Origin and History
Cookin’ Greens™ Spinach (S. oleracea), rapini Brassica rapa – also known as broccoli rabe or rabe, collards Brassica oleracea vates variety featured in our Designer’s Mix, and kale Brassica oleracea vates blue curled variety, are fresh-cut, farm-to-freezer dark-leafy greens that are Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) to ensure confetti-like, glorious greens whenever you want them. Cookin’ Greens™makes it easy to eat well quickly and deliciously.
These greens are known as “super foods” of the vegetable world – nutrient dense and good for your whole body. Popeye was definitely on to something! Read on to learn about the history of dark-leafy greens and the vast worlds they’ve traveled to get to your plate.
The Ancient History of Kale and Collards
The two most similar vegetables in the Cookin’ Greens™ bunch are kale and collards-both originating as primitive non-heading cabbages, hence the Latin name Brassica oleracea, variety acephala, which means “without a head.” There’s some debate as to whether these greens originated in the eastern Mediterranean or Asia Minor given the nomadic nature of prehistoric traders and tribes that took these greens’ seeds with them. What is certain is that both have been grown and eaten for over 2000 years!
Kale and collards are among the easiest of all vegetables to grow since they’re biennials and they put up their flower or seed stalks in the spring of their second season of growth. This could explain why the ancient Greeks and Romans had no problems growing kale and collards; the Romans in fact grew a prodigious variety including a crisp-leaf variety and others with curled leaves and a delicate flavour. European writers started writing about “Coles” (which likely stems from coleworts or colewyrts, Anglo-Saxon terms literally meaning “cabbage plants”) as early as the first century. It may well be that those marauding Romans brought the “coles” to Britain, Germany and France — another theory has it that the greens may have been introduced to those countries by the Celts or Saxons.
Ancient Edible Did You Know?
It is said that Julius Caesar ate a generous serving of collards as an indigestion preventive after attending royal banquets — a testimony to the green’s detoxifying properties! Nature’s all-natural antacid, perhaps? Many Southerners believe that they can look forward to a year of good fortune if they eat collards, black-eyed peas, and hog jowl on New Year’s Day.
In the United States the first mention of “coleworts” came about in 1669. Back then, as now, the favourite green of the American South was collards; especially those grown during southern winters since the plants don’t take well to hot weather. If grown during very hot summers the result is bound to be greens with a strong, unpalatable bitter flavour. African Americans whom had access to the fast growing collards in the South developed recipes that made the greens taste fantastic. This kind of cooking eventually evolved into what we know today as Soul Food. Slow braised greens with meat and legumes. This kind of cooking has its roots firmly planted in African American communities of the Deep South.
Kale and Collards: Distinguishing Features
The major differences between collards and kale stems from their appearance and flavour. Collards have a medium green hue, an oval shape and smooth texture. Kale on the other hand is darker with grayish green broad leaves that are crinkled. Kale is also the stronger tasting of the two, thicker leaves (chewier) and can even be a bit on the bitter scale of the flavour profile compared to collards.
Italians call it Rapini; in North America it’s called broccoli raab, others call it rapa, rapine, Italian turnip and Chinese broccoli. Whatever you call it, rapini originates in the Mediterranean and China and is descended from a wild herb. While it’s one of the most popular vegetables in Chinese communities around the world, especially in Hong Kong, rapini is also grown on the west coast of the United States, New Jersey, Quebec, and Ontario. Italians prize the dark green and pair it beautifully with olive oil, garlic, and a sprinkling of sea salt.
Ancient Edible Did You Know?
To erase all suspicion, broccoli raab is not related to broccoli. It is, however, closely related to turnips, which explains why the leaves look a lot like turnip greens. Although broccoli-like buds do grow, a full broccoli head never forms. Instead, rapini is grown both for its broccoli-like buds and its mustard green leafy tops. This green’s peak growing season takes place from fall to spring.
The Ancient History of Spinach
Unlike all of the other greens listed, Spinach was unknown to the ancient Mediterranean world. However, in central and southwestern Asia (part of what we know today as Iran -in ancient times called Persia), it may have originated from Spinacia tetranda – a wild edible green. In fact, in 647, spinach was taken from Nepal to China where it’s still referred to as, “the Persian green.”
Ideal spinach growing climates cannot be hot and arid (which is the case in most of the Mediterranean) so ingenious Arab agronomists devised advanced irrigation techniques by about the 8th century A.D. to combat any climate restrictions. Once climate issues were taken care of spinach was introduced into Arab controlled areas of the Mediterranean, including Spain.
In the last half of the 12th century, Ibn al-‘Awwam, the legendary Arab agronomist, dubbed the green, the “Captain of leafy greens.” He was onto something. Over the centuries spinach was introduced into Mediterranean cooking through numerous dishes including soups (like the Arab-Spanish sajina, also called ásida, a kind of watery soup made with wheat flour cooked with spinach or other leafy vegetables – obligatory at family gatherings and holiday feasts) and it was commonly grown in gardens. By the 17th Century English philosopher John Locke wrote about eating spinach in southwestern France.
Ancient Edible Did You Know?
Spinach was the preferred green of Catherine de Medici, part of Italian royalty in the 16th century. When she left her home in Florence, Italy, to marry the king of France, she brought her own cooks with her so they would prepare her special spinach recipes. Since Catherine’s rule dishes prepared with a bed of spinach are referred to as, “à la Florentine.”
Mediterranean or Sephardic Jews also liked using spinach to prepare dishes such as shpongous, a savory casserole-type dish of sheep’s cheese and spinach. This was eaten as a typical dish for Shavuot – the holiday after Passover celebrating the Palestinian harvest. The sweet flavour of spinach lends itself to being eaten raw in salad form, steamed, in soups, or just about anywhere else your imagination takes you.