ABOUT CABBAGE…HISTORY AND RECIPE TIPS
Cabbages have been used medicinally since antiquity. Their high sulphur content provides purifying elements but is also responsible for the off-putting smell of cooking cabbage. Even today in villages in Austria, one can find cellars pungent with the smell of fermenting sauerkraut. Their high vitamin B content probably explains why there is a mythology attached to them as a hangover cure, though I suspect that, taking a Berrocca when you feel like hell is a lot more palatable than eating half a cabbage no matter how much you may like it.
In ancient times it was thought that bees could transfer the sour taste of cabbage to grapes and honey, and whilst there is no real evidence to support this, they are still not planted near vines or hives in Mediterranean regions.
Choucroute/sauerkraut is one of the most ancient forms of preserved vegetables, and was recognised, purely by observation as being health giving. Today we know as a certainty it is a rich source of phosphorus, potassium and vitamins. Modern science will also dispute the idea that sauerkraut is responsible for flatulence, blaming instead the quantities of beer and rich foods that are usually consumed in conjunction with it…LOL!
Captain Cook, held salted, fermented preserved cabbage in high regard and rightly believed it was one of the reasons his crew maintained better health than most crews of the day. The scourge of scurvy decimated crews throughout the known world at the time and Cook is well-known for his advanced thinking. His log records the use of cabbage poultices to stave off gangrene, where both the natural properties of the cabbage and salt would have had a beneficial effect. I find the idea of packing it on a puss filled wound and eating it for dinner with salt pork, a known fact, slightly disconcerting.
With over four hundred species of cabbage it is small wonder identifying them becomes confusing. The dimpled kale with its small dark jade craters edged with pale jade. The wonderful ornamental cabbages with their musky mauves, pale straw yellows and a strawberry jade colours make a wonderful and long-lasting display of colour in any garden. Köhlrabi is also from the cabbage family but it is the swollen root that is eaten rather than the leaves. The elongated Chinese cabbage also valued either fresh or pickled in the Chinese culture is readily available at both Chinese and European greengrocers. Other members of the same family are Brussel sprouts and cauliflowers. Interestingly in the French their origins are most clear with chou-fleur cauliflower, chou de Bruxelles Brussel sprouts and chou-rave Köhlrabi. Chou Chou remains a term of endearment meaning teacher’s pet, but the English term of endearment my little cabbage is still common in my old generation.
For some people cabbage conjures up their worst nightmare, for me it’s Auntie Mara Maroulis’ or the late Slavka Vidovic’s divine cabbage rolls. Mara’s still just warm and swimming in the most delicate egg and lemon sauce. Slavka’s in a light smoked port and tomato broth. They always brought several. I always promised myself to eat just one and keep the rest for mealtime, and always break my promise within minutes of their arrival, unable to resist.
My actions justified by reassuring myself that only a philistine would re-warm them and not eat them at their best.
Try a roast pork belly, perfect crackling, potato dumplings, roast potatoes and piles of braised red cabbage which is all at once the sauce and the vegetable. Another favourite from the Austrian Bavarian kitchens, hot cabbage salad with crispy speck.
Another favourite from the Chinese kitchen for which there is really no recipe, salty cabbage and barbecue pork soup with hard boiled eggs. The absolutely instant meal every ingredient can be purchased from your local Chinese grocer and barbecue meat shop. If you are a regular at your duck shop, you may be able to coerce a little duck juice from Peking duck or you can add a little light duck or chicken stock. I am also cheeky enough to ask if there are any random hearts or livers. It is not authentic, but we like to add chopped up flat rice noodles. A perfect meal for nights when it’s just too hard to think.