Sutherland Kale

The Highland Good Food Conversation are looking for Sutherland Kale stories now. It is a rare seed but one that grows well. I spent some time with mine at my allotment today and have a connection with it that is nothing to do with whether I like its taste or not…..

Read on for my story or add yours and see others https://padlet.com/highlandgoodfood/pg01wclca24jo8gh


Sutherland Kale

I have a love-hate relationship with Sutherland kale.

It must be part of my heritage. Both sides of my family go way back into Sutherland and I grew up in Sutherland so there is this romantic side of me who thinks that I should eat it and connect with my forebearers. Aside from a possible century’s old relationship with my blood, my connection with Sutherland kale also has a more recent story with a strong female line of seed collectors leading me to being able to have it at all.

I acquired an allotment in Ullapool where I live about 4 years ago. I had always loved growing and whichever student flat or temporary accommodation up until then I found myself in, I would inevitably have pots and fish boxes dotted around wherever I could. Therefore, to have an allotment was extremely exciting. I enjoyed ordering from Real Seeds that year knowing I had space to put them in and that I would be there to see them grow.

I spotted Sutherland kale in their list of seeds and thought, I really should have that, being from Sutherland and living in the northern Highlands. The latter fact would mean it would surely grow well here. I didn’t know about this plant until that point. The description on the website described that the seeds had been collected by a lady in Ullapool, a great seed collector sadly not with us anymore (I am hesitant to give her name without her permission).

The kale seeds arrived along with lots of others and the packet had a bit more information about their origin. It said that this aforementioned lady in Ullapool had started growing Sutherland kale after getting some from a lady in Golspie. Now, that lady in Golspie was another famous gardener in Sutherland terms who both my mum and granny knew of. And here is a further twist to the tale….

I had lived in the Golspie lady’s house and had tried to tend her incredible garden sometime after she had died but before the family had sold her house. A friend and I in our early/mid-twenties both at the start of our careers moved in there temporarily for about 6 months.

So just like me, the Sutherland kale seeds had dotted about from east to west and east and back west again and were now in my hands, ten years after living in that house in Golspie. It is one of the few plants I have successfully collected seeds from myself and this spring I gave some to my mum (back in east Sutherland) and so this strong, what seems to be female-only, line of seed collecting, and sharing goes on.

The hungry gap is a real time when the only thing growing and edible in my allotment in the winter and early spring has been Sutherland kale. I like it for that. I like its strength and hopefulness for the spring to come. It stands tall and strong and almost luscious when everything else around it is brown and mulchy. I pick it and add it to soups.  It makes me think, ‘what would I eat if I didn’t have shops to go to?’. The reality is it is highly nutritious and full of vitamins that would normally be very hard to come by in a Highland winter.

Looking at the plant and knowing this story gives me such pleasure and in many ways I love Sutherland kale! But, when all is laid bare, the reality is, I do not like the taste of it very much and let’s face it, my ancestors probably ate it because they HAD to.

Note: wouldn’t it be great to trace a line of kale seed collectors back as far as we could?

Since writing this you can read their version of the connection between the two lady seed collectors on their website in the kale section which tells us how rare this precious kale is! https://www.realseeds.co.uk/kale.html




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