The cabbage, Brassica orleracea is a leafy green, purple or white biennial plant grown as an annual vegetable crop for its dense leaved heads. Cabbage has been bred selectively for head weight and, well, pretty-looks, frost hardiness, fast growth and storage ability. The appearance of the cabbage head has been given importance in selective breeding, with varieties being chosen for shape, colour and firmness of the leaves.
The cabbage originated from the wild cabbage (also called colewort or field cabbage) and is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and other similar vegetables that have descended from the same ancestor. ‘Cabbage’ was originally used to refer to multiple forms of B. oleracea, including those with loose or non-existent heads. The original family name of brassicas was Cruciferae that derived from the flower petal pattern thought by medieval Europeans to resemble a crucifix. Brassica derives from bresic, an actual Celtic word for cabbage. Many European and Asiatic names for cabbage came from the Celto-Slavic root cap or kap, meaning ‘head’. The English word cabbage came from the word caboche, meaning head, too. This in turn has been sourced from the Picard Dialect of Old French. This is a variant of the Old French caboce.
Ok, complicated origins of language done, onto the rest of the history…
It is difficult to trace the exact origins of the cabbage due to the number of crops given the same name (no surprise for the reader after the previous paragraph) over the centuries but the wild cabbage could have originated in Europe prior to 1000 BC. The wild cabbage that was originally discovered in Britain and other places in Europe was tolerant of salt and found to inhabit rocky cliffs and coastal habitats. Cabbages were probably domesticated by Celts of central and western Europe and along with kale were probably among the first of the brassica family to be domesticated. By early Roman times, Egyptian artisans and children are recorded to have eaten notable amounts of cabbages and turnips alongside a wide variety of pulses. The ancient Greeks are supposed to have eaten some form of cabbage but whether it was similar to the type we eat today remains unknown. Greeks were afraid that cabbages planted too close to grapevines gave the grapes a bad taste due to the strong smelling odour of the plant. This theory is still believed in the country today.
Cabbages were harvested in England as far back as the Celts but it was during the high Middle Ages that the crop became prominent in illustrations and manuscripts and seeds began to be listed for sale for the use of King John II of France when captive in 1360. Cabbages were a staple of the poor man’s diet. In 1420, the ‘Bourgeois of Paris’ noted that the poor ate ‘nothing but cabbages and turnips’. Cabbages spread from Europe into Mesopotamia and Egypt as a winter vegetable and later followed trading routes throughout Asia and the Americas. The absence of Sanskrit or other ancient Eastern language names for cabbage suggests that the crop was not introduced to South Asia until relatively recently. In India, the cabbage was one of several vegetable crops introduced by colonising traders from Portugal who established trade routes from the 14th to 17th centuries. Carl Peter Thunberg reported that the cabbage was not yet known in Japan in 1775. Cabbage seeds traveled to Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet, and were planted the same year on Norfolk Island. It became a favorite vegetable of Australians by the 1830s.
Total world production of all brassicas for calendar year 2012 was 70,104,972 metric tons. The nations with the largest production were China, which produced 47 percent of the world total and India that produced 12 percent. These countries used an enormous surface area in production. The largest yields were from South Korea, which harvested 71,188.6 kilograms per hectare, Ireland (68,888.9 kg/ha), and Japan (67,647.1 kg/ha).
Cabbage consumption varies widely around the world: Russia has the highest annual per capita consumption at 20 kilograms (44 lb), followed by Belgium at 4.7 kilograms (10 lb), the Netherlands at 4.0 kilograms (8.8 lb), and Spain at 1.9 kilograms (4.2 lb). Americans consume 3.9 kilograms (8.6 lb) annually per capita.
Start sowing cabbages under the cover of fleece or in little pots/modules indoors for the best results in germination. I have tried both of these approaches and the second worked best for me but I still got adequate results from direct sowing so see what works well for you. The timing varies on the type of cabbage:
Summer/autumn cabbages – sown March-April
Winter cabbages: April-May
Spring cabbages: July-August
Plant out the cabbies around 6 weeks after sowing when they are 7/8cm tall and are growing their second leaves. Make sure they are planted into soil that has been fertilised well as they are hungry plants that need lots of feeding and watering to become gorgeous, wrinkled balls of good-stuff.
This is my first year of growing cabbages but I planted this year:
Primo F1 – (Sow February-April or July-August for overwinter)
Caserta F1 (mini-savoy) – (January-May)
Traviata F1 (another savoy) – (April-June) – I am harvesting these at the moment – DELICIOUS!
I would also recommend ‘Primero’ and ‘Kilaxy’ – I could not get hold of the seeds in time this year. ‘Primero’ is a red variety for those who would like to grow that colour.
They were all very successful but heaven for slugs and snails.
You can recognise when a cabbage is ready for harvesting when the centre forms a relatively solid heart. Use secateurs or a sharp knife to cut the head free. After you have cut the head off the plant, where the cut stem is, engrave a deep cross into the centre. This is a ‘cut and come again’ approach. The stem will produce small hearts that you can harvest again later. I tried this with ‘Primo’ stems and they have produced sweet little cabbages ready for picking.
Cabbage white caterpillars are a cabbage’s most deadly enemy. They can decimate a cabbage patch overnight. Use insect netting straight away to protect your crops. The worst problems I have experienced with my cabbages are slug and snail infestations. Due to the insect netting, it means I do not always have the time to check that the cabbages are alright and it is hard to spot slug and snail damage through the green material. When I have harvested them, I have spent a long time picking slugs and snails out from the inner-leaves and the last time I weeded and fed the patch I was there for what felt like hours trying to be rid of those slightly slimy creepy-crawlies. The other big problem I had with about three of my cabbages was flee beetle. They destroyed nearly two but these ones I used for my sauerkraut recipe (see below).
Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C and K, containing more than 20% of the Daily Value. Cabbage is also a good source (10–19% DV) of vitamin B6 and folate. Studies suggest that cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, may have protective effects against colon cancer. Purple cabbage contains anthocyanin that are under preliminary research for potential anti-carcinogenic properties. Cabbages have been used historically as medicinal herb for a variety of purported health benefits. The Ancient Greeks recommended consuming the vegetable as a laxative and used cabbage juice as an antidote for mushroom poisoning, for eye salves, and for liniments used to help bruises heal. In Cato the Elder’s work De Agri Culturia (On Agriculture), he suggested that women could prevent diseases by bathing in urine obtained from those who had frequently eaten cabbage. Roman authors believed it could cure a hangover and Ancient Egyptians ate cabbage at the beginning of meals to prevent the dizzying effects of wine to be drunk later. The cooling properties of the leaves were used in Britain as a treatment for trench foot in World War I, and as compresses for ulcers and breast abbesses. Accumulated scientific evidence corroborates that cabbage leaf treatment can reduce the pain and hardness of engorged breasts, and increase the duration of breast feeding. Other medicinal uses recorded in Europe folk medicine include treatments for rheumatism, sore throat, colic, and melancholy. Both mashed cabbage and cabbage juice have been used in poultices to remove boils and treat warts, pneumonia, appendicitis and ulcers.
How one eats a cabbage depends on the person. I like my green ones (as you can see from the varieties I have planted) shredded/cut up into pieces and boiled. My parents and sister also like red cabbages, boiled and both types shredded and eaten raw, particularly in coleslaw to eat with a baked potato or a quiche (Salad – Lettuce Quiche recipe).
As for boiled cabbage, serve it with any meal you would eat a cooked green with. For example, try it with my Recipe: Mashed Potato, Cheese and Tomato Bake, Recipe: Mum’s Fish Pies, Calabrese Broccoli – sausages, potatoes and veg.
The other way I eat cabbage is in sauerkraut. Now, it took me time to like this dish. I trained myself to eat it because of how good it is meant to be for people with gut problems, which I do suffer from time to time. Sauerkraut is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and a distinctive sour flavour, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.
Sauerkraut is famously good for your gut. I really like it with cheese – pasta, salad and cheddar, cheddar or brie melted on toast (my mum eats it with stilton, homemade oat soda bread, chutney and salad), baked potato and cheddar and salad… I also love a bowl of brown rice, lettuce, cut up avocado and sauerkraut all mixed up together. It looks strange and I was afraid to try it for so long (not a fan of vinegar and I didn’t like cabbage until I ate sauerkraut) but I’ve struggled from digestive issues and I took up eating it to cure them – I hasten to add it wasn’t a magic-curing-pill, neither was the raw milk, bio-organic yoghurt, sourdough and Symprove I took up at the same time, but it can still help and it doesn’t matter if it does or not, still tastes surprisingly good judging by how bad it looks and smells! Do not let appearances ruin your appetite, try a little with some cheese and crackers and transform your meal. Best of luck!
1 red or green cabbage, about 1kg, thinly sliced or shredded
For the brine: – 1 litre water – 60g salt
– Kilner jar or large preserving jar(s)
1.For the brine, put the water and salt in a cooking pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to encourage the salt to dissolve.
2.Allow to cool, then chill the brine in the fridge to about 5°C.
3.Put the shredded cabbage into a bowl or plastic container and pour in the chilled brine so that it covers the cabbage. It is quite tricky to keep cabbage submerged in brine, but placing a sieve, the right way up, on top of the cabbage, works well.
4.Cover the bowl (with the sieve still on top) with a tea towel or cling film and leave in a cool place, such as a pantry, with an ambient temperature no higher than 23°C, for 2 weeks.This will allow fermentation to begin without letting harmful bacteria multiply.
5.After 2 weeks, drain the brine from the cabbage. Your sauerkraut is now ready to eat. You can store the sauerkraut in a sealed Kilner jar or large jars in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.