, 2014

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big fan of kale.  One of my first posts on this blog was about kale and includes a great kale soup recipe. The “KALE” sweatshirt that I’m sporting in the pic was a holiday gift from my daughter. I was a kale fan before it became trendy, and everyone in the world shouted its nutritional praises. While the nutrition is a great feature, that’s only part of the story.  Kale has more staying power than just about any vegetable in my central Connecticut Zone 5B garden.

The plants pictured here in my otherwise empty garden — next year I’ll get my season-extending tunnel covers in place — are Lacinato Kale, Brassica oleracea Lacinato — that I started indoors from seed late last winter and planted in the garden in late spring. They could have gone in much earlier; they are very cold tolerant and could have been direct seeded. I was late getting my garden going last year, but the extremely forgiving kale didn’t seem to mind. Despite begin cold tolerant — actually cold loving — kale grows happily all through the summer without bolting like spinach, arugula, and other lettuces will do. All summer long while I clip the outside leaves, the plant keeps growing taller and producing new leaves from the center.

I’m not the only creature that loves kale, so it’s always a constant challenge to keep away various types of caterpillars (especially cabbage loopers) and white flies. I launch multiple organic assaults on these pests including hand picking, Bacillus thuringiensis, and insecticidal soap, but this meets with only modest success. Mostly, I depend upon the established kale to produce so prolifically and there are enough greens for everyone.

Kale: A Survivor’s Story

Yes, “survivor” is the right word. As I pack in the rest of the garden and mulch it down with leaves, I just smile at the kale and know that it won’t give up for several more months. A frost or two won’t hurt it; nor will a snowfall unless it’s so heavy that it breaks the leaves or stem. The kale you see in the picture above has gone through a number of hard freezes. As long as you don’t cut it while it’s frozen but rather let the sun thaw it normally, it will survive well past the December holidays. I’ve been known to cut it in February.

Almost forgot to mention. If you don’t want to brave the cold weather, kale keeps well in your freezer! When it is at its peak in the summer, I’ll cut many of the leaves, trim away the center stem, chop, steam, submerge in ice water, spin dry and freeze. It will keep nicely in your freezer for about a year. Use as a side dish (see below) or for soup.

Kale: An Easy Side Dish

Kale chips and soup are very popular, but don’t forget one of the easiest kale presentations: steamed or sautéd. To prepare, wash the freshly cut leaves. Trim away the tough center stem, then chop into bite-sized pieces. Steam and serve as you would spinach, but about twice as long. Kale can be tough and needs to be cooked longer to soften it up. Drain well and drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar.

To  sauté, coat bottom of skillet with olive oil and heat until fragrant. Add a few tablespoons of pignolia nuts and heat until just browned. Remove from pan. Add prepared kale and  sauté until tender. Remove to serving dish and sprinkle with browned pignolia nuts. Note: nuts are optional. Also delicious with browned butter rather than olive oil.

 

 

you can buy your local strawberries

you can buy your local strawberries

 

hurry, season almost over!

...or pick your own as I did with my granddaughter

…or pick your own as I did with my granddaughter

Okay, no excuses here. Somehow the month of June has — or is — slipping past me all too quickly. Strawberries here in Connecticut were a bit late this year due to the cool spring. Then, the past week, we’ve had tropical summer temperatures. According to local farm stands, the berries will disappear within the next few days. So, here’s something that you can do to quickly capture the local strawberry experience all winter long. I stress local because in my taste bud’s opinion, there is simply no point in strawberries unless they are local and in season. The others may be beautiful, but they are generally all for show. Bred to be large, beautiful, and easily transported. Okay, enough sermonizing. Here’s the plan: strawberry freezer jam!

strawberry freezer jam — kid’s play

This really is a great activity to share with your favorite little one!

This really is a great activity to share with your favorite little one!

In my Can It! book, I have a recipe for strawberry freezer jam and tell how I used to make this with my kids when they were preschool age. Well, now I’m making it with my preschool grandkids. It’s that easy. I made a batch last weekend and timed myself. From start to finish — including all prep and clean up , everything back in its place and six lovely jars of jam waiting to freeze — took me about fifty minutes. That’s less time than going to the store to buy some jam. And the flavor of freezer jam is amazing. Because you don’t cook the berries, they keep their full, fresh, just-picked flavor. (Sounds like a commercial, doesn’t it, but it’s true.)

recipe for strawberry freezer jam

Yield: 5-6 half-pints Ingredients:

  • 2 cups mashed strawberries (just about a quart)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 box (1.75 oz.) dry pectin (such as Sure-Jell or Certo)
  • 3/4 cup of water (or the amount required on the pectin that you purchase)

method

  1. Thoroughly wash and rinse freezer containers. Straight-sided plastic in one- and two-cup sizes are best, but glass jelly jars can also be used as long as you leave sufficient head space, i.e, room at the top for expansion.
  2. Thoroughly wash berries and remove and compost stems. Cut in halves or quarters to make mashing easier.
  3. Measure exact amount of sugar.
  4. Mash the strawberries and measure exact amount. Do not use a blender, a potato masher is perfect. You want the jam to have some texture.
    4b: Here are the berries mashed up

    4b: Here are the berries mashed up

    4a. Mash the strawberries, one layer at a time. here I'm just starting.

    4a. Mash the strawberries, one layer at a time. here I’m just starting.

  5. Add the sugar to the mashed strawberries; stir until it’s mixed together, and let it stand for ten minutes.

    5. Stir until the sugar and berries are completely mixed. I've still got a ways to go here.

    5. Stir until the sugar and berries are completely mixed. I’ve still got a ways to go here.

  6. Dissolve dry pectin in water and boil for one minute.
  7. Add the pectin/water mixture to the fruit/sugar mixture and stir constantly for three minutes. The sugar should be pretty well dissolved, though you may see a few grains.

    8. Pouring jam into my jelly jars. I use my canning funnel to make it easier.

    8. Pouring jam into my jelly jars. I use my canning funnel to make it easier.

  8. Put the jam in straight-sided freezer containers, being sure to allow one-half inch headspace for expansion when frozen. Put top on containers.
  9. Let it stand at room temperature until set, usually twenty-four hours.
  10. Label and date. Store in refrigerator for three weeks or in freezer for up to one year. Trust me, you’ll eat them way before then! When ready to use, thaw in the refrigerator. When you spread it on your morning toast, you’ll be transported back to summer.
9. Let stand for up to 24 hours, until jam is set.

9. Let stand for up to 24 hours, until jam is set.

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