So there are lots of tasty varieties of Kale out there. They all have different structure, physical ‘mouth feel’, smell and taste at various stages of growth. Generally the smaller the leaf the softer and more subtle the flavours. It also depends significantly on how you prepare it for eating. When small the least amount of heat and damage to them the better they taste. Sometimes only a light blanch for a minute or so is enough to remove any hard texture and remove any odd flavours.
A great way to grow and eat them is to have a pot or small patch and harvest them constantly with small amounts being used so they grow back quickly. I use a lot of water and seaweed and compost on them and they grow fast and reliably – especially during the winter period.
They grow best when really cold – having snow on them is no issue and in some cases improves the flavour.
The main three I like to have on hand in this way are the Russian Red/Blue, the Green Curl and Jagallo Nero which is a closely related version of Lacinato Nero (Black Tuscan Kale) that has jagged shaped leaves instead of the big bubbly ones.
These ones all germinate easily and grow well in cool weather with plenty of water. They all tend to be pretty scrappy and generally uneven and odd tasting during the warmer months of the year. This is also when they are plagued by insects like cabbage white butterfly etc.
The colder periods are when these bugs are at their least active and when the plants are at their best so I try to stick with the focus on harvesting them mainly only during this time.
They usually flower and seed reliably and profusely in the warm weather and especially if they get any dry weather to start the process. You really need to make sure only one varieties is flowering at a time and bag the flowers with fine netting if you want to keep your varieties true. Just chop the new flower stalks off all but one variety for a week or so to get each one flowered and pollinated in succession. Or bag them all and take the bags off each individual variety for a few days.
These all work well if just tossed into other dishes at the last moment or tossed quickly in a flat pan to dry roast them for 1-2 minutes and tipped into a bowl with some lemon juice and Olive oil.
There are many others in this brassica group such as the giants like ‘Chou Moellier’, the red and green borecole, and the collards and so on that are all good to try out for a reliable winter food source. This is just a small representative sample.
Green curl juvenile and adult leaves.
Red and Blue Russian juvenile and adult leaves. They colour up differently in various climate conditions.
I like to use the Lacinato Nero kale when it’s in adult form as I think it’s better at that stage.
All these plants generally will last a year or so but taper off in quality after that – whereas the Lacinato Nero – like the Portuguese Kales – tend to live on for several years and produce good quality adult leaves to harvest incrementally from the base. Just tie the stem to a stake and let it go and regrow in season. They will also sometimes sprout new side stems as well. You can cut the top off and force this to happen if you get a badly insect infested plant during the summer – such as grey brassica aphid infestations which are truly hard to control during warm weather without topping the plant and stripping every leaf off for a time.