On this day in 1709, the writer Jonathan Swift penned a letter to “Stella”, the young woman whom he may or may not have married. In it he mentioned one of the many street vendors who cried their wares in the city streets of the time:
Morning. I am so very sleepy in the morning, that my man wakens me above ten times; and now I can tell you no news of this day. (Here is a restless dog, crying cabbages and savoys, plagues me every morning about this time; he is now at it. I wish his largest cabbage were sticking in his throat.)
I hope that the street vendor had red cabbage, for that is surely the Christmas cabbage of choice. Red cabbage acts as a pH indicator, so to preserve the colour, it is adviseable to include an acidic ingredient. I give you a small selection of fine seasonal ideas for this colourful vegetable, from The Illustrated London Cookery Book (1852) by Frederick Bishop.
Chine of Pork.
Generally used at Christmas. This, when properly cured, is mostly used cold; boil it in a cloth, with a sauce of red cabbage, or sauer krout if cold; garnish with parsley.
Cabbage, Red, to Pickle.
Quarter a purple red cabbage, cut out the stalk, then slice down the cabbage endways; put them on a drying sieve, sprinkling each layer of cabbage with salt, which lay and drain two or three days; then put it into a jar, boil some vinegar with spice tied up in a muslin bag; cut a beetroot of good colour into slices, the branches of cauliflower cut off, after it has lain in salt, will look and be of a beautiful red; put it into an earthen jar, and pour the boiling vinegar over it.
[the role of cauliflower in this recipe is unclear !]
They are mostly stewed to eat with ham, bacon, or smoked sausages, though sometimes without any meat, they are very strong eating, and should be first scalded, then stewed with butter, pepper, salt, and cloves, and vinegar added to it just before serving; they are considered wholesome in veal broth for consumptions, but are most proper for pickling.
To Stew Red Cabbage.
Trim and quarter a young cabbage, cut out the stalk, cut it end ways into fine pieces, put into a stewpan two large onions, one stuck with cloves, a large piece of fat and lean ham, a tea-cup of vinegar, cover it over and stew over a slow fire for several hours, season it with pepper and salt, add a little good stock or brown sauce, it will go hot under what it is required for.