Best tasting kale varieties. Seed saving from kale. Kale and eggs, three ways.
Why we Love our Favorite Kale Variety
Our kale has given us tender, tasty leaves, a wealth of nutrition, beautiful flowers, and soon it will give us seeds to grow the next generation of kale. It's a little known secret that the Russian and Siberian kale varieties are the most delicious types of kale. Their uniquely delicious flavor is due to the fact that they are a different species of kale, known scientifically as Brassica napa, than the Mediterranean kale types, which are Brassica oleracea. While all of the Brassica napa kales are delicious, we especially enjoy growing the old heirloom variety from Russia known as Red Russian (for its red stems). Antioxidants give vegetables their color; it's important to eat a variety of different colors in your vegetables to get the maximum benefits of antioxidants. When you eat Red Russian kale, you are getting a wealth of colorful antioxidants from both the red stems and the green leaves.
The Siberian and Russian kale varieties grow extremely well in our climate here in Eastern Connecticut. They are not phased by the cold at all. We picked them from right underneath the snow one chilly December evening. Red Russian kale is tender and mild even in the heat of summer, but the cold gives it a splendid sweetness. An adaptation that this kale has to the cold is to produce sugar on cold nights. Sugar acts as a natural antifreeze by blocking the water molecules from forming into ice crystals. Ice crystals would shatter the cells of the kale and kill it. Sweet winter kale is both a treat and a marvel of the natural world.
In the picture below, we are getting ready to harvest kale from under this low tunnel on a cold and snowy December day.
Red Russian kale thriving under the low tunnel, despite the cold.
How the Pandemic Inspired us to Save Seeds
Certified organic vegetable seeds, in quantities suitable for our 1 acre of growing fields, have been hard to come by of late. My last few orders of seeds arrived partially filled, with notes that some of the items I had ordered were sold out. Every seed company I order from has emailed me to to let me know to expect delays, as they are overwhelmed by the volume of orders. I feel thrilled that more people are planting gardens, and saddened that it took a pandemic for interest in growing one's own food at home to take off. My main hope is that the increase in orders for seeds is coming from gardeners, not hoarders, and that the seeds ordered will meet the ground this growing season, and produce wonderful nutritious food.
I feel fortunate to have placed large seed orders in December, and I have most everything that I need for the growing season. But the out-of-stock notices and delays from seed companies have inspired me to save seeds from our crops this year. First up is our overwintered kale, which is currently flowering in our hoop house, now that it is late April.
If your kale in your garden has never flowered, it is probably because you've never given your kale a chance to vernalize. Vernalization means to make like spring, and is when a plant goes through a period of cooler temperatures followed by warmer temperatures. Oftentimes this flowering or "bolting" is undesirable, as the plant is putting its energy into growing flowers instead of leaves. But flowers turn to seeds, so for your kale to make seeds, it needs to vernalize.
We love our Red Russian kale and don't want for it to cross-pollinate with other types of kale, which would change the characteristics of the next generation of kale. Fortunately for our seed-saving efforts, Red Russian is the only kale we have flowering right now, and we are not aware of anyone within three miles of us that has kale that is currently flowering. So we can expect the seeds we save to be true to type. Kale is pollinated by bees and other insects, which can fly for up to three miles, carrying pollen from one kale plant to another. Having our kale in our hoop house means that it is flowering sooner than anyone in our area who has kale overwintered in the field.
The kale seed pods form as the flowers fade, and look like tiny green beans jutting out horizontally from the stalk. When the seed pods turn brown, we will cut the stalks and hang them in brown paper bags in our attic to dry. The seed pods will burst and empty their seeds into the paper bag. It is important that we check our kale every day, now that it is setting seed. Pick it too early, and the seeds will be underdeveloped. Pick it too late, and the seeds will fall into the field and grow volunteer kale where it is not wanted. Kale gives us many gifts. We harvested kale from these plants steadily from November through April, and in June it will give us seeds to plant to begin the kale anew.
Kale flowering in April in the unheated greenhouse.
Benefits of Seed Saving
Saving seeds not only ensures that we have the seeds we need, but it also produces seeds better adapted to our organic growing conditions. Our organic kale faced lots of challenges as it grew, challenges and circumstances unique to our little farm in Eastern Connecticut. Not all of the kale plants made it to maturity to flower and produce seeds. In the fall, hungry cabbage worms ate some of the seedlings. When the cold weather killed off the cabbage worms, some kale plants succumbed to the cold. Others were then eaten away by aphids. The kale plants that survived may have traits that help them resist our pests and diseases, traits that they will pass down through their seeds to the next generation. We are looking forward to see if seeds saved on our farm survive at higher rates. We also hope to have extra kale seeds to give away to our neighbors to enjoy growing in their home gardens.
Kale and eggs, Three Ways
Kale and eggs is one of my favorite meals, for breakfast or at any other time of day. It is also a very nutritious combination of foods. We have a lot of wonderful local egg producers in the Sterling, CT area, and many of our neighbors keep a small flock of hens in their backyards.
Kale and Eggs with Ramen Noodles
Make the marinated eggs the night before. First, make the marinade by combining in a small sauce pan 1 cup of soy sauce, 4 cups of water, 2 tbs of vinegar, and 2 star anise. This makes enough marinade for up to a dozen eggs. Allow the marinade to cool. Next, boil the eggs in plain water until they are done to your liking. We boiled our eggs for 8 minutes, followed by an ice bath, to cook them soft-boiled as you can see in the picture above. If you like hard-boiled eggs, cook for 11 minutes. When the eggs have cooled, peel them, making sure to remove all the membrane, put them into a container such as a quart mason jar, and pour the marinade over them. Let marinate for at least 8 hours before serving. The eggs keep for one week.
The next day, chop a small bunch of kale into one inch pieces, removing any tough stems. Prepare your ramen noodles according to the package directions for the stovetop. We especially enjoy Mike's Mighty Good Miso Ramen (no affiliation, just one of the brands we enjoy). When the ramen is almost done, stir in the kale and cook for one minute, or until it is wilted slightly.
Cut the marinated eggs in half with a sharp knife, and place on top of the bowl of hot ramen noodle soup. We enjoy this soup for breakfast, but it also makes a nice lunch or dinner, too.
Scrambled Eggs and Kale
In a medium mixing bowl, beat four eggs with a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper until the eggs are well-combined and slightly frothy. Set aside. Finely dice half an onion. Chop a small bunch of kale into one inch pieces, removing any tough stems. Finely dice three leaves of sage. Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a pan, then add the diced onions and sauté until the onions are slightly browned. Add the diced sage and chopped kale, and cook for one minute until the kale is just slightly wilted. Remove the vegetable mixture from the pan and reserve for later. Add another 2 tbs of olive oil to the pan, and pour in the egg mixture. Scrape the bottom of the pan constantly with a spatula and stir the eggs until they are cooked to your liking. Stir in the vegetable mixture and cook for one more minute to heat up the veggies. I like to top this with shredded cheddar cheese (optional, but nice).
Kale Salad with Hard Boiled Eggs
This meal is a great lunch to pack with you on a hike, a picnic, on a day trip, or to work.
Cook some hard boiled eggs and set aside to cool. To make the dressing, mix up an equal amount of olive oil with an equal amount of lemon juice (bottled is fine) and stir in salt to this mixture to taste. Cut kale roughly into 3 inch pieces. Pour the dressing over the cut up kale, and massage until the kale is slightly wilted. Let the kale marinade in the dressing for at least one hour, up to 24 hours before serving. When ready to serve, peel the hard boiled egg, dice it, and serve the diced hard boiled egg on top of the marinaded kale salad.
Enjoy your kale!
We have kale available from our farm pretty much year round. Please subscribe to our newsletter for updates on where to purchase our kale, or join our CSA to get our kale every week, along with our other delicious vegetables. If you enjoyed reading this blog post, you can follow our Facebook page for more great content.