Wednesday, June 13, 2012


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D.

After my father died when I was eleven, I fell into a deep funk for several years. As I look back on those days, I realize that I felt I’d lost my identity. Although my mother was powerfully supportive, I thought of myself as an outsider without a place. My grades in school suffered. After one of many conferences with various teachers, my mother drove me home. At a stop sign she turned to me, took my hand, and said softly, “Dana, just for once instead of “potential” I’d like to hear the word “actual.”

The word “potential” refers to something that doesn’t exist, but what a devastating thing it is to hear that someone doesn’t have any potential. As with the word “mystery,” it is meant to covey something, but the substance is unknown. Mystery is a rather elegant word for saying: “I don’t know,” while potential means, “I hope he’s got it in him.”

Whatever it is, gardens are jammed packed with mystery, both potential and actual. Winter is the dormant potential, and spring, summer, and fall are the actualities. Planting seeds is an act of potentiality. When we see them sprout, it’s an actuality. All of it is, of course, a mystery. To be sure, the botanists have explained the mechanics, but no one has explained the mystery of the miracle when a potential becomes an actual.

One of the great actualities are hardy leaf vegetables, especially kale. If anyone knows what’s good for them, it would be kale. Happily, Flagstaff is an ideal place to grow kale because it is a cool season vegetable. Too often, we hear from nay- sayers about the onerous difficulties of gardening in Flagstaff. Well, kale proves them wrong.

Kale is a powerfully nutritious vegetable which should not be boiled but rather steamed to keep its nutritional values. It comes in two forms, the European and the Russo-Siberian. The familiar Tuscan or Dinosaur kale with its long narrow leaves and Scotch kale with its fluffy leaves are the most common varieties of the European kale (Brassica oleracea) which is thought to have originated in Greece in about the 4th century B.C. They come in three colors, green, purple, and red. The Russo-Siberian kale (Brassica napa) with its broad red leaf is thought to have originated in northern Europe and northern Asia. It was brought to North American by Russian traders in the 19th century. Both are hardy, but the Russo-Siberian, given its origins, is the hardiest, sometimes surviving temperatures as low as 0° F. For several years, I had a Russian kale that survived three winters and finally succumbed in a winter with little snow, but each year it was the first fresh vegetable in my garden as in early May. Kale can be grown in all the states, including Alaska.

There is no dispute about the great nutritional and cancer fighting qualities of kale, but there is about taste and texture which, oddly, improve after the first frost. Foodies and no less an authority as Dr. Andrew Weil favor the Tuscan kale whereas many others favor the Russo-Siberian kales for their sweetness, milder flavor, and tenderness. De gustibus non est disputandum. It’s probably the particular kind of gastric juices flowing through a person’s mouth at any given time. The French do not use kale, but then there’s no figuring the French.

Growing kale is easy and produces a tastier vegetable than the kale found in grocery stores because it is freshly plucked. The soil should be friable and composted, and the seeds should be planted ¼ to ½ inch deep and an inch apart, thinned eventually to 8 to 12 inches apart. Watch for aphids.

Of the cabbage family, it doesn’t form a head and thus can be picked very early for salads. It is probably most frequently used in soups or sautéed as a side dish although it does very well with cheese and eggs in frittatas. A very good recipe using kale is Above the Rim Tuscan Soup, which is available at

Another miracle, transforming a potential into an actual, is when kale is cooked and eaten. Good gardening and good eating.

Copyright (c) Dana Prom Smith 2012

This article was published 6/16/2012 in the Arizona Daily Sun.

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