Like seaweed? Like kale? You'll love sea kale!

Eaten to extinction by Victorians, chefs want the vegetable back on the menu

A vegetable that was a Victorian favourite, but then almost disappeared from our plates, has found itself back at the top of the hip list for chefs across the British Isles.

As commercial growers nurture their first crops of sea kale in decades, and green-fingered foodies plant their own seeds, fans hunt for sea kale recipes online.

Its fans include top chefs Tom Kitchin and Raymond Blanc, who grows his own at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire. They cherish sea kale for its white, forced stems, which are ready between January and March. They taste like a cross between asparagus and celery and are often served with that classic asparagus accompaniment, hollandaise sauce. Later in the year, fried sea kale leaves can be served.

Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is a member of the brassica family and native to Britain. It has been in especially hot demand this year because the season has been short after last year's brutally cold spring destroyed growers' root stocks, which take years to become well established.

For Heather and Sandy Pattullo at Eassie Farms, in Angus, the season finished two weeks ago. But they'll have sea kale crowns for people to plant themselves later this year. "It's very labour-intensive and terribly fiddly, but it suits us because we also grow asparagus," Ms Pattullo said.

Wild sea kale on Cogden Beach in Dorset Wild sea kale on Cogden Beach in Dorset Peter Taylor, at Westland Nurseries in Worcestershire, is another commercial grower, who grew his first crop four years ago. He has hopes of extending the season to three or four months, or even year round.

He ascribes the plant's new fashionable status to "chefs becoming more down to earth in what they're trying to create. That's what starts it. Plus foraging is very popular. Everybody is expanding their repertoire."

There is confusion online over whether sea kale, which grows naturally on the edge of shingle beaches, is protected, with many fans adamant that it shouldn't be picked. But the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife told The Independent on Sunday that it was fine to pick small amounts. "It's not a protected species, although it was nationally scarce and has been lost from a third of its range, particularly in the South-west."

But Kent Wildlife Trust disagrees. "We would strongly discourage people from picking sea kale as it is protected under the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) and must not be picked without permission from the landowner," Bryony Chapman, its marine policy officer, said.

The trouble arose because sea kale was a popular vegetable for Victorians, who forced the shoots by piling sand and stones around the plants so they could harvest them for market. Wild stocks were decimated, prompting a ban in the early 20th century.

Ms Chapman added: "While Kent Wildlife Trust thinks foraging can be great for getting people in touch with the natural environment, over-harvesting must be avoided and, where certain plants are known to be scarce, left well alone – otherwise this could lead to consequences for the local ecosystem."

Richard Harrington, at the Marine Conservation Society, said people should cultivate it themselves. "There's no need to remove it from seashores because the seeds are available to grow in the garden."

Lucia Stuart, who runs The Wild Kitchen in Deal, said sea kale was just one of "many delicious edible coastal vegetables". "It has tough leaves, but that toughness makes them delicious when cooked. I fry mine in olive oil until they're crispy."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project