The Kale in Kalevala

Almost every Wednesday I travel by tram to my organic food co-op, from which in the late summer into this darkening November I was able to get beautiful Finnish kale, both the typical bright green curly kind, but also silky dark green Lacinato kale. Almost every time, a Finnish person asked me “What do you do with that? How do you eat it?”. This happens to me at normal markets, too, about Lacinato kale especially. “What is that? How do you eat it?” And I answer passionately as best I can in my bad and broken Finnish.

Here is why this is so strange, once one starts digging deeper. Up until the middle ages, kale was likely the green that people ate most in Europe. While it is exactly the same species as our quotidian cabbage (as are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts…), kale, and collard greens (and the delicious spring greens that can be found in Britain) are closer to the wild forms of that nourishing vegetable.

You may start to wonder, given that they are all cultivars of the same species, whether there is anything special about Kale. I’m not the first to be skeptical. However, it seems to actually hold up to scrutiny. A comparison using USDA data shows raw kale to have significantly more vitamins A and K than raw savoy cabbage. Perhaps this is because it is closer to the wild form, not bred to last long on the shelf.

In Finland, the lack of acquaintance with kale is all the more curious, given that it rests at the root of the Finnish term for all Brassica oleracea. Observe for example:

Finnish Literal Translation English
Kukkakaali Flower cabbage Cauliflower
Parsakaali Asparagus cabbage Broccoli
Ruusukaali Rose cabbage Brussels sprouts
Lehtikaali Leaf cabbage Kale
Mustakaali Black cabbage Lacinato (dino) Kale*
Kaali Cabbage
*Also known as Tuscan kale. Interestingly, I recently realized that it’s Italian name, Cavolo nero , is identical to the Finnish: black cabbage.

It is neat that in Finnish, these cultivars are named in a way that acknowledges their close relation to each other, something that is obscured in English. And it can be no coincidence that KAALI is so close to KALE . Perhaps it is a forgotten echo of when the the Brassicaceae found it most pots would be something quite different from the pale heads of stiff cabbage most common in stores today. Something foraged and wild. Something closer to kale.

Whatever the cultural, environmental or economic forces, kales were forgotten, although they grow well in this climate, and are even made tastier with a little bight of cold. Now their comeback is tinged with the annoyance of their trendiness. A signifier of a certain lifestyle. An annoying one.

Really, kale is old, old news–part of the unglamorous past of Northern European cuisine. In the south of Sweden, kale is part of a traditional Christmas dish, called långkål , a tradition that allegedly is particularly strong in the free Hanseatic state of Bremen, which resonates with me for familial reasons…

Anyway, långkål involves, kale, butter and cream and I will be inflicting it upon my family this yule. But before that, I wish all four of my readers, who are very dear to me, and from whom I will be separated this Thanksgiving, the best of all days on Thursday and feasts if you have them, filled with love.


Yes. I just wrote a long long post about KALE. I didn’t want to; it compelled me. It began when a friend noted that perhaps there was a hidden meaning in Kalevala. It started showing up in fine art:

2014.11 Kale Paulette Tavormina

This by Paulette Tavormina via Glutton for Life

It came in the post.

2014.11 Kale TJ

I began to see it everywhere.

I heard about a new form of kale, kalettes, that was created by a liason with my other favorite cabbage, brussels sprouts.


Kale, in the middle of woods near Munkkiniemi

Kale, in the middle of woods near Munkkiniemi

Maybe now it will now let me rest. This is dedicated to L who discovered the title of this post, and whose magic set this in motion and M & Y who were once brave enough to come to a kale party, and R for the kale chips, quickly devoured, and P for making and sharing the first, delicious and beautiful, raw kale salad I ever had.

2014.11 Kale Card

Fall Illumination at Hippolyte

Just as I was getting ill, I wrote a long, depressing and whiny post that– to everyone’s benefit– I did not share. Now that I am recovering and starting to feeling human again, I am suddenly noticing all that is enjoyable in life. Just yesterday I went for an evening walk along the water and as I turned back towards the city the beautiful lights and calm streets were a balm to my soul. The darkness creates a new cityscape, where windows and candles glow. After those long busy days, the empty streets and long sunsets seem like a fine treat, and dark nights invite restorative sleep and dreaming…

This is also the season when the artistic life of Helsinki takes off. People have mostly returned from the forest and concerts and exhibitions are back in full swing. This means that there are a lot of beautiful things tucked away inside. Before I completely succumbed to the virus that had recently run through Helsinki, I was lucky to have an evening with two extraordinarily lovely ladies out on the town. Among other places, we ended up at Kukka Paavilainen’s art opening at Gallery Hippolyte in a courtyard off of Yrjönkatu.

There are many wondrous things in courtyards off of Yrjönkatu, and this was yet another delight. The space was new to me, and I was completely enchanted. The gallery is in a former cinema, with the grandeur and ornate details of that era remaining. The ceilings were high and provided a perfect space for Kukka’s large canvases. The show was gorgeous, and so was artist. Definitely worth a visit and an incentive to explore the heart of Helsinki’s Gallery district. It is on until the 26th of October.

Also on only through the end of this week: the world premier of Frida y Diego an opera by Kalevi Aho with a libretto in Spanish by Maritza Núñez. It focuses on the life of the legendary artist Frida Kahlo and the production is being put on by the Sibelius Academy. The last performance will be on the 24th. This sounds so exciting. I just brought a visiting artist back to Valkokangas, Kukka Paavilainen‘s exhibit at Hippolyte and very much enjoyed my second visit. I just really enjoy being with her work in that space.

Hippolyta was also a brave woman, a queen of the Amazons who according to legend married and of course whose life ended in tragedy. She also appears in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that is what the name recalls most quickly to me. When I was 12 I played Hippolyta in a school production. I was thrilled to be chosen but then to self-conscious to play it well, thus missing my first big break in show business. That aside, there is a definite theme of talented women and art here that could lead to a spectacular evening this weekend…

The days are darker but they are full of treasures!