In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
Dragon kale looks a little ragged this time of year, but its sweetness will thrill your taste buds.
Frost Only Sweetens Some Vegetables
It may be well past the first frost date, but that certainly doesn't mean that the garden is finished. Tomatoes and cucumbers have gone, but the stalwart frost-hardy vegetables are still going strong. In fact, some of them will continue to give us bounty as long as the temperatures stay above twenty degrees.
All of the kales, from curly purple kale to blue-green dragon kale (also called lacinato kale), are sweeter now than they ever were in summer. Frost has kissed them, changing the flavor from mild cabbage to almost caramelized. Even ornamental kale, which is edible by the way, is now palatable if you can bear to sacrifice it to eat. The sweetest of them all seems to be dragon kale, with its softly crinkled leaves. Dice these into any soup or stew or simply saute them with olive oil and garlic and you have a delectable late fall dish.
All broccoli does beautifully once the frost has come, but my all time favorite is the sprouting type called Calabrese. When planted in mid-summer it produces a single head. Once that head is removed, it continuously produces side shoots, often until a hard freeze. There are green and purple varieties, heirlooms that were brought to America by Italian immigrants in the 1800's. Calabrese should be eaten before the buds turn yellow and flowers emerge for the best flavor.
This piquant salad green seems to soften with the fall -- its flavor, I mean. In summer it can be peppery and strong, but fall brings out sweetness that is the perfect complement to its unique flavor. Arugula takes off when seeded in very early spring. The plants grow strong until the weather gets hot, when they go to seed. If you let them go, the flowers will bring in beneficial insects to help the rest of the garden, but the best part is that the plants will automatically drop seed for your fall crop. By the time the rest of the garden is finishing, new arugula plants are coming on strong. And you didn't have to do a thing!
Spinach is famous for bolting as soon as the weather reaches eighty degrees, but if you seed it under a tree in the shade, it will last a bit longer. Keep plenty of seeds handy (in other words, purchase extra seeds in the spring) for planting in fall. Start some in August and then every two weeks to have great fall spinach. Whatever you don't eat will actually survive the winter, and you'll have terrific, very early spring spinach.
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