In Season: Kohlrabi—The Vegetable from Outer Space

Yes, I used to think that Kohlrabi was the vegetable from outer space. Some alien food with its smooth green bulb and oddly extended leaves. (“Beam me up Scotty!”) I had no experience with it until we grew it in one of our first gardens in the early 1970s. (I know, I’m dating myself!)

My family had gone “back to the land,” and we put in the first of our big gardens the next year. We tried a lot of “new” vegetables those first couple of years. We tried all kinds of seeds, from mail-order seed companies to the small damp packets that came free in loaves of store-brought “sponge” bread.

That first garden was a disaster. My dad fertilized it with raw manure, and we grew a bumper crop of weeds. About midsummer when the weeds got waist high, everyone gave up on the garden. That fall, I waded into the area and gleaned an amazing amount of food from the wreckage. (I remember digging potatoes in particular. It was grey and blustery as I turned all of these wonderful potatoes out of the weed-choked ground.) I thought, “If I can get this much food out of this wasteland, think of how much I could harvest from a properly cared for plot!” That was the start of gardening for me, and I’ve been growing vegetables and flowers ever since. Sometimes I’ve had to volunteer at an arboretum or put things in pots on a patio, but I haven’t missed a growing season in 37 years.

I grew a nice row of kohlrabi from seed in my front garden bed this year. It had a slow start because of a dry period in early summer but has really filled out with the coming of rain and cooler weather.

Kohlrabi is in the cabbage family and tastes like the center of a broccoli stem—sweet and tender. It is not the root but the thickened fleshy stem that is eaten. This vegetable is at its best when about the size of a tennis ball. To harvest, grasp the bulb, pull it out of the ground, and snap off its tap root by bending it toward the ground. Strip off the leaves and throw them on your compost pile or feed them to your chickens! Cut the top and bottom of the bulb off and peel the smooth fibrous skin from the crisp inner core.

My favorite way of preparing kohlrabi is to cut it into sticks, steam until tender, and dress it with butter, salt, and freshly ground pepper. I also like to serve kohlrabi raw in green salads or with a vegetable dip.

The next time you are tempted to buy or are offered this interesting looking vegetable, don’t hesitate. Get out a sharp paring knife and serve it for supper! Begonia

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