It’s cold out here on the Blue Ridge. At night we fill the woodstove with quarter-rounds of seasoned oak, and we keep our dogs close to the house. Last week I saw ice floating on the Shenandoah River — not much, but some. So I figured our kale would be finished. You know how greens look after ice breaks open all their little cells? Slippery and gelatinous? That’s what I expected.
The older leaves have thickened and darkened. Their center ribs are as thick as licorice whips, and their edges have tightened into firm crinkles. The new leaves are a lighter green, and they’re crinkled so densely that they look like coral, and they’re stiff like the wool on the back of a sheep.
It’s often said that cold weather sweetens kale, and I taste that sweetness in some of these leaves, but most of them are more green than sweet. A modest green, with overtones of blue. The younger leaves begin with a flavor you might call nutty, and as you chew they give your tongue a little tingle. There are a lot of recipes out there for kale, but I’m eating it right out of the bag and wondering why you’d bother turning it into chips or soaking it in dressing. Maybe that’s because I just picked it.
How long will I be able to do that, I wonder?
Mark says we can probably pick it all winter. Some people don’t pick it at all until the second frost, apparently, and one source claims that kale can handle temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit. How can that be? Not enough water in the leaves to freeze?
I’m inspired by the pleasure of this kale — and the mystery of picking it in the middle of December — to make a commitment: I’ll walk out to the kale field every Friday and pick enough to make a meal. And I’ll report on what I find and how it tastes.
Let’s see how long it lasts.