Photo and story by Donna Iverson
Eat more Kale. That's what many a Vermont t-shirts said as I prepared to retire and move back to my home state of Michigan. Kale? Isn't that the stuff that restaurants use to decorate their salad bars? You can eat it?
Like many people, I'm a sucker for advertising. So having relocated to within a block of where I was born, I joined my local community garden and decided to give it a try....both growing it and eating it. I found it extremely easy to grow but not so tasty to eat, especially raw. It is bitter and tough. But I may be in the minority, an informal poll or friends and neighbors found that some people loved the stuff.
One male acquaintance said he especially enjoyed kale chips. Is that because they don't taste like kale, I asked. He shrugged and offered a kale chip dip recipe.
As kale is a cold-weather crop, I bought small transplants in April from the local farmers market and into the garden bed they went. Turns out, it is one of the least fussy vegetables to grow, thriving in any type of soil, both drought and pest resistant. Within a few weeks, the plants had doubled in size with a healthy robust appearance.
Always interested in a plant's heritage, I learned that kale originated in the eastern Mediterranean around the year 2000 BC. Eventually, it made its way to Russia, where they cultivated a variety that could survive winters down to -15 below. It was especially popular in the Netherlands and Scotland. The Dutch boiled it and mixed it with mash potatoes and called it boerenkalsternpot. The Scots ate so much kale that when they felt ill, they called it "being off ones kale."
After WWII, health advocates began to tout this leafy cabbage's nutritional benefits. Scientists had found that it contained more iron than beef and had the most calcium content of any garden vegetable. It was also high in vitamins A, C and K and full of antioxidants. The foodies began to take note and kale found its way onto more and more dinner tables
About five years ago, the Eat More Kale movement took off in Vermont when a guy named Bo Muller-Moore began selling t-shirts with that slogan from his garage apartment in the state's capital Montpelier. If ever there was a city that attracted the love children of the 60s, Montpelier was it, and his Eat More Kale t-shirts were a hit. It didn't hurt that a national restaurant chain challenged his trademark, which only made Vermonters more determined to buy and eat more kale.
Back in Michigan, it was time to harvest some kale and test its fresh-from-the-garden taste for myself. A member of the cabbage family, I read that kale is better cooked than raw. So into the boiling pot it went. As I have Dutch ancestors, I mixed it with mash potatoes, and it was pretty good. Next I bought the kale chips (although you can make your own) and they were even better.
Especially with that recommended chip dip recipe.