The Leafy Brassicas
There are lots to choose from in this group: collards, cress, kale, mizuna, mustard, rape, rocket, turnip greens, tyfon, and watercress.
collards: I've got at least a partial credential for talking about collards because my mother was born and raised in Alabama. She left around age 20, first for a job in a bank in New York City and then to take a teaching job as an English teacher in the practically brand-new, whistle-stop town of Clyde Park, Montana. They called her "Alabam" there, and from her I know about fried chicken, grits, okra, collards, and corn bread!
Collards (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) are a kind of kale that's easy to grow and disease-free. Collards are a traditional southern food because they tolerate heat; they're the only brassica that gets along in the South. But they can also handle cold. Each plant is a tall kale, a nonheading cabbage that grows on top of a stick stem about 1 to 4 feet high. Planting. In the South they plant collards from July to November to eat during the fall and winter, or start them indoors early to be set out as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. If you live in the North and want to try collards, plant them early in the spring. Southern Seeds sells a Georgia variety with whitish stems and blue-green leaves that can stand hot summers as well as Vates, a quicker maturing, more cold-resistant kind. (Lane Morgan recommends Vates as the best northern variety.) Plant seed Vi inch deep and 1 inch apart if starting indoors, 5 to 7 weeks before setting out. Then set out 18 to 24 inches apart, rows maybe 30 inches apart. To raise them in a container, plan on growing 1 per 8-inch pot, Vi gal. soil per plant, at least 6 inches deep, plants as close as 12 to 14 inches apart. The seeds will germinate in 6 to 9 days. Harvesting. Collards take 75-85 days to reach maturity, but even before that you can whittle leaves off them to eat. Pick lower leaves as needed, but don't cut the whole plant off if you want it to keep on producing. It's a good fall crop. Frost sweetens its flavor. Plants produce generously. It's easy to get more than you can use.
Cooking. Collards need to be cooked longer than most of the other greens, and you'll do better starting with young, tender leaves anyway. Roll up like a newspaper, chop them up, and then cook. They are generally cooked by boiling with some bacon or salt pork or frying with a little bacon fat. The juices left in the saucepan are called "pot likker" and should be sopped up with hot corn bread. Or cook in a pressure cooker: Steam with vent open for half a minute; cook at 15 lb. pressure for 4 more minutes. Add flavoring and serve. Or substitute for cabbage in a stuffed cabbage recipe. cress: There are basically 3 brassica cresses. All have a flat or curly leaf and a small stem. Watercress belongs to a different genus and is listed separately later on. Pepper Cress. Pepper cress (Lepidium sativum) is also called "cress," "common cress," "garden cress," "peppergrass," and "sai yeung choy." It is actually more of an herb: The leaves are so spicy they're a seasoning rather than a true green. Upland Cress. Upland cress, or "winter cress" (Barbarea verna) gets confused with pepper cress. It's a hardy perennial grown like lettuce or spinach.
You can order pepper and upland cress from Abundant Life and Shumway. Serve using watercress recipes. Kale: It's B. oleracea acephala in Latin, used to be called "borecole" in British seed catalogs, and is called "kale" in American catalogs. Kale handles cold and heat well. It can be raised from the deep South to Alaska. Southerners can plant even in September or October and grow kale through the winter. It's likely to be the hardiest vegetable you've ever raised. In fact, kale endures cold so well that in a climate like the Midwest, you can leave it out in the garden all winter and depend on it for greens. It can handle quite a lot of heat too, providing you supply adequate water. You see a lot of purple and curly ornamental varieties of kale planted for display in winter "flower" gardens.
Varieties. The kales are all nonheading species of the cabbage genus, of the mustard family (Cruciferae), of the order Brassica. Basically there are 3 big kale categories:
• Collards proper, Brassica oleracea acephala. (See "Collards," a few entries back.)
• Kales that are closely related to collards and are also called Brassica oleracea acephala. These resemble a frilly, headless cabbage that you harvest leaf by leaf. They are more cold-hardy than the others and transplant well. Members of this group are the very curly kinds like Scotch, Cottagers, or Thousand-Headed (the huge stuff you grow for stock feed). These B. oleracea acephalas are significantly different from the following kale category.
• B. napus pabularia, a family of "kale" that is actually a cousin to the rutabaga. Good varieties include Russian, Siberia, and Hanover. They have looser leaves, are more likely to be reddish-tinted, and don't transplant well. They are less hardy but are sweeter in summer! (For that data, thanks to Binda Colebrook, Kale Queen of the maritime Northwest!)
Planting. In the deep South, plant even in September or October. In the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascades, Lane Morgan says she wouldn't bother with spring-planted kale. "It doesn't taste that good in the summer anyhow. We plant in July or August in the ground vacated by the early peas or lettuces." If you've got a transplanting kind, you can plant it indoors, Vi inch deep and 1 inch apart, and transplant to the garden 6 to 12 inches apart. Or start it in the garden and thin it there. You can plant kale in the garden as much as 40 days before your frostfree date. Or plant in midsummer. Plant rows 30 inches apart.
Germination should happen in 6 to 9 days. Thin to a foot apart. Or you can raise kale in a container. There'll be room for only 1 kale plant per 12-inch pot. There should be at least 3 gal. of soil in the pot, at least 12 inches deep. A good thick mulch will protect garden kale from freezing to death in the worst weather.
Be sure to keep it watered in summer, and don't plow it up in the fall—let it keep producing. Harvesting. Kale is 55 to 70 days to maturity and can live through frosts. When cold weather comes along, you'll still have kale. It will grow right through all but the fiercest winters. If frost does succeed in cutting it back, as soon as things warm up a little it will sprout new leaves. You can harvest leaves as you need them; more will keep growing. Pick the large outside leaves and let the little center ones grow. Or harvest whole plants as you thin, to 4 to 6 inches apart at first, more later. Use the tough outer leaves for soup, the tender inner ones for salad. Gradually, as your plants get bigger, you'll want to do further thinning. Very cold weather slows the growth of greens, causing tougher outer leaves. But tough leaves are still great for soup. Kale is biennial and will start to grow again in the spring. Those tender new leaves can be yet another harvest for you. Saving Seed. Kale is a bee-pollinated biennial. The Asian ones cross with rutabaga; English types cross with most other brassicas. Seeds are viable for about 5 years. See other brassica entries for more seed-saving info. Cooking. This plant has lots of vitamins and minerals, more than any of the other garden greens. Kale leaves are too coarse for salad greens unless you use just the small, young, tender ones. Wash carefully and discard the hard pieces of stalk. Kale is good cooked with pork, like cabbage.
Or cook in salted water until tender, drain and chop fine, and return to the pan with butter, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix and melt the butter and serve hot on buttered toast pieces. You can figure that 3 c. raw kale from the garden will cook down to a cup of kale for the table. If you are using kale leaves in other recipes, you may need to give them a special parboiling beforehand. They are not only the most vitaminaceous and hardy green, they are also the hardest to soften up and make edible! On the other hand, try not to overcook it because that's bad too. You've got to catch that moment of perfection.
About classic kale soups, Lane Morgan says: "Caldo Verde is a staple dish of Portugal—it's a soup of kale, potatoes, and spicy sausage. I've seen lots of different versions, including a vegetarian one with more garlic and olive oil instead of sausage. Another one is Brose, an ancient Scottish soup that is kale and beef broth, thickened with a handful of toasted rolled oats. I'm not crazy about it, but it would definitely get you through a lean winter—true and original homestead food."
MlZUNA: Also known as "kyona," mizuna (Brassica japonica) is a mild-flavored mustardy green that's good in salads. It has attractive, feathery foliage and is not usually bothered by pests or pestilence. It's best suited for fall planting since it bolts quickly if planted in spring. Thin to 8 inches apart. Mizuna grows particularly well inside a winter cloche or frame. If you plant it in summer or fall, it will go to seed the following spring, around April. Seeds from Territorial. Mature mizuna has many thin, light-green stalks in a rosette shape with deeply cut leaves. To harvest, take individual leaves from the outside, and the plant will keep producing them.
MUSTARD: Mustard (Brassica juncea), also called "mustard greens" or "mustard spinach," is another traditional southern—and Asian—green, one of the first available in the spring. Mustard is stronger in taste and tougher in texture than spinach and chard. There are many varieties. The traditional southern ones are covered here. Pak choi is the only mustard that can be planted spring, summer, fall, or winter and won't bolt distressingly soon. Planting. Start them as early as February or March in fertile soil; they grow fast and bolt when May comes. (Or plant in fall.) Make your first planting about 20 days before your frostfree date. Plant lA to Vi inch deep. Plant 3 or 4 seeds per inch. Make rows 18 to 24 inches apart. To grow mustard greens in a container, allow at least a 6-foot depth of soil and at least V* gal. soil per plant. You can grow 2 plants per 8-inch pot if you space them 4 inches apart. Your seeds will germinate in 5 to 8 days. This is a cool-weather crop, although some new varieties have better resistance to heat and drought than the old ones.
Growing. Let a lot of plants stay in the row for a while if you have flea beetle problems. Once they've grown past the stage at which flea beetles are a problem, gradually thin to 9 inches between plants. You can eat the thinnings, of course. Keep plants well watered since a water shortage makes them much "hotter" to eat. They're self-seeders. Saving Seed. The mustard varieties are bee-pollinated; they cross with each other and with turnips and Chinese cabbages. They are very sensitive to length of day versus length of night ("photoperiodic") and will go to seed in May, when days lengthen and temperatures increase. There are new slow-to-bolt varieties. But old-style ones go to seed; that seed grows with the next watering and you can end up with several generations of mustard in a garden. To save seed, cut the stalk once half the seed pods have dried, dry on cloth, thresh, and winnow. Seed viable 7 years. Harvesting. They are rapid growers, about 35 to 45 days to harvest. They're best cut when the leaves are 4 to 6 inches long, but definitely cut them before they get too big and tough. The younger they are, the less "hot" they are to eat. They will bolt as soon as the day length triggers them to do so. Fall-planted mustard greens will keep going through light frosts; in fact, early frosts improve their flavor. They generally do well under a cloche or some such. Recipe Ideas. A few leaves are good in salad. Or stir-fry with other veggies. Or steam and serve with vinegar and beans. Or cook with meat and veggies as a soup or stew. Mustard is traditionally cooked with salt pork. Chinese mustard has thick stems and fuzzy leaves and is good only if very young and small.
rape: This brassica mustard green variety is milder flavored than either kale or collards, can be mature as fast as 3 weeks, and is easy to grow in any soil. It can be grown as a cover crop, for animal forage, as a cooking green, and for its oil-rich seeds (canola). See "Flower Seeds." rocket: Eruca vesicaria sativa, or rocket, is also called "arugula," "garden rocket," and "Mediterranean salad." This sharp-flavored green, a mustard relative, is used in small quantities to add flavor to salads, much like sorrel. It's a fairly hardy brassica, Mediterranean in origin (still popular in southern Europe and Egypt as a salad green). It will grow almost anyplace.
Planting. You can order rocket seeds from Burpee, Com-stock, Cook's Garden, William Dam, DeGiorgi, Gurney, Hudson, Le Jardin du Gourmet, Nichols, Park, Redwood City, Shepherd's, or Vermont Bean. You can plant in a cold frame in winter—or in the garden in spring, as early as you please, because rocket can and will germinate despite the very wettest, coldest spring soils—as long as the ground isn't frozen. Plant it in a "perennial" site because, Lane Morgan says, "rocket will self-seed like crazy. It remains good-tasting about 3 years. Then you need to start over because the self-seeded gets too funky to eat."
Rocket seems to pop out of the ground and up in a flash, just like its name. You can use rocket like radishes to mark or break ground for slow-germinating seeds. For a steady supply of the most tender leaves, it's best if you plant a few seeds every week and keep picking for a constant supply of new young plants, which are the most flavorful. Or plant late in the summer for a fall harvest. Rocket can survive light frosts. As it gets colder, add a cold frame, or pot and move inside. In the Deep South, rocket can be grown only during the winter months. Rows should be at least a foot apart, seed covered with Vi inch of dirt. Thin seedlings to 6 to 9 inches apart.
Growing. Once up, rocket requires the odd combination of full sun and 30 to 50 days of cool weather to properly mature. Rocket that grows during the hottest part of the summer is likely to go to seed prematurely and be too strong tasting. (It may help to provide afternoon shade and very regular, deep watering.) The best rocket grows in well-prepared, rich soil that is kept constantly moist. Pull out overmature and/or bolted plants unless you're saving them for seed.
Harvesting. If you're just getting acquainted with rocket, be advised that it is definitely a flavoring salad ingredient rather than a foundation green because of its rather odd, strong, spicy flavor. It's essential to harvest it very young, when it's at its mildest; the older it gets, the stronger the flavor, and the leaves getting tough and stringy too. For mildest flavor, pick when the leaves are only 3 to 6 weeks old and the plant is under 6 inches high. You can still harvest up to 10 inches high; then stop for sure. If you don't pick rocket early and keep it down, it can get 2 feet high, but leaves from a plant like that are so bitter and spicy-hot as to be totally undesirable for eating raw. Don't worry about damaging the plant by cutting it. Like chard, it will keep growing back. Rocket is best if it goes directly from garden to table. If you must store it, pull plants up, roots and all; wrap root end in wet paper towels or cloth; and keep in fridge. You can freeze rocket using the basic process for freezing greens.
Recipe Ideas. Serve with hummus in pocket bread. Its bright green leaves are attractive as well as flavorful when added to the blander lettuces in any salad, especially one with feta cheese. Add to quiche; to any soup, cream or clear; or to any tomato dish. The flowers are edible, too, and go nicely in a raw salad. Or substitute in any sorrel recipe. Cooking will tame the flavor somewhat. The Italians saute rocket and then mix it in with pasta, or combine it with other cooked greens such as mustard and turnip greens. You can even get some good from bitter, stringy old rocket leaves by boiling, pureeing, and adding to soup. Or combine boiled, pureed rocket (young or old) with sour cream and herbs.
turnip Greens: I've seen baby turnips bundled and sold tops and all as "turnip greens." They'd be good that way too. But in my garden, turnip greens are prickly, bugs riddle the leaves, and the turnips can't recover if they lose their tops. There is a better variety for this purpose, called "raab"; its entry is a bit later on.
tyfon: Lane Morgan says, "Tyfon is a turnip/rape cross that is really versatile. It makes a good winter green manure here [north Pacific coast], plus you can eat it all year long if temps don't drop below 0°F It tastes like a mild mustard green. Young leaves go in salads. Big ones need some cooking. Territorial sells it."
watercress: Nasturtium officinale, or watercress, used to be the last entry in this chapter, back when it was organized alphabetically. Now it's in the middle. It makes me think of the time I climbed the tallest mountain for miles around and discovered layers of fossilized seashells making up the broken, bare rocks at the very top of it. That really . boggled my mind. The high point I'd toiled all day to reach was once the bottom of an ocean!
Well, speaking of water . . . Watercress grows in cold, deep springs. I've seen it growing only once—on the road to Jackson Hole, WY, coming in from the Southwest. Near the side of the road there is a small cold spring, and therein grows watercress. Just a spring along the highway, free and giving watercress to anyone who knew where to find it.
I believe God answers prayer, but I think He doesn't ordinarily just hand things out free. God gives us fruitful labors, and it is our job to do the laboring part. We show our faith in His will to bless us by working on, undismayed by the apparently uncrossable river or unclimbable mountain. If we work, really work—you can pray and work at the same time, and that's how I do a lot of mine—and constantly search in your mind for God's will in your work, what you should work for and how you should work at it—then the Fruit is certain. Not just earthly fruits but, even more important, spiritual fruits of knowing how to love and experiencing love, both God's and man's, and the deep and lovely satisfaction of seeing God make of your soul-self a beautiful and worthy one.
We get our water from a spring here. It's peculiar in that it moves around. About every 3 months there is no water, and Mike climbs down the canyon to find out where the spring went. He always finds it, digs it out enough to make the water flow easily, and resets the pipe that carries the spring water to the first tank, which is in the canyon, and from which it gets pumped up to the tank above our house. So it isn't really suitable for growing watercress. Growing. Gene Logsdon has a nice section on growing watercress in his book Getting Food from Water. I now know that you can grow watercress under a drippy faucet or in a planter containing cool water—or even in dirt in a planter that gets watered generously each day. The main thing is to keep giving it lots of water. Commercial growers set out the plants and then flood the area as if they were growing rice. Watercress seed is available from Abundant Life or Shumway. The taste is best and mildest in early spring, before it flowers.
Recipe Ideas. Remove the roots. Pick over and wash the watercress thoroughly. Make sure there are no water bugs. Drain and chill. Use raw like chives. Or arrange on chilled plates and serve with French dressing. Or add chilled cucumbers, diced or cut in thin slices. Or add to a tossed green salad with sliced tomato. Or mix watercress, shredded lettuce, and nutmeats with lemon juice for a salad dressing. Or chop and toss into soup. Or chop into a quiche mixture. Or cook like spinach and serve with an herb butter.
WATERCRESS SANDWICHES Strip watercress from the stems and sprinkle it with salt paprika, and lemon juice. Or mix seasoned cress with mayonnaise (about I Vi c. cress per lA c. mayonnaise). Good with homemade whole wheat bread. Or serve cress like lettuce in a sandwich, along with tomato slices and mayo.
<£> WATERCRESS SOUP Peel and slice a large onion or leek and about I 'A lb. potatoes, and put them in a pan with 6 c. soup stock (or 3 c. milk, 3 c. water). Keep back about a third of the leaves of a large bunch of watercress. Add the rest to the stock along with the stalks. Cook until the vegetables are soft and then sieve the whole thing. Add a little flour for thickening then add the chopped watercress leaves that you held back. Simmer 5 minutes more before serving.
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