By Lauren Young
We keep close tabs on what we harvest, the value of the product and how we use it. In 2016, most financially valuable crop that we grew was… Drumroll…. KALE. We harvested 792 pounds over the summer and fall.
I spent many hours with kale this season, stripping, washing, blanching… Read on for the all the dirt and then you’ll be rewarded at the end of the post with a kale poem!
First, I washed and stripped the kale. This task was easier said than done given that each harvest we brought in about 100 pounds of the leafy greens. On average that amount translated into 4-6 large totes (roughly 72 cubic feet of densely-packed kale). During the warmer months I would fill up a giant wash tub onsite at the farm and throw all of the newly-picked kale straight from the field into the water. This process helped to cool and rehydrate it during the dry and hot days that we experienced this summer.
After washing, I would spend the next several hours stripping, or destemming, the kale. The most effective technique I developed was to gather a large bunch of similarly-sized stems in one hand, shake them once back and forth to knock the water off them, and slide the stems one by one upwards. By following these steps over a clean tote, I made sure that the tasty leafy parts would end up separated and ready for the kitchen. Meanwhile, I would be left with a handful of stems ready to be tossed into the compost. Destemming the kale was by far the most time-consuming step in processing. Because the leaves and stems both weigh about the same, this stage would leave us with about half as much kale as we had started with.
The next step in my processing routine was to blanch the kale leaves, For this, I had to move over to the kitchen. To blanch the kale, I would expose the leaves to boiling water for a brief period before submerging them rapidly into ice water to avoid overcooking. Each week I would grab the biggest soup pot that I could find, fill it about ¾ full of water, stuff a lid on top, and turn the flame on full blast. While the water took its time to come up to a boil, I would prepare a giant tub of ice and frigid water; set a perforated steam pan over a deeper hotel pan; and get my transferring utensils ready – long tongs and large flat strainers. When the water was finally boiling I would throw an armful of kale in, let it sit in the water for 1-2 minutes, and then start scooping it out into the ice water. It would stay there for 3 minutes at minimum before eventually being transferred to perforated steam pan to drain. I proceeded with this three-part dance: changing out water, adding ice, substituting in additional perforated pans, etc. until all the kale was blanched.
To finish I would weigh the kale (now all sitting in perforated steam pans) down with another pan filled with heavy things (I used big cans of tomatoes). It would sit like this in the walk-in cooler overnight, draining any excess liquid. The next day I removed the kale and chopped it into 1” pieces, packed it into heavy-duty freezer bags, and finally sorted the bags into milk crates for storage. The kale was now ready to be integrated into any dishes in the kitchen such as the Garlic Braised Kale on Sugarsnap’s 2016 Holiday Menu as well as the Kale Sesame Orange and Soba & Kale Salads found at our Technology Park retail location and on our Fall and Winter Catering Drop-Off Menu.
Science Behind Blanching
You may be wondering: why blanch the kale before freezing? The short answer is enzymes. Enzymes are chemical compounds that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables and help them grow and ripen. After fruits and vegetables are harvested, enzymes continue to ripen the produce and cause changes to the flavor, texture, color and taste. Over time enzymes also cause nutrient losses, most notably Vitamin C. The aim of most food preservation is to slow or stop normal enzymatic processes. Freezing food can only slow down enzymes, while blanching completely inactivates enzymes. Blanching and then freezing food is thus the preservation method that can retain the highest level of nutritional value. Moreover, blanching removes air and compacts vegetables so that they take up less space in the freezer. Additionally, residues and microorganisms are removed and the color of the kale is brightened.
A Taste of History
Kale has risen into the spotlight in the last decade, but don’t be fooled into thinking that it has always been an underdog vegetable. According to VERA, a British gardening association, for thousands of years after its domestication in the Mediterranean region, kale was the staple crop of a variety of European cultures. Particularly prized in northern regions for its resistance to frost, kale reigned supreme until selective propagation helped to turn it into cabbage. Kale was so popular in ancient Scotland, where it was fermented in barrels, that the Scottish word for dinner is actually ‘kail’. In fact, kale appears to be at the root of numerous European culinary traditions. In Germany winter is celebrated with a Grünkohlfahrt – a brisk outdoor hike accompanied by schannps and followed by a feast of kale and sausage. In the Netherlands Boerenkool Stamppot (kale mashed with potatoes) is a popular traditional dish. It seems that kale has been with us for quite some time.
If all that kale history hasn’t filled you up, here is a kale-inspired poem to digest!
In Praise of Kale
Kale is the queen of vegetables,
elegant and baroque,
curly or curvy leaves,
dark and heavy,
dense with nutrition,
a master food.
Steamed and drizzled with olive oil
or mingled with mashed potatoes and leeks,
the succulent bite, understated and woodsy,
compensates the body and overcomes the guilt
of plates of holiday junk food.
(Written by Susan Self and appearing in the Los Angeles Times in 1996)