Kale and collards are both in the brassica family and are very closely related to cabbage. Other brassica plants include cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts, but kale is one the oldest members of the group. The etymological root of both kale and collards gives away their origins in northwestern Europe among the ancient Celts whose word for cabbage was kal, thus “kale,” while “collard” came from Celtic via the Middle English word colewort, “kale plant”.
Some of the reasons they have been continuously in cultivation for so long is that they are very nutritious and lend themselves to ancient forms of food preservation like lacto-fermentation (think sauerkraut), not to mention that kales are very winter hardy and can grow right in the snow. These facts were very important to people who had to rely on residential gardens for food, even in cold weather. In fact, kale is a great plant for your fall garden. Horticulturist Erica Glasener said on Hometalk.com, a community of homeowners and contractors, that late summer is "a great time to grow greens and salad, spinach, kale, mustard greens, chard, arugula."
Collards developed out of crosses between kales and cabbages. They are really just cabbages that don't form heads. Then there are the tree collards, much more rare and mysterious. They can supposedly live for up to 20 years and can only be propagated by cuttings rather than by seeds since the seeds don't grow true. Today collards are associated with the South and their flavor, which some consider an acquired taste, is often passed up in favor of kales or cabbages.
There are numerous interesting varieties of collards and kale to grow. Here are a few worth checking out (seeds can be found at heirloom seed companies like Seed Savers Exchange or Bountiful Gardens).
A variety developed in the 19th century, Georgia Collards tolerate poor soil and taste better after experiencing frost.
Lacinato (aka Dinosaur Kale)
Dinosaur kale is a very common and well-appreciated kale variety. According to Seed Savers Exchange, it's an Italian heirloom with an “excellent flavor that is enhanced by frost.”
Russian Red Kale
Russian Red is common at farmers markets and has been grown since the late 19th century, both signs of its general popularity. According to the Bountiful Gardens catalog, it is one of the “hardiest and most delicate” kales.
Lark's Tongue Kale
According to William Weaver's 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From, Lark's Tongue will overwinter in the coldest of climates, can grow up to five feet tall, and even works as a wintry ornamental. Like other brassicas, they taste better after experiencing a frost.
Here is a delicious recipe for kale chips. It's an easy way to make a healthy, irresistible snack.
Adapted from the Foodinista blog.
1 bunch kale (preferably organic dinosaur kale, but other kales will work) cut in half with center ribs and stems removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Whisk oil and vinegar together in a bowl. Toss leaves in until well coated.
Now place kale on baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake at 250 degrees for about 30 minutes or until crispy. Enjoy!