a kale of two cities

America is a land of wonders, in which everything is in constant motion and every change seems an improvement.” — Alexis de Tocqueville

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Unlike Dickens’ tale of London and Paris, the two cities under consideration here are yours and Paris. Because by now it’s probably safe to assume that your city, like mine, has been overrun with kale. I’m talking Tuscan kale, lacinato, dinosaur kale, black kale, cavolo nero. Brassica oleracea. In U.S. cities such as Brooklyn and San Francisco, kale is king. But the kale revolution has been having an uphill battle in Paris. Possibly because of kale’s inclusion in the cabbage family, Paris wants nothing to do with a vegetable that they associate with the malodorous boiled dinners of occupied France during WWII.

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Tuscan kale brought home from the community garden in my spiffy collapsible bucket. Sporting good stores sell fishermen a wide selection of these buckets.

Many credit the River Cafe in London for popularizing this ancient Italian green in the mid ’90s. Elizabeth Schneider’s 1986 book “Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide,” also gets credit. Since the end of the 20th century, cities have rapidly fallen under the spell of Tuscan kale, except for Paris.

I would just like to interject my theory behind kale’s stateside popularity, which has become so rampant locally that there’s even stirrings of a backlash against what some consider the tiresome ubiquity of kale on Californian menus. Apart from its undisputed nutritional bonafides, wonderful texture, taste, and versatility ranging from soup, pasta, and salads, as a home grower I have to testify that this vegetable is coming up on its winter anniversary in a couple months. It didn’t bolt, as all brassicas are well known to do, in the heat of August and September. We haven’t stopped picking leaves all spring and summer, and the flavor will only improve as the days grow colder. The return value is phenomenal, since one planting results in a year or more of greens. This amazingly prolific vegetable grows like a short-lived perennial, at least here in Southern California. So my theory is, because it’s constantly available in the garden, it’s constantly on the menu. The only ones not interested in kale in our house are the parakeets, and I haven’t given up on them yet either.

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Back to kale’s progress in Paris. Revolutions do move fast these digitally enhanced days. The charge now to bring kale to Parisian markets and restaurants is being energetically led by an expat from Brooklyn, Kristen Beddard, who blogs at the kale project. I read the article on Ms. Beddard in The New York Times when it appeared September 21, 2013, and four days later received an email from Jessica, a San Franciscan currently in Paris who blogs at Thread and Bones, recounting her adventures in the market stalls of Paris as she hunted for kale to serve dinner guests. Jessica had read the NYT article, too, so was reasonably certain that the American she was standing behind in line at the open market, the one buying up all the kale, had to be Kristen. In fact, our intrepid Jessica had already corresponded with Kristen, soliciting advice on the most likely markets to find kale, so she was able to follow up a tentative email acquaintance with a tap on the shoulder then a hearty handshake, whereupon Kristen thrust two bunches of kale in Jessica’s hands, and a gingery kale salad was back on the menu.

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C’mon, don’t be so French, Peewee. Eat your kale.

We are all kale-eaters now, or soon will be, with Americans in Paris doing their de Tocqueville-inspiring best to bring kale to the markets and tables of Paris.

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5 Responses to a kale of two cities

  1. Hoov says:

    Must be my French heritage–this here blogger and garden is a kale-free zone. They take a nice picture though.

    Sweet birds!

  2. Jessica M says:

    Peewee! Who is his lovely friend? Great post — I had no idea winter was the best time for kale, it seems to be year-round in California. Time to hit the markets again!

  3. Heather says:

    I have eaten my body weight in kale and yet I still don’t like yoga, the other trend to be sweeping the nation.

  4. Denise says:

    @Hoov, as one French woman to another, plant some for fall. You’ll see.
    @Jessica, Peewee’s new friend is a little spitfire named Ziggy. She’s really shaking up the aviary.
    @Heather, so true. Lots of pop-up, outdoor yoga classes at the parks. It’s everywhere.

  5. Les says:

    I am growing some in the community garden at work and have been trying to incorporate more kale into my diet lately, what with it being some sort of super food and all. It is not the traditional green of choice in my extended family though, where bitter turnip greens are option #1. Growing up, kale was not something eaten, but was used by the butcher and fishmonger to make their wares more attractive.

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