Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sea kale

I grew up in the North West of England, on the shores of the Irish Sea. We had a flat golden strand where lunatics went sand yachting, and a cinder track that ran along between the dunes and the golf links. Strange blue glaucous plants grew among the sand and the shingle; sea holly with its blue spiky globes, and sea kale with its mass of tiny white flowers in the summer. I didn’t know then what I know now about sea kale. Although the tough green foliage is almost inedible when it is at its height you can force it like rhubarb early in the year, and then you have an entirely different thing.

I have a friend who grew up the son of a greengrocer in London; he has been explaining to me how certain vegetables, like chicory, were so delicate and so sought after that they came into the shop in special boxes, wrapped closely in waxed paper. That’s how the early forced shoots of sea kale arrived, a high priced vegetable with a delicate nutty flavour, brightening the winter diet of root veg and cabbage. It was known as winter asparagus.

They used to force the stems by piling up sand and shingle around them, but now you aren’t allowed to pick sea kale from the wild because it was overpicked in the twentieth century and a ban was enforced. Sandy Patullo at Eassie Farm near Forfar in Angus, Scotland, grows a crop commercially in polytunnels, and is now about the only grower producing sea kale on any scale in the UK.

You can grow it from seed, but it takes forever and is a bit hit and miss. You can however, occasionally, find someone who will sell you a plant. And I found someone just around the corner! Dinah Lindon-Critchley at Blooming Hill Plants in Shepton Mallet, Somerset,grows an eclectic selection of vegetable plants – 42 different varieties of tomato just for a start, plus all sorts of other interesting things, and she is one of the few places in the country that you can get sea kale.

The tiny shoots are dark purple at the moment. I will let them get on with it for a while and see what happens when I force them next year.

A.H. Pattullo
Eassie Farm
01307 840303


Sara said...

Hello. I stumbled across your blog a while ago and keep checking back, because I'm local to the area too and you have introduced me to several new suppliers I wouldn't have found otherwise - I'm a few miles from Shepton. I'll certainly be paying this nursery a visit for some interesting veg plants in the very near future! Cheers!

June said...

Hi Sara

Great to hear from you. If you are in the area do drop me an email and maybe we can meet up

Sara said...

Hello, me again. I went to Jekka's Herb Farm open day today, and came home with a packet of sea kale seeds (amongst too many others). She had some sea kale plants for sale, tiny little things, but I didn't feel confident enough to purchase them (they weren't cheap, and they looked like one juicy mouthful for a lucky garden slug).

I think I'll be popping along to the open day at the nursery you mention here on the 19th April; perhaps you are planning to go too?

June said...

Hi Sara

Good luck with the sea kale seeds! And thanks for reminding me about the open day - I will certainly be there!

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