A Tale of Two Crucifers–or, how I wish I had fed my kids better food!

“Mom, did you know there are two kinds of kale?”

I was talking to my son on the phone, who was enthusiastic about discovering new foods through his newly purchased farm share at his local farmers’ market.

I indulged myself a slight sideways grin that I knew he wouldn’t see from his end of the line three hundred miles away.

“Yes, I did know that,” I replied. I had at least five kinds of kale growing in my garden right at that moment.

A kale identification conversation ensued, with me describing and naming different types and him trying to decide if that was what he was already used to or if it was the new kind.

“Is it real curly?” I asked him. “Winterbor, something like that?”

He sounded dubious.

“Does it have kind of nubby leaves? Lacinato?”

He wasn’t sure.

“Sometimes they call it dinosaur kale,” I offered.

“Yeah! That’s it!”

“Oooh, that’s all the rage these days,” I gushed. I didn’t used to know that the Lacinato kale they talk about on the cooking shows was the same thing as the dinosaur kale I hear people raving over, either.

It’s not my son’s fault, really. He wasn’t raised on kale, or much of any fresh vegetables for that matter. I was a mother of the generation that eschewed agrarian rural roots and proudly embraced the world of prepackaged groceries. Modern women bought their food at the supermarkets now, I chided my own mother when she offered me a bunch of fresh-pulled beet greens or a basketful of potatoes with remnants of earth still clinging to their skin.

It was an era when Betty Crocker was queen, selling us enticingly easy cake mix and instructing us from the ring-bound pages of her classic orange cookbook to use margarine and cream-of-something soup. I don’t think I ever even heard of kale back then, and wasn’t completely sure what Brussels sprouts looked like. I’m sure there were plenty of parents who valued whole foods and taught their children to eat them, but I regret to admit that I was not one of them.

I worked, I embrace modernity, and my kids’ dad was a self-described loather of all things vegetable. I raised my kids on boxed macaroni-and-cheese, packaged chicken nuggets, and hot dogs. It was not until after they had grown and gone that I began to understand what I had been missing all those years and eventually decided to move out to the country and raise my own food.

Now, I know about all kinds of kale. Winterbor is my favorite, its deep curly leaves steeped in robust flavor. It’s so popular that FedCo is usually sold out of it by the time I get around to buying my seeds, so I tried Darkibor instead this year. I was happy enough with that, and I also like the Redbor type. The Red Russian variety is too grassy for my taste, and the Japanese beetles usually end up getting more of it than I do. They like Lacinato, too.

We eat a lot of kale. We braise it, cook it on grilled pizza, make kale chips, use it in calzones, eat it raw in salads, and love it flash cooked with a little homemade feta. We even blanch some and tuck it into the freezer for a great addition to winter meals.

My kids are coming around on their own, too.   Buying farm shares, learning to enjoy the bounty of buying local, and teaching their own children to make better food choices.

I love the way that organic farmers and chefs are rock stars nowadays. Kale and its cruciferous cousins have risen from their humble roots—pardon the pun—to celebrity status. The kale of yesteryear was nothing like today’s trendy must-haves. Vegetables all the rage, and that’s a great thing.   Not for the sake of the vegetables, and not so much for the adults who choose to eat them.

But the kids who are raised on whole foods today are getting off to a super start. And maybe one of those lucky kids who were raised on kale chips might someday call up his mom and ask her if she knew there was more than one type of potato chip on the market.

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Kathy Bernier

About Kathy Bernier

Backyard farming since 2007--raising our own, saving up for hard times, rejecting consumerism, and hugging the land.