They’ve existed since the 16th century and found their way through Europe and across the channel to the British Isles from their native Belgium. Their bigger relatives, broccoli and cabbage, had originally grown wild and are believed to have been domesticated centuries before from the Celts, presumably before 1000 B.C. Although the Romans are often given credit for introducing this vegetable to their European allies, the humble cabbage looks in food histories and is usually credited to the Celts, as their armies invaded the Mediterranean regions, where the Romans embraced it (but they most certainly did not embrace the Celtic armies). It became a favorite food, as it was easy and inexpensive to grow and could be dropped into a pot of boiling water and eaten plain or in a soup or stew. No blue-blooded Irishman would observe St. Patrick’s Day without a plate of corned beef and cabbage.
Throughout history, conquering armies have frequently taken their popular foods into other countries and, depending on the climates and growing conditions, cabbage took on different colors and appearances. Regardless of who gets the nod for discovering this popular vegetable, it had been widely accepted in Europe and frequently sliced and fermented. (Once again, explorer Marco Polo lost out discovering cabbage in his travels but possibly ate it in his native Italy.)
Cabbage made its appearance in the usa around 1700 and was likely grown and eaten by the colonists, in addition to some Native Americans. Although usually cooked, in the 1700s the Dutch created a raw”cabbage salad” which became what is now our modern day coleslaw. Centuries before, cut up and originally eaten with vinaigrette, the Dutch took coleslaw to a new (and less healthy) amount by adding egg, some type of fat and dairy, usually in the shape of our mayonnaise. This version was referenced in American literature as far back as 1785. Some adventurous chefs added shredded carrots and jazzed it up a bit, but the basic recipe still dominates American menus. Since it was highly perishable and cluttered, it certainly wasn’t packed to the bags of military soldiers or cowboys, but it has thrived as a favorite side dish with all-American sandwiches, hot dogs and hamburgers, and a popular salad with barbeque and fried chicken.
When the wildly popular fast food restaurant that specializes in chicken eliminated it from their menu, there was a nationwide uproar (including from this author). They replaced it with a kale salad, but that just did not cut it for coleslaw lovers, which attests to its popularity. Kentucky Fried Chicken still continues to serve it as a popular side, and no self-respecting deli would dare keep it off their menu.
And talking of shredded cabbage, the Germans, Czechs and Polish all have their beloved fermented sauerkraut, which is generally served as a hot vegetable. Jewish delis
Serve it cold as a side for a major filling in Reuben sandwiches. Over 90 percent of the U.S. supply of these miniature cabbages are grown in the cool climate of San Francisco and
Agricultural regions just south of the Bay. Estimated total United States production is well over 35,000 metric tons annually. Production started in the Louisiana delta and finally found its way into the West Coast where the growing climate was more favorable.
Although they are a popular item on holiday tables, this author advises that you follow recipes from top chefs to ensue they turn out tasty, company and well-seasoned. And by the way, Brussels sprouts top the list as the most hated vegetable in the U.S. and consistently make the top five list worldwide. So for those people in that camp, they’ll be absent from the family dinner table. Bon appetit.
Writer Dale Phillip confesses that she abhors Brussels sprouts (no hate mail, please). It was painful to write this guide, but she believes she has a responsibility to the Brussels sprouts lovers. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, she lived in one of these families who was exposed to over-boiled vegetables, although her mother was an exceptional cook. Her favorite veggie is spinach, and she is a huge fan of sauerkraut (Czech style) that her family enjoyed weekly. She also buys and makes coleslaw and took to a long mourning period following her favorite chicken fast-food restaurant removed it from their menu.