As July rolls into August, locavores are in high corn. Literally, for in the fields around us corn is reaching to the sky. Figuratively, because we can eat our fill of Maryland-grown sweet well-kernelled ears — along with all the complementary fruits of the season, from beans to zucchini, with plenty of tomatoes along the way. Mid-summer’s harvest supplies a fruit or vegetable for every letter of the alphabet, except maybe X.
The morning after the Governor’s Annual Eat Local Cookout, husband Bill Lambrecht and I toured our home garden. With the heat wave moving in, the valiant kale — the plant on which so many cool weather meals were built — was doomed. I harvested it for one last stand. The plants were too old for salad or to be crisped with olive oil in a slow oven, as a friend suggests. But they weren’t too old for that down-home favorite, a mess of greens.
My recipe offers a distinct variation on that old theme. Or perhaps it doesn’t.
Harvesting the kale, I pulled the plants up by their roots, clipping off the freshest stems and discarding the rest, including a thriving community of Colorado potato beetles, pretty striped bugs that had been feasting on the leaves. I could tell the bugs were healthy, for they made short work of climbing out of the four-foot-tall paper yard waste recycling bag in which I stuffed them. Eventually, I had to catch them one by one and consign them to, I hoped, death by suffocation in a plastic bag. Easier to manage were the caterpillars, lots of small, thin, striped ones, the cabbage moth larvae, and a few softly fat pale green ones, the cabbage loopers.
I was pretty successful in corralling the beetles, I saw, as I stripped the leaves from the stems. For that job I have a nice tool, a flat plastic half disc perforated with four holes of ascending size. Choosing a hole, I pulled each stem through, collecting the leaves in a bowl. Discarded along with the stems were lots more caterpillars.
Garden kale takes ample washing, indeed triple washing, in bowls of water, sinks of water and under streams of water. Each washing turned up plenty more caterpillars, drowned or holding tenaciously to the curly kale leaves. When I’d surely gotten them all out, I filled a large, low pot with deep green leaves of kale.
In the pot on the stove, I sprinkled the kale with dried mustard and a nice pinch of chilies dried from earlier years’ garden crops, plus grindings of fresh pepper. “You know when it’s enough,” my mother said, and I’ve always followed that measure — except in baking, which my mother seldom did and perhaps her motto explains why.
I cook a mess of kale with only two more ingredients: a jigger of cider vinegar and about six times as much apple cider. This time of year, when apples are still to be harvested and pressed, a child’s juice pack is just about the right amount. Cook slow and long. When the greens are cooked, I add two or three cloves of garlic — ours is just harvested — crushed and sautéed in olive oil. That’s all it takes for a fine mess of local greens.
Except, as the kale wilted, I saw that this mess of greens had another ingredient.
“What local dish are we having tonight?” my husband asked that evening.
“Organic kale with fresh garlic and small striped caterpillars,” I said.
“Free protein,” says Bay Gardener, Dr. Frank Gouin.
Find recipes without caterpillars, created by top Maryland chefs for the Governor’s Annual Eat Local Cookout, in the 2016 Maryland Buy Local Cookbook: http://mda.maryland.gov/Documents/cookbook16.pdf
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; firstname.lastname@example.org