So January leads the march of the months, and then here comes February, keeping step right behind it. But did you know that originally there were only 10 months in the calendar, and January and February never existed? That explains why several of our months have names that don’t match their “number names,” like October (8), November (9), and December (10).
Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, added January and February in the 700’s B.C., and then adjusted the number of days in each month. February was named for a Roman festival of purification, Februa. Incidentally, dictionaries now say this month’s name can be pronounced either “FebRUary” or “FebUary,” even though some of us had the first pronunciation so pounded in by grade school teachers, we’ll never accept the alternate.
What I find most interesting about this month is what happened to it in England. Before we started using the Latin name, this month was called “Solmonath,” or “mud month” in Old English. I think we can all identify with that during this time of year.
The other name that was sometimes used was “Kale-monath,” or “cabbage month.” Some have speculated that people were eating a lot of cabbage that month. Perhaps they were using up vegetables that had been stored over the winter? The more popular theory is that this was the month that cabbage and kale sprouted.
Cabbage and kale are closely related, so I’m choosing to believe that families back in the 1100’s in England were treasuring their kale plants that might have not only survived the winter, but were also yielding fresh leaves as the weather warmed.
Cabbage may have been stored inside through the winter, but my one vegetable crop that over-winters beautifully outside in the garden is kale. When the farmer’s markets are closed for the winter and the supermarket greens look a little suspect, I run outside and clip a few leaves for dinner–and the plant continues to grow and sprout more leaves.
This is a photo of my stand of kale last spring. I’d been harvesting from it all winter, so it was getting scrawny, but then as the weather warmed, it leafed out like crazy!
Kale has been called one of the “most nutrient dense foods on the planet.” My favorite way of fixing kale? Wash the leaves, tear out the tough stalk, and then tenderize it. Use a big spoon to beat it if you’re squeamish (or if someone is watching!), or simply roll a handful of leaves back and forth on a flat surface with your hands until it wilts a bit. Chop it, add some lemon juice, a little olive oil (or not), maybe a favorite seasoning, and then whatever you have on hand that sounds good–dried cranberries, chopped onions, grated carrots (or cheese), some leftover cooked veggies, raisins, chopped red or green peppers, sunflower seeds, some fresh fruit, pumpkin seeds. Sometimes I mix it with cabbage. Occasionally, I add a dab of honey. Every time you serve a kale salad, it will be unique.
My closest friends know how I feel about kale. Anytime someone suggests going back to the name “Kale-monath,” I’m in!