As I was on the net looking for traditional St. Patrick’s Day recipes, I came across some interesting things about cabbage. Cabbage has been growing for more than 4000 years and domesticated for over 2,500 years. Contrary to belief that cabbage is an Irish food, the Celts brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 500BC. The botanical name for cabbage is Brassica Oleracea Capitata; the English name comes from the French caboche, meaning head, referring to its shape. Cabbage was not the full-bodied vegetable we see today but a more loose leaf plant. The well-rounded head was developed by Northern European farmers in the Middle Ages. Cabbage became a major crop in Europe, growing well in cool weather, with a large yield, and excellent storage qualities. Three months growing time on one acre yields more edible vegetable than any other plant. The world’s largest cabbage, 123 lbs, was grown by William Collingwood, County Durham, England in 1865. French Navigator Jacques Cartier brought cabbage to the Americas in 1536.
Cabbage is the subject of many legends and lore. Greeks and Romans believed that cabbage had healing powers and could cure just about everything. The Roman Senate, when asked by Emperor Claudius to vote on whether any dish could surpass corned beef and cabbage, came up with a resounding “no”. Egyptian Pharaohs thought that eating large amounts of cabbage would allow them to indulge in a night of heavy drinking without feeling the effect. Perhaps that is why cabbage with vinegar is considered a good hangover remedy. Captain Cook swore by the medicinal value of sauerkraut in 1769. It was used as a compress to treat soldiers wounded during severe storms, saving them from gangrene.
(It turns out that some of these beliefs were right. We all know that cruciform vegetables, like cabbage, broccoli, and kale, may prevent some cancers. There is even a Cabbage Soup Diet that claims to reduce weight 15 lbs in 17 days.)
More recent legends are telling children that babies come from cabbage patches and that the man in the moon was banished to his abode on the moon after stealing cabbages on Christmas Eve. Eating cabbage on New Year’s Eve is considered good luck by many because green leaves are representative of money. And so we have these words to use in place of money: cabbage, bread, dinero, dough, gelt, loot, moola, lucre, pelf, and shekels.
Pass the cabbage, please! ~