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Tronchuda or Portuguese kale has distinctive blue leaves

January 25, 2017

When jojoba oil was the health food rage, a store clerk openly complained “They want jojoba soap and jojoba oil and jojoba shampoo; I call them Jojoba Witnesses.” Kale, it seems, has become the go-to healthy green.

But lo and behold, on a damp winter night, kale can come to the rescue over a tough day of bitter weather.

Not the kale of smoothies and salads, but the kale of Caldo Verde, the traditional Portuguese soup strong with garlic and linguiça, the lightly smoked, slightly spicy fresh sausage. This special soup has its own special kale.

Tronchuda or Portuguese kale (Brassica oleracea) has distinctive blue leaves and prominent white midribs.

Its flavor is said to be somewhat like a cross between traditional curled kale and cabbage, but more succulent than traditional kales.

The large, flat leaves are round like collard greens. Besides starring in Caldo Verde soup, Portuguese kale is popular stir-fried or in traditional Mediterranean lentil soup.

Portuguese kale does best in slightly acidic soil around 6.5 pH. Add compost or other organic matter into the soil just before the last anticipated frost date. Plant the seeds one-quarter to one-half-inch deep in rows.

Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and your seeds should germinate in five to 12 days. Once the seedlings are up, thin them so they are 12 inches apart.

Once your plants have six to eight large leaves, you can cut individual leaves, leaving the rest to continue growing, or you can cut the entire plant. 

You can plant Portuguese kale from early spring right into summer.

After the first hard freeze in the fall, mulch the plants and you might be able to harvest leaves right through the winter. The kale actually tastes sweeter after a light frost.

Let a few plants bolt or go to seed, and you can save your own Portuguese kale seeds to plant next year. Let the green seed pods dry out and place them in paper bags. Hang the bags upside down in a cool, dark dry place. After the pods dry, shake the seeds loose. 

Once your older plants flower, you may notice that the leaves become bitter and tough. But even old leaves can be added to the soup. After all, bitterness and toughness are just what Caldo Verde soothes away.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.