At this time of year I get a great satisfaction from harvesting my own fruit and vegetables. The cooler season doesn't produce as many crops as the warmer months, but there is still a great deal of harvesting going on in my patch.
My apples are early season, but my uncle has a tree that's still producing. He brings them to me by the bucket full, so many in fact that I need to preserve most of them.
The red cherry guavas have just finished but my yellow cherry guava trees will fruit for another couple of weeks. And the mandarins and lemons are going full steam.
On the vege front, I'm harvesting broccoli, mustards, and winter lettuce – and that other winter saviour – kale. Kale classifies as the winter vegetable of choice, being such a prolific producer and fully frost hardy.
Kale is a cool-season vegetable that belongs to the cabbage family. It shares the same health-giving properties as broccoli. In fact, it has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable. It's chock-full of phytonutrients, rich in carotenoids which are believed to be anti-cancer agents. It's also a good source of Vitamins A, C, K, B6, and calcium, potassium, riboflavin, folate, iron, and magnesium. During World War II, it helped to sustain the British nation when food was rationed. It was included in the Dig for Victory campaign because it was easy to grow, cold hardy, and nutritious.
But in those days the leaves were a little bitter so it disappeared from the dinner table after the war.
It has since returned to the limelight, with sweeter varieties on the market and its rediscovery as a superfood. It scores a perfect 1000 on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, a system devised by Eat Right America and Dr Joel Fuhrman that measures nutrients per calorie.
It's the only leafy vege that I know that's made it into the chip world. Kale, surprisingly, makes tasty chips. In the United States, kale chips are being packaged and sold as snacks in health-food shops, although it's easy to make your own (see recipe).
Baby kale leaves are also being introduced on to menus. The young leaves are sweet and tender, and said to contain more nutrients than mature leaves. Kings Seeds are introducing a new Mesclun Kale Blend this year. Look for their new catalogue next month.
Kale is a non-heading cabbage so the leaves can be picked one at a time. They can be harvested in as little as eight weeks (much less for baby leaves) and can go on producing right into summer. They're prepared and cooked the same way as headed cabbage; the baby leaves take just a couple of minutes to cook.
VARIETIES TO TRY
Black kale, or cavolo nero, is considered by many as the best kale for cooking. Ruth Pretty has it growing in her kitchen garden at Te Horo, its nobbly bluey-green leaves a lot like savoy cabbage in texture. It keeps its form when cooked, whereas many of the older varieties can turn slightly mushy. For this reason, it's perfect for winter soups, stews and curries.
Squire is a curly-leaf type that looks just like giant parsley. It's fairly sweet and can be used in winter salads and stir-fries. It's also fairly heat tolerant. I grew this variety right up until Christmas one year.
Red Russian is more heat tolerant so it will continue producing over many months. The flowering shoots can also be used like purple sprouting broccoli.
Pink stem, as its name suggests, has pink stems with frilly green leaves. This one is good to use as baby leaves.
In the gardenKale likes an open, sunny site in fertile, well-drained but moisture retentive soil. The more compost or aged manure you can incorporate into the soil, the better. Kale has a high nitrogen requirement, so feed regularly with a nitrogen-rich liquid fertiliser or a seaweed fertiliser. If growing to include in salads, leaves can be picked in around 30 days; if growing to full size, leaves can be harvested in just over two months. Don't use very old leaves – they'll taste bitter.
Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
Tear kale leaves into bite-sized pieces. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese (optional) and salt.
Bake for about 15 minutes until the kale pieces are crispy.
Watch closely. kale chips burn easily.
The Southland Times