Wednesday, February 17, 2016

World Cabbage Day: In Praise of Cabbage

I wonder if the cabbage knows
He is less lovely than the Rose;
Or does he squat in smug content,
A source of noble nourishment;
Or if he pities for her sins
The Rose who has no vitamins;
Or if the one thing his green heart knows --
That self-same fire that warms the Rose?
Ladies' Cabbage

Today is World Cabbage Day! I can "see" that grin on your face. I know what you're thinking. Oh no, not another food day. But wait, cabbage is not just another food. Cabbage is many different morsels that are all derived from the leafy wild mustard plant. The common forms are classified by the plant parts used for food: leaves (e.g., kale, collard, spring greens, Brussels sprout); flowers and flower stalks (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower); and stems (e.g., kohlrabi, "cabbage turnip") The dense core of the cabbage is called the babchka and it is related to the turnip. Yep, one big happy cruciferae family! It is said that cabbage makes its home in the cruciferae family because the flowers of the plant have four petals arranged as a cross.

"Society expects every man to have certain things in his garden. Not to raise cabbage, is as if one had no pew in church."
~The Pilgrim Cook Book~ ©1895

Let’s sidestep for a moment. Did you know the Old English name for February was "Sprout-Kale" or "Sprouting Cabbage Month”, since cabbage often begins to sprout in the garden this time of year. It seems February has been known by quite a few names through the ages. The Anglo-Saxons called the month of February “Sol-monath” (cake month), because cakes were offered to the gods during the second month

…Whether Solmonath was the Mud Month, the Earth Month, the Sun Month or the Plough Month doesn't really matter. Bede tells us something even more interesting about it:

Solmonath can be called "month of cakes", which they offered to their gods in that month.
--Bede, in The Reckoning of Time, Chapter 15. Translated by Faith Wallis.

The reference to cakes is reminiscent of an Old English charm for making a field fertile, the Aecerbot or Field Remedy. The charm survives written down in a manuscript dating from the tenth or eleventh century, though it may well be derived from a much older tradition.

Take then each kind of flour and have someone bake a loaf [the size of] a hand's
palm and knead it with milk and with holy water and lay it under the first
furrow. Say then:
Field full of food for mankind,
bright-blooming, you are blessed
in the holy name of the one who shaped heaven
and the earth on which we live;
the God, the one who made the ground, grant us the gift of growing,
that for us each grain might come to use.
--Aecerbot, translated by Karen Louise Jolly--

Just in case you’re interested, I happened upon the other names of the Saxon Months: (unfortunately, I don’ remember where this came from but I’m pretty sure I found it in an 1800s garden book)

Names of Saxon Months | Months of Edible Celebrations

I actually thought today’s post was going to be fairly simple. I was just going to wish the world a Happy Cabbage Day, dig up a few recipes and be on my merry way. Then I got curious. I wonder what the The Gold Cook Book by Master Chef Louis P. De Gouy has to say about cabbage, I said to myself. Apparently, quite a bit. (he was, after all, ”…A prolific author, he wrote sixteen cookbooks on numerous topics — each encyclopedic, filled with amazing histories of food, stories of the food world and inspirational recipes…

”This good peasant, honored in the rustic marmit, is certainly the most popular and the most healthful of the vegetable kingdom. For three centuries, Rome knew no other medicament than the cabbage, and did not feel the worse. Cabbage is indigenous to Europe, but today its robust odor perfumes almost all kettles in the world. Numerous and colorful is its family: green, white, yellow, violet, red, curled, round-headed, fringed cabbages, Milan or Savoy cabbage, sea kale, rapecolewort, palm cabbage, collard, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and many others…

Cabbage the old warrior, is ever on hand for a gastronomic emergency. The Romans and Greeks used this budget vegetable as moderns do the “prairie oyster” and the Turkish bath, to pull their world back together with the morning after the night before. In Egypt cabbage was considered to be an antidote for overindulgence in wine. Athaneus, gossip and epicure, once wrote: “The Egyptians…are the only people among whom it is a custom at their feasts to eat boiled cabbage before all the rest of their foods.” And if we quote Eulubus: “Wife, quick, some cabbage boil of virtues, that I may rid me of this seedy feeling.” Apicius, the epicure of ancient Rome, ranked cabbage with the tongues of flamingoes as a rare dish. Cato really thought that cabbage could cure almost everything, and said that Rome, because it possessed plenty of them, could expel all physicians. But Peter the Great of Russia forbade his army, navy, and other officials to eat cabbage or cabbage soup lest the become “cabbage heads.”

You see why I just had to share the chef’s sentiments with you? Imagine the importance in being ranked as rare as the “tongues of flamingoes”? (I wonder if that’s why cabbage is associated with money?) And heavens forbid we all become “Cabbage Heads!”

Cabbage | Ambrose Bierce
…De Gouy was the head chef at the Waldof-Astoria, and Peel says he thinks his book rivals the Larousse Gastronomique, the encyclopedic bible of French cooking. Of The Gold Cookbook, Peel says, "everything is in it, almost 2500 recipes. It's very old school in style but clearly written…The Chef’s Library; LA Weekly

This 1950 edition of De Gouy’s book includes 13 recipes for cabbage! (not to mention that ode to cabbage at the top of the page:) I was lucky to find one or two recipes in most of my other books and none were as “colorful” as the sampling of the two below; Cabbage a la Bretonne and this German Red Cabbage recipe. (I had a bit of a time trying to get a good scan, the book is so pudgy:)

Cabbage a la Bretonne | Louis P. DeGouy

The testaments to the benefits of cabbage are insurmountable! I got myself in such a tizzy over them, I just had to include a smidgen of what’s out there.

Cabbage Remedies

So, I made this:) Yes, I know it’s amateurish but, I’m sure it’s good enough for a little chuckle:)

Cabbage Graphic

In my pursuit of all things cabbage, and believe me, that quest encompassed cabbage antidotes, folk lore, old time remedies and even a cabbage face mask, I kept running across a recipe for a dish called Ladies’ Cabbage. Most times it was shared in a vintage recipe book with no explanation as to the name. By chance, and I mean by sheer coincidence, I happened to move Larry Forgione’s An American Place ©1996 from one of the bookshelves in order to get at another book. Just for the heck of it, and because I have never shared its contents with you, I paged to the index to see if there were any out of the ordinary recipes containing cabbage. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a recipe for the elusive Ladies’ Cabbage with an explanation.

Ladies Cabbage | Larry Forgione

For the final recipe, let’s go to Tennessee for some Creole Cabbage from the Chilhowee Inn.

Creole Cabbage | Chilhowee Inn

Thank you for spending time with me for World Cabbage Day. I hope this post inspires you to think of cabbage in a whole new light. If you are celebrating World Cabbage Day, be sure and leave your link in the comment section. I know for sure John @KitchenRiffs is celebrating! Just take a look at his Vegan Mulligatawny Soup with Cabbage! Don't forget to check out my Cabbage Day Pinterest board:) If you would like to pin to the cabbage family board, just let me know and I'll figure out how to add you:)

I’ll be back next Wednesday to celebrate National Tortilla Day with The Well Filled Tortilla Cookbook. Louise:)

Well Filled Tortilla

1. Facts About February
2. Of Cabbage and Celts