Winter is coming—you can feel it in the air, you can see it in nature. The maple leaves are on the ground here in Upstate New York and the golden and russet oak leaves will soon follow. There’s been a couple of frosty mornings. The geese are pretty much departed. The perennials have stopped growing and battened down the hatches. I imagine it’s pretty much the same in New England about now, too.
Vegetable gardening is not completely over, though. Our own raised beds have been emptied and mulched already, so we were happy when we came upon a late-season farmer’s market last Saturday in a town west of here. For sale: shallots, Brussels sprouts, and some really glorious kale.
Some vegetables tolerate frost, at least for a few weeks. This includes all brassicas, such as the Brussels sprouts just mentioned as well as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages of various kinds. Also kale. Also some root vegetables such as parsnips. Collards. Swiss chard.
Truth is, when these vegetables are harvested later into fall, with winter on the threshold, their flavor is actually better than it was back a few weeks ago. It’s sweeter and richer. I wondered why, and found the answer in my trusty ole Crockett’s Victory Garden book (as an aside, I love the way this book is organized month-by-month, so helpful). Evidently frost increases the sugar content, and the harsher or bitter flavor recedes or is eliminated.
In his “Kale” entry, Mr. Crockett diverges from his usual practical, straight-ahead-just-the-facts writing style and says this:
Kale is an all but unknown vegetable these days [bear in mind he wrote this back in 1977!], so let me do my part to publicize its cause by passing along the bare outlines of a delicious recipe for Portuguese kale soup. There are dozens of variations of this recipe, but my favorite includes kale (or collards), garlic-seasoned smoked pork sausage, chopped onions and garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, and freshly cooked kidney beans in a chicken stock.
And I love his final remark:
Short of making the soup for you myself, I can do no more.
Cold weather, sweet kale, hot soup. It sounds like a winning recipe for me!
PS If fall is lingering a bit longer for you (Connecticut, Rhode Island, parts of Pennsylvania), you could be more interested in the cold-weather vegetable plants that are also pretty–just to extend your season a bit longer. Here is a nice article for you, then. Check out the recommended varieties of Swiss chard, lettuce, and kale (from the Birds & Blooms archives).