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One of those farmer stories

"Kalettes - what happens when kale and brussels sprouts have a baby."

Inspiration for these posts comes from all over the place. This one, indirectly came from the latest emailed Coles catalogue. Right down at the bottom was a link to what is called Coles First Sourcing Policy. So I followed it in the hope it might lead somewhere and indeed it did. In there in a bit of blurb about how they try to use just Australian growers for their fresh fruit and vegetables, I found a reference to kalettes. What on earth are they thought I?

So I rambled through the internet and found out the story of kalettes, and also the story of their sole Australian producers. All very heartwarming. I could also have written about brussels sprouts, but will save that for another time.

For Kalettes are a hybrid vegetable - a cross between kale and brussels sprouts, developed in England by Towzer seeds over 15 years. You Brits may know all about them. I don't think we do here. It's an example of a new vegetable being developed by patient farmers and researchers. Initially I think they were called flowering sprouts but this didn't go down too well, because, well brussels sprouts are not a popular thing - memories of them boiled to death. Although personally I don't have a problem with boiled brussels sprouts - I love them. It was lovely therefore to see the farmer's daughters eating them raw from the plant in the video below (which I will come to in a moment) and declaring that they ate 'way too many' with the littlest one declaring of the taste that it was: "a really good taste that I don't think anything else has".

Of course since the days of the resistance to flowering sprouts, brussels sprouts themselves have become a trendy vegetable, but they have been a bit outstripped by kale, so the marketers invented the name kalettes so that the emphasis was on the kale not the sprouts. But that's all I'm going to say about brussels sprouts for today.

The kalettes grow a little like brussels sprouts - as little offshoots of the stalk of the plant - not those luscious leaves at the top:

I don't know whether those leaves are edible, but I think the farmers just plough them back into the ground. They had to adapt their brussels sprouts stripping machines a bit and there did seem to be a lot of debris with those leaves. I have to wonder whether they are not in themselves a leafy vegetable that could be used. Still I guess ploughing them back into the ground is good for the soil.

The video below is a segment in the ABC's Landline series and features the Samwell family of the Adelaide hills and Langhorne Creek. It's fairly long but I found it really quite interesting and inspiring in a way. Have a look.

The business was begun back in 1949 by Ray Samwell at Summertown. I'm not quite sure what he grew initially but in the early 70s his two sons joined the business and at that point they decided to grow just brussels sprouts, eventually growing over 15 different varieties and supplying all the major stores and restaurants in Australia. The next generation headed by Scott Samwell has changed direction again by introducing kalettes to the mix. His dedication to this new vegetable - the first in Australia since broccolini some 12 years ago - earned him the Grower of the Year award. They bought the rights for Australia from Tozer Seeds in the UK and now you can buy them in your local Coles - but not so far in Woolworths. Well when they are in season - May to September. It's obviously now a huge operation but still largely family run with a few extra staff and casual workers at harvest time. (I wonder what they are doing now).

They are also heavily into biological control of pests and are currently using a type of wasp that doesn't sting people but kills the moth that eats the plants.

As to what you can do with them - well endless things it seems. It's a very versatile vegetable, although Scott seemed to think that the best thing to do was to roast them. has 8 really interesting looking recipes beginning with Curtis Stone's pizza. A blog called Saucy Dressings has fifteen quick ideas - not exactly recipes, more free-flowing suggestions but helpful. The British chefs and cooks have more ideas than the Australians because they haven't really hit our shores as yet.

We've all got lots of time on our hands at the moment, so for a little bit of entertainment watch the video - yes entertainment - the kids are lovely - and be proud that Australian farmers are doing their thing. It was interesting to me for example to see that family say they grow 15 different varieties of brussels sprouts - a complete contrast to the fact that over 90% of bananas grown in Australia are Cavendish - which is causing major problems because of a fungal disease. No bananas currently being grown in NT. So well done Samwell family, and come May I shall be testing out kalettes - unless they cost a fortune, which is highly possible.


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