Cabbage: Its History, Uses And Culture
Cabbage has been in cultivation for thousands of years. The ancient Romans loved it and used it for several purposes. Cato advised eating cabbage soaked in vinegar before embarking upon an evening of heavy drinking and the accepted remedy for a Roman hangover was simply more cabbage. Caesar's armies carried cabbage with them and used it not only for food, but bound wounds with the leaves to reduce infection. Modern studies do show that cabbage has antibacterial properties and actually reduces inflammation.
Cabbage was introduced into Europe by the conquering Romans and there the plant was bred into the familiar form we recognize today. It was easily cultivated in the cooler parts of northern Europe and quickly became a popular food. It produced a large harvest in the short growing season and was a wonderful addition to the meager diet of the rural folk. The French word "caboche" literally means "head," so the English name "cabbage" is most likely an adaptation upon it. The Danish were probably the originators of what we know as coleslaw, as their word for cabbage is "kool," and their word for salad is "sla." So, "cabbage salad" would be "koolsla."
The explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries carried cabbage in their ship's stores for their crews to eat and the high Vitamin C content helped stave off the scurvy that was so common among sailors. By this time, a pickled form of the vegetable was popular in Europe and the French from the Alsace area gave it the name of "Choucroute"(sauerkraut). It has even been noted that on one of Captain Cook's voyages that sailors who were injured in a storm had their wounds bound with cabbage to help prevent gangrene.
This is a very humble vegetable, eaten by hungry peasants when very little else was available, but frowned upon by the higher classes who were suspicious of any vegetable. It was even rumored that it was among several fruits and vegetables were said to cause the Plague and were to be avoided at all costs. All the while, hungry Irish, Scandinavians, Germans and French lived upon cabbage, and little else.
Cabbage was a wonderful food for rich and poor alike, although a pot of cabbage boiling over the fire was more likely to be found in the more modest homes. It seems that the strong aroma was offending to the delicate, higher-class noses. The peasants had a highly nutritious food that was easy to grow and stored well.
A single serving of cabbage contains nearly half of the daily Vitamin C requirement and has significant levels of manganese, iron, and vitamin B6. Cabbage also is high in dietary fiber and low in calories, which makes it an ideal food for those watching their weight.
The best cabbage is grown in cool weather, in rich soil and has a steady source of moisture. Start seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the planned set-out date. As cabbage plants can tolerate frost, it is usually one of the first plants to go in the garden. Just be sure to plant out after the last projected freeze date, as freezing temperatures can harm the young transplants.
Cabbage plants consist of more than just the round green or purple balls that one sees in the supermarkets. When it is growing, there is a large rosette of leaves that surround the central head. Each variety is different in the it's space requirements, but 12" to 18" is a minimum distance between plants. Set the rows two or three feet apart so that there will be room for cultivation.
Cutworms like cabbage plants, so it's advisable to place a collar of some sort around the young transplants. A paper cup with the bottom cut out is good as it will simply decompose. Other pests include cabbage looper caterpillars and flea beetles. The cabbage loopers are a green caterpillar with thin white stripes. They have no legs in the center part of their bodies, so they move with an "inchworm like" motion. They tend to like the undersides of the leaves so may be difficult to spot. If treating with an insecticide, be sure to spray the undersides of the leaves. Flea beetle damage looks like the plant has been hit with buckshot. Tiny round holes appear and flea beetles can eat a new planting of cabbage to the ground almost overnight if left unchecked. Covering the plants with row covers and spraying with a neem oil product will help control them. Planting a more desirable food such as Chinese Giant Mustard will distract the flea beetles from the cabbage.
Cabbage can be harvested at any point after the heads form. They tend to split if left in the field after heavy rains, so be aware of the weather conditions as they mature. Remove the cut stems, leaves and roots and compost them to keep down pest populations. Cabbage can be stored in a cool dark place such as a root cellar.
Many countries and cultures enjoy some form of cabbage prepared in a great number of ways. Sauerkraut and coleslaw from Europe and colcannon from Ireland. The Hungarians have their stuffed cabbage and the Koreans love their kimchi. Cabbage is a staple among cultures the world over.
The following is a Norwegian recipe for cooked cabbage that is similar to a hot sauerkraut. It is known as Surkål, (sour cabbage) and is commonly eaten with fatty meats such as pork. Being flavored with caraway, it is said that it helps with digestion.
Norwegian Style Sauerkraut. (Surkål)
1 ½ pounds of cabbage -green or red
1 or 2 apples
2 tsp salt 1 tsp caraway seeds
1 scant cup of water
2 Tb vinegar
1 Tb sugar
Shred the cabbage into strips about ¼" wide
Cut apples into wedges
Place cabbage, apples and seasonings in pan
Pour water over. If red cabbage is used, be sure to add vinegar at the start of cooking to retain the bright color.
Simmer covered for 30-45 minutes until cabbage is tender. Adding a bit of water if necessary to prevent sticking.
The dish should have a tangy sweet/sour taste.
Enjoy cabbage. It's tasty, good for you and won't make you fat!