We all lack cooking inspiration at one time or another, and the deep winter in Vermont certainly can present a challenge. Storage crops like beets and potatoes slowly become mundane on the dinner table. Even though these versatile, nutrient dense vegetables nourish us throughout the long winter months, we start to overlook their potential. Lately it seems like cabbage is at the top of the ‘had enough’ list. Our poor beautiful purple and green cabbage are falling prey to culinary boredom. But no more!
A little backstory for starters. Cabbage is grown annually for its densely leaved heads of eye popping purple and green. It is part of the brassica family, also referred to as a cruciferous vegetable. It has such cousins as broccoli, horseradish, cauliflower, turnips, kale and brussel sprouts to name a few. All of these and many other vegetables belonging to the same family are descendants of a non heading wild field cabbage thought to be more similar to what we think of as kale. As it evolved its popularity was partly do to its versatility, however its ability to thrive during the short northern growing seasons truly helped it become a mainstay in diets throughout the ages.
Cabbage being the humble vegetable that it is, has been a food and medicinal staple throughout history in many different cultures. Roman soldiers carried cabbage for a food sources but also used the leaves on wounds. Ancient Greeks advise eating cabbage before a night of drinking and again in the morning to help with any residual hangover. Early sea explores carried cabbage on board their ships to prevent the crew from scurvy. In modern times we still enjoy many dishes that have long histories, think sauerkraut and coleslaw. Over time human selection has given way to the dense heads we grow today.
While there are different varieties of cabbage, we grow a large crop of smooth-leaved heads that are known for their storage quality. In late spring we plant tray after tray of transplants that we have started in the greenhouse from seed. We wait for growth then we weed around the plants, then wait for more growth, and weed some more, all while watching for signs of nutrient deficiencies, plant pests, and diseases. While we do grow some early varieties of cabbage for summer enjoyment, the winter storage cabbage takes about 120 days to reach maturity for harvest. Just like our other bulk crops we harvest cabbage all at once over the course of a few days. Cabbage harvest is a crew favorite for sure. Who doesn’t love tossing cabbage and driving tractors?
Are you warming back up to cabbage yet? Check out the links in the sidebar for ideas and recipes. Hopefully you’ll find a few ideas that will help cabbage back into your good graces and onto the dinner table.