This day in 1909 was the birthday of columnist William Neil Connor, who wrote as ‘Cassandra’ in the London Daily Mirror for three decades. He took his pseudonym from the name of the beautiful Greek woman given the gift of prophesy by Apollo, who then took away her gift of persuasion when she spurned his advances, dooming her to be forever disbelieved. Mr. Cassandra has only come to my attention via a statement he made concerning cabbage, which may not be prophetic but is hardly to be believed:
‘Boiled cabbage à l'Anglaise is something compared with which steamed coarse newsprint bought from bankrupt Finnish salvage dealers and heated over smoky oil stoves is an exquisite delicacy.’
Here I am again, in defence of ‘English food, properly done’. Mr. Cassandra may have been a non-foodie, a Francophile snob, been force-fed slimy cabbage as a child, been deliberately provocative of his readers, or simply had a bad household cook – but I cannot forgive him for perpetuating this mythical connection between the English and badly cooked cabbage.
Cabbage originated in Northern Europe in ancient times, perhaps or probably from wild sea-kale. Chance and deliberate horticultural intervention eventually produced the familiar tightly balled head from the loose leaves of the kale, and further meddling by humans produced the cabbages we know as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, kohlrabi, and kale. Mr Cassandra was slighting an impressive dynasty.
John Evelyn in his Acetaria (1699) said 'Tis scarce a hundred years since we first had cabbages out of Holland’, which gives us an idea of its history in English kitchens.
In less than half a century, a lovely book with the great title of Adam’s luxury, and Eve’s cookery; or, the kitchen-garden display’d. (1744) gave detailed planting and growing instructions and medicinal applications (cabbages are Balsamic, Diuretic, prevent Drunkenness …) and then gave a total of eight recipes, all of which sound delicious. The author does specify that cabbages must be well-boiled “to help their digestion in the stomach”, but the actual recipes completely belie the concept of smelly slimy cabbage mush.
Here are my two selections from the eight recipes:
A Ragoo of Cabbage.
Divide a cabbage in the Middle, and blanch it in hot Water; squeeze it, and dtie it round with Pack-thread, and then stew it. When it is stew’d, drain it, untie it, and cut it into little Slices into a Sauce-pan; and let it simmer over the Fire with some Cullis* of Veal and Ham to thicken it. It may be eaten with all Meats boil’d, roast, or stew’d.
To stew Red Cabbage
Cut your Cabbage very fine, and stew it with Gravy, Sausages, and Ham, and season it with Pepper and Salt. Before you serve it up, put in a little Elder-Vinegar**, and mix it well together.
*Cullis = coulis, or reduced broth.
** Vinegar steeped with flowers of the Elder bush (Sambucus nigra).
Tomorrow’s Story …
This Day Last Year ….
Samuel Pepys ate sturgeon.
Quotation for the Day …
Cabbage: a familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head. Ambrose Bierce