The Cabbage has been a staple vegetable for humans for millenia. We probably domesticated the wild form well over two thousand years ago, which has given us plenty of time to develop the different varieties from which we can now choose. The one I want to focus on today red cabbage.
As you well know, red cabbage is the litmus vegetable of the garden and kitchen – turning bluish if it is grown or cooked at the alkaline end of the pH spectrum, and red if it senses an acidic environment. This ability is due to the presence of one of the flavinoid pigments called anthocyanins – the same pigments that give the red colour to blood oranges, red apples, and autumn foliage, and which may well act as powerful anti-oxidants when we eat red foods.
Blue food on the other hand is not ‘natural’ to humans, probably because there are no really, truly blue foods in nature – only a few at the purplish (reddish) or blackish end of the spectrum such as blueberries and blackberries. Truly blue food is therefore quite repellent to humans – a fact exploited by the famous film-maker and practical joker Alfred Hitchcock when he held his legendary ‘Blue Dinner’ for some selected industry guests. And it is the reason why recipes for red cabbage almost always include a little vinegar or other acid, as this ensures the desirable red does not become disgusting blue in the cooking process.
As promised yesterday, my recipe inspiration this week is coming from Adam's Luxury and Eve's Cookery, or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d, published in 1744. Amongst its cabbage offering, this book has three methods for stuffing the vegetable – I don’t know of any modern or celebrity cook books that include that number for stuffed cabbage - but I digress. The red cabbage recipe is my focus today, and a fine one-pot dish this book recommends too, and ideal for a winter night or your slow-cooker. The ‘gravy’ referred to probably means meat broth, not the thickened ‘sauce’ that the word usually refers to today. The touch I like is that not just any vinegar is added at the end to preserve the colour and give the dish an edge, but elder-flower vinegar is specified.
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, put in a little Elder-Vinegar, and mix it well together.
Quotation for the Day.
Botany, n. The science of vegetables - those that are not good to eat, as well as those that are. It deals largely with their flowers, which are commonly badly designed, inartistic in color, and ill-smelling.
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) 'The Devil's Dictionary' (1911)