Monday, January 12, 2009

Taking the Life of a Cabbage.

The author of One Thousand Simple Soups (1907) had an utterly fearless approach to making cabbage soup. She argues:

“One who will take the life of a cabbage, need not hesitate at chicken or turkey, for cabbage has life – triumphant, compelling, penetrating life. Any one who lives in a flat may prove it by cooking a cabbage and listening in the court for remarks made by the other tenants. Anything lifeless could never be so forceful and powerful as cabbage even in its last moments.”

I was simply researching soups, and suddenly feel obliged to re-visit the old argument ‘Do plants feel pain? The question and the research surface from time to time - the devoutly carnivorous hoping for irrefutable proof that they do, to flaunt at vegetarians (and especially vegans) to counter one of the common ethical arguments for abstaining from meat. I don’t expect science will have the answer soon – there are so many peripheral arguments to be settled first, like “what is pain?” and “how do we measure it?” and “are plants sentient?” and “can non-sentient organisms experience pain?” and so on.

What about those organisms that are neither plant or animal? The bacteria in your yoghurt? The yeast in your bread? If scientists ultimately decide that yeasts are animals, will that condemn staunch vegetarians to a breadless, beerless life?

While, with your help, I try to puzzle out some of these issues, I give you what I set out to do – some cabbage soup recipes from Olive Green’s book (surely not her real name?).

Cabbage Soup A La Rouennaise
Shred fine two small cabbages and fry brown in plenty of butter, stirring constantly. Drain off the butter, add three quarts of beef stock, cover, and cook slowly for an hour and a half. Cover the bottom of the tureen with thin slices of toasted bread, pour the hot soup over, and serve.

Cabbage Soup With Rice
Select a small, hard cabbage, remove the core, and shred fine. Cut into dice half a pound of salt pork, and fry until brown and crisp. Add two teaspoonfuls of butter and a large onion chopped fine. When the butter is hot, add the shredded cabbage and fry slightly. Add three quarts of beef stock, and two quarts of water, boil for half an hour, add one cupful of well-washed rice, season with salt and pepper, cook until the rice is done, skim, reheat, and serve.

Cabbage And Potato Soup
Core and shred two small green cabbages. Fry brown in a little butter. Add three quarts of beef stock, and one quart of water, cover and cook for one hour. Peel six large potatoes, cut them into dice, add to the soup and cook until the potatoes are done. Cut two small French rolls in thin slices, toast in the oven, put into a soup tureen, pour the hot soup over, and serve.

Quotation for the Day …

Vegetarians are people who cannot hear tomatoes screaming.
Joseph Campbell


Unknown said...

The pain to which you allude exists at the intersection between life and death. It is as disturbing to all things that must cross that divide as it is to us who look on.

That's what I think anyway.

The Old Foodie said...

I find the topic fascinating. All living things have inbuilt mechanisms for observing and reacting to dangers. It was not so long ago that the prevailing opinion was that animals did not feel pain, was it?

Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the philosopical debate, what about frying the cabbage until brown?? Would you, could you?

Anonymous said...

What shall we all eat? Bio-created "foods" in a lab? Not being snarky, just curious as to the responses. I'm just happy for some cabbage recipes.

Anonymous said...

I think the "life" she's referring to is sulfur. I remember reading somewhere (maybe Harold McGee?) that cabbage gets smellier the longer you cook it.

Yup, it is Harold McGee, I Just ran to the bookshelf: "The amount of hydrogen sulfide produced in boiled cabbage doubles in the fifth through seventh minute of cooking. So as the pungent bite of the raw vegetable disappears, it is replaced by an ever stronger odor. This fact, together with the general rule that fewer nutrients are lost in shorter cooking periods, is good reason not to overcook this particular [vegetable]."

It is yummy with lots of butter on it though.