Until this week, the last time I saw a kohlrabi looking remotely inviting was in Austria. We were scooting round the country in a sardine-tin sized rental car looking for an open supermarket (you wouldn’t believe how many religious holidays Austria has and how impossible it is to find anything open during such times). With rumbling tummies we suddenly spied what had to be a beer fest (not that we’d ever seen one before) and figured that where there was beer there would also be food.
We were right about that. Inside the beer hall, as well as serving wenches in traditional Germanic dresses ferrying great jugs of frothing larger from bar to table, there were also a few matronly types proffering ashets of brown bread topped with crisp curls of a some as-yet-to-be identified white vegetable. When we enquired as to what it was, the reply (with a heavy guttural ‘r’) was “Kohlrabi!”
Needless to say, we downed a few rounds of the very tasty bread and veg before heading off, and when we returned to New Zealand I bought a packet of seed and tried to grow kohlrabi in my own garden. What a miserable failure! I sowed it in spring, at around the same time as my carrots and parsnips. The seed germinated alright but what developed was a golf-ball sized root that quickly ran to seed. By the time I’d peeled the hard shell off the few which hadn’t bolted, I was left with a woody marble that wasn’t worth eating. That’s how kohlrabi and I parted company and if it weren’t for the error of a seed company that shall remain nameless, I’d never have had this vegetable into my garden again.
I am a great one for growing kale, though. It does really well in South Otago and feeds us (and the chooks) right through the winter and early spring. That’s why I grow several different varieties of it, transplanting the seedlings, well-spaced, into a heavily manured and composted garden around the end of December. This year, however, what I thought was pink-stemmed kale, didn’t seem to be gaining the height I expected of it. And it leaves, although pink-tinged, weren’t as frilly-edged as I expected my pink kale to be. On closer inspection, of course, I found that the stems had swollen and that I was looking, not at kale but kohlrabi.
But this kohlrabi wasn’t like the vegetable I’d grown deliberately many years before. The swollen part of the stem (the part that is eaten) was as big as a large orange, the skin was so soft as to be edible, and there was no sign of woodiness inside. In short, this kohlrabi was delicious! I’d like to say I cooked it but it didn’t make it to the pot so scrumptious was the crisp, white flesh. Instead, we ate it raw, in thin slices on, you guessed it, brown bread!
Now I know kohlrabi requires the very best soil you can give it to do well, along with moist soils and plenty of space, I’ll certainly be growing it again. And I’ll be sowing it in December rather than early spring. It seems that fate has intervened to persuade me that this rather unusual vegetable is as welcome in my own neck of the woods as it is in Austria.