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.

Postscript

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.

And then last week I FOUND SOME KALE EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FOREST.

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

Helsinki Art Lending

Here is something that should spread like a virus: the art lending cooperative of Helsinki, Taidelainaamo. It is sooo good.

20140618-093457.jpg

A monthly fee with no deposit grants access to a large catalog of local artists. The monthly fee goes towards the purchase price of the art, so if someone loves something, they can simply keep it for a year or two and it is theirs. But it also opens the door to fickle, promiscuous relationships with pieces, trying things on, changing with the seasons! I love it.

It is possible to browse through works in person in their space below the library on Rikhardinkatu. There are more works available for order online from their truly amazing website. Sometimes when I need relief from life, I like to go search through art works sorted by medium, size, colour, maker. There are other art lending institutions and businesses in Finland, but this one is my favourite. Enjoy.

Vappu, the Finnish May Day

Two weeks ago we celbrated Vappu. It is the Finnish May Day, and Vappu Eve is the Finnish Walpurgis Night, something I remember reading about first in Goethe’s Faust. It still exists.

The official beginning of Spring, a sort of labour day and student day rolled into one, marking the half-way between the equinox and the summer solstice, it involves two days of crazyness, and wearing old hats that people get when they graduate from upper secondary school (high school).

A statue in the city centre gets a hat, too:

The crane is so they can put the hat on the statue!

The crane is so they can put the hat on the statue!

Yellowed hats are supposed to recall many years of successful Vappu celebrations. On Vappu Eve, there is a lot of drinking on the street, particularly sparkling wine and champagne. This is Vappu Eve perfection:

A Vappu master

A Vappu master!

The day after this revelry there is a picnic in Kaivopuisto, which was inundated with portable saunas. As per tradition, the weather was cold and rainy– but still beautiful.

Vappu sky over our picnic

Vappu sky over our picnic

After a couple of hours we retreated inside for 9 hours of relaxed revelry with friends. It was extremely fun. A tremendous amount of food was consumed.

The birds were still partying the next day:

After party for the crows

After party for the crows

When the storm cleared away, leaving this amazing sky:

Vappu storm clearing

Vappu storm clearing

Welcome Spring!

Things I love about Finland I

Here is something wonderful: I dropped my wallet in the snow outside of work and it was returned to me intact three hours later… Before I had even noticed it was missing!!! Only in Helsinki : )