Maria Mahon, Kitchen Gardener, Harewood House
Walk around the walled garden today and you’ll see some wonderful examples of heritage kale growing in our vegetable beds.
Check out the glorious display of contrasting colours and textures, ranging from the slender, dark green blistered leaves of ‘Nero di Toscana (1792)’, a variety which reaches over 5ft tall and is sometimes referred to as ‘Black Kale’; to the voluptuous, mid-green, densely curled leaves of the ‘Dwarf Green Curled (1779)’ which, as the name suggests, is a shorter variety reaching just 2ft high.
As part of Seeds of Hope, reimagining the Walled Garden 100 years ago, we have brought the kale on early so visitors can see, hear and read about all this super food.
Kale would have been a dominant feature in the Brassica beds of 1918. It has many virtues and fits with the pressing need at that time for reliable, prolific and nutritious crops. It has gained momentum as a super food over the past few years, one reason being that it contains six times more calcium and seven times more vitamin A than an average portion of broccoli.
Gardeners would have found it easy to cultivate, as it tolerates relatively poor soils and doesn’t suffer quite so much from all the usual pests and diseases which can ruin a crop of many of the others in the Brassica family. And it is generally a very hardy plant, with many varieties able to withstand a hard winter frost. Indeed, kale contains its own ‘anti-freeze’, which actually makes the leaves taste much sweeter after a frost; Brussel sprouts share this quality too.
Whilst cultivating this latest version in the Walled Garden, it has become clear that our much-loved green vegetable can be grown practically all-year-round, which would have made it ideal during the wartime. Its cut-and-come-again ability is just another boost to its super power crop and by picking a few leaves from the bottom of each plant, from several plants at a time, it can provide a constant supply of fresh greens for the dinner table for many months. New leaves from the top of the plant just keep growing, leaving a large, thick green stem at the end of its productive life. Depending on the variety and the harvesting, one kale plant can last anything from 3-6 months, making it a wartime staple.
Steamed, fried, softened in butter, there are some wonderfully inventive and tasty kale recipes, some of our favourite links are below. The kale will continue to look good in the garden for the next few months as we continue to cultivate and plant.
Kale and chickpea curry recipe
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