No country for old kale

Gather ye kale blossoms while ye may.

Are gardeners happy when their kale starts to bolt? To the best of my knowledge, they are not. Because as attractive as we non-gardeners may find the tiny pale flowers, the people who mulch them, water them and fight off beetly predators see bolting as the end of the plants’ useful life.

Gone are the carefree days of kale soups and kale smoothies, massaging the leaves with oil for salads or drying them into chips in the oven. The plant yearns only to reproduce. Its caretaker yearns only to convert it into next season’s compost.

Which is why I was surprised Sunday when somebody dropped a few white kale blossoms into my hand at the Windrose Farms stall at the Hollywood Farmers Market. I popped one into my mouth -- it tasted like kale but with a tiny burst of sweetness, the way that borage blossoms can taste like cucumber dosed with a single grain of sugar.

Barbara Spencer, the farm’s owner, was more interested in having me taste the cylindra beets, the Nantes carrots and the puntarelle I yearn for every spring, but I ended up getting the bolted kale anyway, a big bundle tied up with twine, for just a couple of bucks.

In the 24 hours I have had the kale blossoms, I have had them tossed in an arugula salad with walnut oil, sprinkled onto a Parmesan risotto, and blended with fresh ricotta and spread onto grilled bread. I’m also thinking of crisping them in a little butter and using them to garnish an olive-oil-fried egg.

The blossoms are like kale without the virtuous overtones; like the idea of eating vegetables without the actual follow-through. They are perversely appealing in their way.

The kale leaves themselves are a little bitter, but aren’t bad even raw, dipped into oil and dusted with a tiny pinch of Maldon salt. I’m sure they would taste just fine stripped from their tough stems and quickly sauteed with chile and minced garlic, or sliced into narrow strips and dropped into a pot of chicken broth.

I may even make the kale into a kind of green herbs sauce with capers, a couple of anchovies and the last of the arugula, if I get around to it. But I am already starting to miss the blossoms, a farmer’s mistake I probably won’t taste again until this time next year.

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