Cabbage is a well-known vegetable throughout the world. Although it is known, it is not universally loved. My dad loathed raw cabbage but ate it cooked.
As a child, I had a love/hate relationship with cabbage. In my early years, the only cabbage dish I knew was boiled cabbage, the way dad liked it. I don’t think we had it very often, it doesn’t loom high in my memory like the alternating daily diet of (frozen) peas or beans!
As a teenager, I was introduced to cabbage as a salad vegetable in the form of coleslaw and I loved it. Not the over-diced, over-dressed version we sold in the delicatessen of the supermarket where I worked, but homemade coleslaw, sliced with a knife (not a machine) and dressed sparingly so that the vegetables could be tasted and still had some crunch.
As a young married woman, I started adding diced apples to my coleslaw which made cabbage-detesters, like Mark, pay attention!
My other favourite way of eating cabbage is in a noodle dish, the recipe of which was given to my mother by a Burmese woman. Based on egg noodles, we could never get it to taste as good as Mrs Pereira’s version but it was still delicious. Mum served the noodles with veal schnitzel, I serve them as a meal in themselves!
The origin of cabbages is unknown as they were developed from wild plants that look nothing like modern cabbages. One theory is that hearting cabbages were domesticated in the West from an original plant with thick leaves that could withstand the cold. 1 Non-heading cabbages were were known in China 6,000 or more years ago, and these were domesticated in Central Europe.1 The mention of cabbages is shown in Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Greeks writings.1 In Ancient Rome, cabbage was considered to be superior to other vegetables.1
Heading cabbages were developed in the cooler climates of central and northern Europe by Celtic and/or Nordic peoples.2 In 14th century Britain, there were two different words for cabbage, depending on whether it had a ‘hard head’ (caboche) and non-heading types (coleworts). Red cabbage was first mentioned in English literature in the sixteenth century.2
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (2006, undated 2020)describes three types of cabbage available here: ballhead (roundhead), conical (sugarloaf) and drumhead. Round head cabbages are around soccer-ball size. Sugarloaf cabbages are smaller and have a conical-shaped head. Drumhead types are larger and flatter than ballhead types. They also mention savoy, those with crinkled leaves, and Chinese cabbages (aka wombok) an elongated cabbage with broad leaves and less densely packed heads.3
(photos used with permission of owner)
Cabbages come in both ‘white’ (green) and red varieties. The colour of the red varieties is more intense in colder weather.
CULINARY & MEDICINAL USES
Cabbages can be prepared and eaten in a wide variety of ways: they can be eaten raw as in coleslaw, pickled, fermented as in sauerkraut, boiled, steamed, stir-fried, stewed or even baked.
In traditional and folk medicine, cabbage was used for a wide variety of ailments: stomachache, intestinal ulcers, osteoporosis, asthma and morning sickness. Lactating women often put cool cabbage leaves on their breasts to soothe swelling and discomfort.4
Eating cabbage, especially red cabbage, is said to help prevent diabetes, inflammation and heart disease.5
HOW TO GROW
In general, cabbages like cool, moist conditions but they grow in most parts of NSW.3 It is just a case of choosing the right variety for you area. You local seed bank, seed library or quality garden centre should be able to guide you in appropriate choices. The agricultural areas of the Hawkesbury and Sydney region are one of the highest cabbage production areas in New South Wales.3
Cabbages will grow in a wide variety of soil types. The addition of lots of organic matter makes a huge difference to the cabbage yields. The pH should be relatively neutral, between 6.0 and 6.5. Water -logged cabbages will rot quickly.
Propagation and Transplanting
Sow seeds according to the seed packet instructions. This is generally twice the depth of the seed itself, around 5-6mm, into seed-raising mix, well before the time you want to transplant the seedlings. Germination should occur within 7-10 days, but may be faster or slower depending on soil temperature and moisture.
Transplant seedlings to the garden when they have at least 3 pairs of adult leaves. This will be around 6 to 8 weeks after sowing the seed.
Feeding / Fertilising and Care
We feed all our vegetables with a solution of an organic ‘fertiliser’ every two weeks. We try not to use the same feed week after week referring to mix it up with worm casting tea, compost tea, weed tea or commercial organic liquid fertilisers. If using a commercial product, make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Overfeeding plants is not beneficial to the plant.
Cabbages, like all brassicas, will need protection form cabbage white butterfly and cabbage moth throughout the growing season, particularly in warmer weather or an unusually warm winter. We net our vegetable garden to keep the blackbirds from digging up our plants but we have found that it is reasonably successful in keeping the butterfly art of the garden 2. It is not so effective against cabbage moth. Land Cress planted near your vegetable garden will attract the cabbage moth which will lay their eggs on the plants. The plant contains saponins which, when ingested by the caterpillar, cause it to die.
Cabbages are a long-term crop, although it is possible to get early, mid and late-maturing varieties. if you plant all of these varieties at the same time, you will have some ready for harvest earlier in the season, some ready for harvest in the mid-season and some ready for harvest at the end of the growing season. Early season varieties can be ready in as little as 60 days; while late season varieties can take 150 days or more.
FUN FINAL FACT
China produces more than 33 million tonnes each year! Australia ranks at number 51, with a mere 87,000 tonnes produced each year.6
Until next week