Thursday, February 03, 2005

Cabbage - History

cabbage 4

The original wild cabbage is native to the Mediterranean seaboard, and this salty, sunny habitat accounts for the thick, succulent, waxy leaves and stalks that help make these plants so hardy. It was domesticated around 2,500 years ago, and thanks to its tolerance of cold climates, it became an important staple vegetable in Eastern Europe. The practice of pickling it appears to have originated in China ...

... From surviving pictures and reliefs it is clear that Egyptian cabbage was headless. The Greeks, too, cultivated headless cabbages and invested them with a religious significance. They ascribed the origin of cabbage to the chief of the gods, Zeus, believing that when he was earnestly trying to explain two conflicting prophecies, he worked himself into a sweat and that from this sweat sprang cabbage. There may be some connection here with the strong smell of cooking cabbage.

Both the Greeks and Romans thought cabbage a very healthy food, which it is; and a protection against drunkenness, which it is not. A Greek proverb states roundly: "Cabbage served twice is death." This sounds sinister but seems to have reflected no more than a dislike of leftovers on the part of people who knew nothing of Bubble and Squeak. The saying was used to disparage anything stale or secondhand.

Cultivated cabbage forms a large head of closely nested leaves around the tip of the main stalk. There are many varieties, some dark green, some nearly white, some red with anthoxyanin pigments, some deeply ridged, and some smooth. In general, open-leaved plants accumulate more vitamins C and A and antioxidant carotenoids than heading varieties whose inner leaves never see the light of day. Heading cabbages often contain more sugar, and store well for months after harvest.
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson

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