They have been around 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, cabbage and kale, had originally grown wild and are believed to have been domesticated centuries earlier by the Celts, presumably before 1000 B.C. Although the Romans are often given credit for introducing this vegetable for their European allies, the humble cabbage appears in food histories and is generally credited to the Celts, as their armies invaded the Mediterranean regions, where the Romans embraced it (but they certainly didn’t embrace the Celtic armies). It became a favorite food, as it was simple and cheap 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, based upon the climates and growing conditions, cabbage took on different colors and appearances. Irrespective of who gets the nod for detecting this popular vegetable, it had been widely accepted in Europe and often sliced and fermented. (Once again, explorer Marco Polo missing out discovering cabbage in his travels but possibly ate it in his native Italy.)
Cabbage made its appearance in America 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 and initially eaten with vinaigrette, the Dutch took coleslaw into a new (and less healthy) level with the addition of egg, some type of fat and dairy, normally in the shape of our mayonnaise. This version has been referenced in American literature as far back as 1785. Some adventurous chefs included shredded carrots and jazzed it up a bit, but the basic recipe still dominates American menus. Because it was highly perishable and cluttered, it certainly wasn’t packed into the bags of military soldiers or cowboys, but it has thrived as a favorite side dish with all-American sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers, and a favorite 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 national uproar (including from this author). They replaced it with a kale salad, but that just didn’t 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 usually served as a hot vegetable. Jewish delis
Serve it cold as a side for sandwiches and a significant 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 areas just south of the Bay. Estimated total United States production is well over 35,000 metric tons annually. Production began in the Louisiana delta and finally found its way into the West Coast where the developing climate was more favorable.
Although they are a popular item on holiday tables, this author advises that you follow recipes from leading chefs to ensue they turn out tasty, firm and well-seasoned. And incidentally, 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 will be absent from the family dinner table. Bon appetit.
Author Dale Phillip admits that she abhors Brussels sprouts (no hate mail, please). It was painful to write this guide, but she feels she has a responsibility to the Brussels sprouts fans. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, she lived in one of these families who was exposed to over-boiled vegetables, even though her mother was an exceptional cook. Her favorite veggie is spinach, and she is a massive fan of sauerkraut (Czech style) which her family enjoyed weekly. She also makes and buys coleslaw and took to a long mourning period following her favourite poultry fast-food restaurant removed it from their menu.