We grew a small bed of Chinese cabbage this fall, though we never ended up taking any to market (see below). It’s a hardy plant that stands up well to cold temperatures, and has been an excellent source of fresh produce for us throughout the fall and early winter. Cabbage is a very diverse item in the fall/winter kitchen; here are some of the various ways we like to prepare it:
We hate mayonnaise, and much prefer vinegar-based coleslaws. Our all-time favorite is the Asian cabbage slaw on p. 103 of Moosewood New Classics, which uses a fantastic dressing of sesame oil, orange juice, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and more with a simple base of shredded cabbage and carrots. We make it pretty much by the book, which is worth the purchase just for the specific recipe (though it is one of our best cookbooks in general).
Joanna found an unusual-sounding recipe for Swedish cabbage soup on p. 23 of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, which uses potatoes, onion, caraway, cabbage, and dill to produce a really nicely flavored soup that is excellent on a cold day. She made a big batch and we enjoyed it for days.
Commercial kraut tastes nothing like the real thing, whether made fresh or home-preserved. We’re very partial to our homemade lacto-fermented kraut, which is very easy to make with just a few ingredients, but has just the right flavor. You can also make a fresh version of kraut by simmering chopped cabbage with apples, white wine, broth, cider vinegar, salt, and anything else you might want. This is an easy way to complement potatoes, sausage, stew, or other Teutonic meals.
Chopped cabbage adds excellent heft to stir fries, spring rolls, soups, and other vegetable dishes with Asian roots. I rely heavily on it for family Filipino recipes like pancit.
Cabbage can also add flavor and heft to salads; think of it as a tastier and heftier version of Iceberg lettuce. I’ve seen restaurants serve just cabbage wedges with dressing, and when shredded it complements more tender greens nicely.
GROWING IT FOR MARKET
We haven’t ever tried to grow large quantities of cabbage for market. Organically-grown cabbage is quite susceptible to insect damage, and is particularly troublesome to sell as often these little buggers creep down into the tightly packed head where we can’t wash them out or find them prior to sale. Our first line of defense against insect damage is row cover, but we’ve found that even a few holes will let the adult moths through to lay eggs that soon hatch into ravenous caterpillars. Also, we have had occurrences of aphid outbreaks under row cover, and when that happens, we find that taking the row cover off is the best strategy to combat the aphids, because natural predators of aphids (such as lacewings) can come to the rescue. However, removing the row cover gives free access to the cabbage moths.
Because we’re stubborn and refuse to use even organically approved sprays (such as Bt), we often end up hand picking lots of little caterpillars off of cabbage plantings. We can keep their populations in check to produce nice-looking heads, but they’re pretty well guaranteed to have some damage on the outside and some worms and worm poop on the inside.
We don’t care about this for home use, as it’s mostly cosmetic and can be dealt with by cutting the cabbage open and rinsing through the leaves before using. Some customers would be fine with that, too, to get nice big cabbage heads that haven’t been sprayed. But it’s taking a real risk to bring those heads to market when they could just as easily sell to someone who will be really offended by the worms and give us a P.R. black eye. Plus, the going price for cabbage is pretty low, held down by the sprayed variety that’s pretty simple to grow if that’s your thing. So it’s not something we’ve really focused on, though we quite enjoy our own supply with its built-in protein supplement.