Whenever I think of cabbage, I remember a photo of my two children at ages 8 and 9 holding up two huge cabbages harvested from our garden.
I remember taking the photo and how they begged me to hurry because the cabbages were heavy. In the photo, they look as though they could barely hold up any longer these future jars of kraut and bags of frozen stuffed leaves.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the husband doesn't like cabbage. He is, however, a fan of sauerkraut, which is simply fermented cabbage. When my uncle suggested the husband try making his own kraut - he would even let us borrow his antique kraut shredder - suddenly more rows were tilled in the garden for the 30 or so cabbages we grew that year.
The sauerkraut turned out quite well. I pressure canned several kraut-packed jars after it fermented in the basement in a 10-gallon crock. The husband would check the kraut every week by pushing aside the muck on the top of the brine to dig down and grab the shreds between his finger and thumb for a taste. I liked the layers of shredded cabbage and salt to be seasoned with caraway seeds, but he preferred black peppercorns.
Although I thought our cabbages were huge, the largest cabbage ever recorded was a massive green giant weighing 125.9 pounds with leaves that spanned five feet. It was grown in Alaska in 2009.
Cabbage has been around about 4,000 years by some accounts. Nicholas Culpeper, a Master Herbalist from the 17th century, wrote of the benefits of cabbage, claiming cabbage juice, if mixed with wine, ''helps those that are bitten by an adder.'' Culpeper also said the ribs, or thick leaf stems, crushed into a pulp, ''boiled in almond milk, and made up into an electuary with honey, being taken often, is very profitable for those that are puffy and short winded.'' I think we all know what that means.
Culpeper wasn't the only one who wrote about this easily grown vegetable that was often grown by peasants and is still the basis of many ethnic comfort foods.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of the Alice in Wonderland series of children's stories, also wrote about cabbage. When Alice encounters Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the two recite the poem, ''The Walrus and the Carpenter,'' which included the lines, ''The time has come," the Walrus said, ''To talk of many things: Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax - Of cabbages - and kings...''
There has been much debate on the meaning of the poem, but most believe the Walrus was giving the carpenter the choice of topics to discuss, from the poor who are forced to live on cabbages to kings, who have much better fare.
In our area, cabbage grows easily from seed, but can be started early indoors or bought as plants from local garden centers. It can be harvested any time during the growing season, but the leaves tend to sweeten up a bit if left until after the first few frosts in September and October.
Since it is a cool weather vegetable, we can put the plants in our gardens as early as mid-April, even though we are threatened with a few more frosty nights. Cabbage is a sun lover, requiring about six hours each day. It also prefers well-composted soil and adequate water to form healthy heads. Water regularly, at least one inch of water per week and feed with a balanced fertilizer once the heads begin to form.
Cabbage worms are the worst pests of the plant, but they are easily controlled. The worms are the larvae of a small white butterfly. By covering young plants with floating row cover, it can prevent the butterflies from laying their eggs on the undersides of the plant's leaves. If clusters of yellow, oval-shaped eggs are seen, they can easily be destroyed before they have a chance to hatch. The worms have a voracious appetite and it doesn't take many to devastate the plants.
Some gardeners even encase the cabbage heads in nylon stockings to keep the worms from burrowing into them, but if worms are seen they can easily be picked off and destroyed.
BT, or bacillus thuringiensis, also can be used as a deterrent.