… to talk of many things, of shoes and ships, and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings … so said the Walrus to the Carpenter in the Lewis Carroll classic “Through the Looking Glass”. There are indeed many that would consider the humble cabbage to be a king among vegetables and certainly at the head of the table in the Brassica royal family which includes, cauliflower, broccoli, mustard greens, and Brussels sprouts (and yes they were first grown in Brussels in Belgium as early as the 13th century now that you ask).
Cabbage is packed with vitamins B, C, and K, loads of minerals, and is an excellent source of dietary fibre … in short it’s very good for us. It can be eaten raw, cooked, and pickled. The early seafaring nations of Europe and Scandinavia ensured that their sailing ships had plenty of barrels of sauerkraut on-board. Being pickled it kept well on long journeys, but most importantly, as part of the crews daily food ration it helped prevent that scourge of sailors, scurvy, brought on by a lack of vitamin C. And let’s face it, we do all look and feel a lot better when our teeth aren't falling out on daily basis don’t we!
Cabbage leaves also have cooling properties that, along with cabbage juice, have lent themselves to use in herbal medicines like compresses and poultices, including being a treatment for “trench foot” (now doesn't that sound nasty) in World War I.
With all this going for it you’d think the cabbage would be popular with everyone wouldn't you, but not so. Many people find cabbage to have a bitter and unpleasant taste, and the culprit is the compound that gives cabbage its flavour, because it contains sulphur. This gets worse if cabbage is overcooked as overcooking creates hydrogen sulphide gas … poo stinky, sorry I mean pungent and unpleasant.
The Doll found this gastronomical quarterly “Wine and Food” from 1941 which chided the general public (i.e. non gastronomes) for over cooking cabbage, rendering it virtually inedible, and creating terrible smells. It then goes on to provide a fool proof recipe to avoid overcooking … “cut it into quarters, wash them in vinegar and water, and them put into a pan with whatever fat source you have (it was war time after all) like butter or dripping, or lard, then put the lid firmly on the pan and steam for about an hour for a small cabbage"!!!
The record for the worlds heaviest cabbage is 62.71 kg (138.25 lb) set in 2012 by Scott Robb in Palmer, Alaska … imagine how long they would have cooked that for in 1941 …