Got Kale?

Fall is a great time to find Kale at your local farmers market.  You’ve probably seen a lot about Kale in the last few years, and that’s for good reason.  Besides being packed with nutrients, I personally like Kale because it is one of the easiest crops i’ve had experience growing, it provides a long harvest window, and often can be grown pretty late into the season if you utilize row cover.  Kale even gets a little sweeter with a bit of frost, or so they say.

So in honor of our popular fall green here are some nutritional facts and recipes for you to try.  Pick up Kale at one of the three tailgate markets in Polk County and get to cooking!

Kale a ‘Super Food’?

  • Kale, if steamed, can help to lower cholesterol. The fiber in steamed kale binds with the bile acids in your digestive tract, making bile acids to be more easily secreted, resulting in lowered cholesterol levels.  Raw kale still has cholesterol-lowering ability—just not as much.
  • Kale has also been found the lower the risk of the following types of cancer: bladder, breast, colon, ovary, and prostate. Isothiocyanates (ITCs) made from glucosinolates in kale play a primary role in preventing cancer.
  • There are 45 different flavonoids in kale, the top two being kaempferol and quercetin.  Flavonoids combine both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits aiding in avoidance of chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • One cup of kale provides 1180% of your daily needed value of Vitamin K, 98% of your daily Vitamin A requirement, and 71% of your daily Vitamin C requirement.  Additionally Kale is a good source of manganese, copper, B6, Fiber, Calcium, Potassium, Vitamin E, B2, Iron, Magnesium, B1, Omega 3 Fats, Protein, Folate, and B3…..whoa.


Cooking Kale

You probably think, well I know my kids won’t touch the stuff, or I’m not big on eating leaves, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s all about the presentation and preparation.

I spent my summer working at a farm camp, where kids had the opportunity to plant, harvest, taste, and cook all sorts of vegetables and fruits.  Kale chips are hands down one of their favorites!  The trick may be that you will have to grow it.  Somehow a switch is flipped in the brain when kids see a plant grow from a seed, turning them into instant herbivores.  Just by letting my campers hand pick vegetables I was able to get them to eat raw zucchini, raw cabbage, fresh tomatoes right off the vine, rhubarb, herbs, etc.  And believe it or not they always wanted seconds and thirds!

As far as non-kid non-vegetable eaters, the best thing to do is hide it in the food.  Processing kale into small bits and placing in soups, breads, pasta, etc, is one way to incorporate vegetables without going overboard.  But, why not try your hand at two simple recipes.  You can’t hate it till you try it right?

So here are two recipes, both of which have been favorites with my carnivore parents and mischievous campers.

Kale Chips


  • 1 bunch kale (about 8 stems, or 1/4 pound)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Generous pinch of sea salt
  • Preheat oven to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Pull the green part of the kale off of the ribs in about 2 in. sections.
  • Compost the ribs, or chop up to put in a soup or other dish.
  • Next you toss the kale and olive oil in a bowl, massaging the oil into the leaves with your hands.  (This would be a fun activity for the kids to participate in).
  • Spread the leaves in just one layer (You will need two cookie sheets) then sprinkle with the sea salt.
  • Bake curly kale for about 12 minutes, then flip and cook for another four minutes.  Thinner kale varieties (such as red russian) cook for less time and don’t need to be flipped.

Caldo Verde

This is a portugese soup dish with pureed potatoes, kale, garlic, and red beans.  It’s one of my favorites.  For the recipe follow the link below:


I hope you will venture into the world of green and make a trip to one of Polk County’s three tailgate markets to grab a bag full of all the wonderful seasonal produce!


All about Pumpkins!

This week, in honor of October’s finest fruit, we will be talking about pumpkins.  

We are also celebrating the pumpkin by giving away pumpkins at the Polk County Tailgate Markets!  Don’t forget to stock up on other great seasonal fall produce, eggs, meats, and crafts after you score your pumpkin!  The Pumpkin Giveaways will take place:

  • October 16th-Tryon (Palmer and Trade Street) 4-6 pm
  • October 17th– Saluda (West Main Street) 4:30-6:30 pm
  • October 18th– Columbus (Courthouse Square) 8-12 pm


  • Pumpkins originated in Central America and were cultivated before Maize.
  • Pumpkin seeds have been found at archaeological sites in the American southwest dating back six thousand years, as well as at sites throughout Mexico, Central and South America, and the eastern United States.
  • The word pumpkin comes from the Greek word pepon meaning “large melon.”
  • The popular Jack-be-little pumpkin is actually a gourd, not a pumpkin.
  • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
  • North Carolina pumpkin acreage has been estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 acres.
  • The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.  The pumpkin actually served as the crust!
  • Native Americans dried strips of pumpkin and wove them into mats.


Health Benefits of Pumpkins

  • Pumpkins are a great source of beta-carotene
  • Pumpkin seeds are anti-parasitic!
  • Accoring to the National Institutes of Health, a cup of cooked pumpkin contains more than 200% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin A, which aids in vision, especially in dim light.
  • Nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are naturally rich in certain plant-based chemicals called phytosterols, which have been shown in studies to reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
  • Pumpkins are rich in beta-carotene, which has been shown to help prevent cancer and wrinkles too!
  • Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino-acid Tryptophan, which is important in the production of serotonin.  So they may make you happier!!
  • A serving of pumpkin has more potassium than that of a banana!

A Unique Pumpkin Recipe

(Pumpkin Pickles)

  • 1 lemon
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 3 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped, peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 20 black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 sugar pumpkin (3 to 4 pounds), seeded, peeled, and cut into 1 1/2 × 3/4 × 3/4 -inch pieces
Directions: (45 minutes):
  •  Using vegetable peeler, remove strips of zest from lemon. In large nonreactive saucepan, combine zest, sugar, vinegar, ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns, and salt. Simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar, 5 minutes. Add pumpkin. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until pumpkin is crisp-tender, about 15 minutes.
  • With slotted spoon, transfer pumpkin pickles to sterilized canning jars (you will need about 8 half-pint jars or 4 one-pint jars). Pour in cooking liquid to within 1/4 inch of top of each jar. Seal. Refrigerate and use within one week, or sterilize jars following canning jar manufacturer’s instructions for longer storage.

giant_pieThe largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.



Fall is a great time to check out a farm, sip on some warm cider, and pick your own apples and pumpkins.  Even though NC isn’t a huge grower of pumpkins, we have some pick-your own pumpkin farms not far from Polk county.  To find these farms I utilized a great site:  With this website you can search counties or broader regions for specific crops, farms, farm stands, etc.  I did a simple search for pick-your own pumpkin in Western NC, and got a list of several farms to choose from.

One thing to note is that many of these farms do not allow you to actually go out and pick a pumpkin, though there are a few near us.  Instead they let you choose from a variety of pumpkins they have purchased from another farmer and have on site.  The best way to know is to call the number listed before driving out there.

 Enjoy pumpkin season!!


Adventures in Jelly Making

I grew up in the foothills of North Carolina, in Hickory, but for some reason I never tasted a Muscadine until my recent move to Polk County.  Now when i’m hiking or driving I notice that these things are everywhere!  Living on an Americorps budget makes free food from nature very, very exciting.  Last weekend on a crisp Sunday morning I harvested seven and half pounds of these grapes from a wild vine by my house.  I was so excited, but then I realized, what do I do with these???

The answer: Jelly

My first attempts at jelly were successful, I followed all the steps of boiling the jars, adding the pectin, etc. etc.  But I realized I could of saved myself some time and effort, after helping process 46 more jars for the upcoming Friends of Agriculture Breakfast.  So, for those of you out there who have not made jelly, or given the wonderful Muscodine a chance, i’m dedicating this blog one of my new favorite hobbies: Making Jelly!

Step One: Harvest Your Grapes

You want to pick grapes that fall easily off the vine.  When it comes to making jelly, the softer the better.  For a small batch you are going to need about 3.5 to 5 pounds, it’s better to have too many than not enough, because you can always save the juice, which is really tasty.  Make sure you wash the grapes before you begin to make the jelly.  You don’t really need to worry about taking off the stems, unless you’re a perfectionist, the juice will be strained to keep out the seeds, skins, and stems.


Step Two: Prepare Your Jars

First fill a canning pot halfway with clean water, enough to cover the jars with 1-2 inches of water, and get it started to boil.  While waiting for the water to boil, wash all your jars with soap and hot water.  You can also place them in the dishwasher if you would like.  After the jars are washed and the water is boiling, place the jars in the pot and let them sanitize for ten minutes.  When they are done, take jar grabbers and place the jars top-side down on a clean rag and out of the way.  This way bacteria won’t fall into the jars.  Some people place them in an oven, top-side down, at about 170* until they are ready to use them, but the hot sugar works as a preserver, so this really isn’t necessary.  You will also want to boil your lids.  You can re-use rings, but never lids.  These can be left in the hot water until you’re ready to use them.


 Step Three: Prepare Your Grapes! 

warning…this is the longest part of the process

Boil the washed grapes in water until the skin just begins to split, this helps you extract the juice and pulp.  Another way to tell they’re ready is if the grapes begin to float.  Once the grapes are boiled you have several options, some will mash the grapes then strain the juices with a cheese cloth, but this seems pretty daunting.  There are lots of neat tools out there to utilize!  We used a tool that Dawn calls a “Berry Crusher Mill” and her great Aunt called a “Do Hicky.”  I looked it up and it is just called an Old Fashioned Food Colander/Strainer.

It looks like this:


This handy tools allows you to grind the grapes to a pulp while the juices fall out into a bowl or pot below.  We used a big pot, since we were making a large batch.  When I made jelly at home we used a steamer, but I think this method gives you a lot more juice per pound of grapes.  If you don’t have one of these, don’t go spending your money, get creative!


Now, you are ready to get cooking!

Step Four: Make Your Jelly


  • 1-1/4 qt. (5 cups) prepared juice (about 3 1/2 lb. fully ripe grapes)

  • 1-1/2 cups water

  • 1 box of pectin (or 6 tablespoons if you have a large jar)

  • 1/2 tsp of butter

  • 7 cups sugar, measured in a separate bowl

*you can use less sugar if you would like, the recipe I used for my jelly at home only used 5 cups of sugar, but it was a more runny consistency.


We used a recipe from Kraft for Concord Jelly:

Stir the pectin into the juice in a saucepot.  Add the butter; this helps reduce foaming.  Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.  Stir in the sugar.  Return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Skim off any foam with a metal spoon.  We transferred our jelly into a metal pitcher to make it easier to pour into the jars.

There are no pictures for this part, because once you get the jelly cooked, you want to move quickly so it doesn’t set before you can it.

Fill the jars to within a 1/4 inch of the tops.  Be sure to wipe around the rim to ensure that there is no residue, otherwise they will not seal properly.  Once you have put the lid and ring on, flip the jar upside down and leave it alone for at least 1 to 1.5 hours.  With jelly/jam you don’t need to process the jars, since the sugar is so hot, it acts as a preserving agent.  (However, this is an old process, and may not be considered “food safe”)  

If you do want to process the jars, you boil them for 5-10 minutes.  10 minutes is a good safe processing time.  Processing simply means, putting the jars back in boiling water after they have had their lids placed on them.


You can flip the jars right side up after about 2 hours, and they should be good to go!

Step 5: Enjoy your jelly!!

These can make great gifts, or can be stored for jelly year-round.  What’s great about home-made jellies and jams is that you can avoid all the weird things they put in store-bought; such as high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and artificial food coloring.  Additionally you actually save money in the long-run, and it is a great way to involve your kids in a fun after-school activity.  (Just be sure you are wearing aprons or clothes you don’t mind getting stained).

So has you interest been peaked??  There are still muscodines to be harvested and jelly to be made, you just have to go out there and do it!


We will be using them to decorate the tables and our plates at our next Friends of Agriculture Breakfast on:

October 15th

7 am

4-H Center in Columbus

*If you’re interested in saving a little money, we also have coupons for pectin at the ag-center, thanks to our Ball Canning Grant.  Stop by Mon-Fri 9:00-4:30 to pick some up.


Author: Sydney Klein  (AmeriCorps Project Conserve Member at the Polk County Office of Agricultural Economic Development)