Christmas Cabbages

Christmas in Carolina means walking out into the vegetable patch after four days of mist and rain and returning fifteen minutes later with a fresh salad of mixed lettuces, radishes, and arugula for lunch. Look how yum…

Mmmm, lunch and dinner goodies. Lovely tender collards up top, mixed lettuces in the middle, and edible flowers at the bottom.

Mmmm, lunch and dinner goodies. Lovely tender collards up top, mixed lettuces in the middle, and edible flowers all around.

… and that wasn’t all. I also gathered tender collard leaves for dinner annnnd a gorgeous head of cabbage. That’s right, cabbage.

You may recall that my last post in this space, what seems an age ago, found me wrestling with garden pests. The cabbage worms and I were in a pitched battle back around the end of October, I was searching for a fix that didn’t involve nuking the plants with pesticides, and it wasn’t clear which side would win the war.

Remember this sorry specimen?

The drama unfolding outside my back door...

This little seedling didn’t look like it would make it.

For a while there that picture and that blog post were literally “all she wrote”–because the Goddess of Gumbo site went offline for scheduled maintenance…that dragged on for nearly eight weeks while we battled with a series of tedious technical glitches behind the scenes. Thankfully, that drama is done, and I can report the forlorn, much-chewed brassica leaves that have adorned my front page since the end of October are officially old news.

The fact is, my “Bomb”–the concoction of dish detergent, cayenne, and mint essential oil that was my “nuclear” option in the battle of the bugs–was successful in putting a major dent in the cabbage worm infestation. What pests were left were killed stone dead by a bone-chilling week of lows in the teens. While I thinned the herd by more than a few, most of the cabbages pulled through after all. They’ve been heading up slowly, but beautifully, and some are almost ready for harvest…

Just about ready for harvest.

Just about ready for harvest.

Of course, many are not. The red cabbages seem to be lagging a bit behind the green.

The red cabbages have a more refined form--and such lovely color!

The red cabbages have a more refined form–and such lovely color!

But I wasn’t able to resist harvesting one. I had two very good reasons. First of all, this was a good-sized cabbage. More importantly, it was one of the ones that had suffered the most cabbage worm damage. I was really curious as to whether there would be any signs of that early attack in the interior structure. Here’s the cabbage that I chose–

Before slicing...

Before slicing…

It may not look that bad, but that’s because I had trimmed off nearly all of the damaged outer leaves before taking the picture. Take my word for it, this was an item that could never have been offered for sale at a farmer’s market.

After slicing...

And after…

And here’s the after shot. As you see, the interior is perfection. The leaves at the heart were, in fact, meltingly tender and tasty–just right for a salad or a slaw.

So there you have it–fresh eats for three meals with a lesson about consumption and waste thrown in for lagniappe.

What I mean is, for years, I’ve prided myself on my shopping prowess–I think many women, especially, the Boomer and post-Boomer generations of us, do. We learned to be efficient, savvy shopper-gatherers from our mothers–women who were grateful to trade the supermarket aisle for the laborious process of “grubbing it out of the ground.”

Now the world has turned topsy-turvy. I’ve joined the ranks of those who find a little more “inconvenience” in terms of putting food on the table is both good for the planet and a lot more fun. So I recall all the times I’ve turned up my nose at perfectly good produce that was somehow less than perfectly perfumed, perfectly colored, or perfectly symmetrical, and I shake my head.

Growing the stuff, I find, completely changes my attitude toward eating it. Now, nothing goes to waste. Got an ugly vegetable? Is it split or chewed or just crazy looking? No prob. I just cut the “ugly” off and keep rolling with the rest. The “ugly” goes in the compost heap–the rest on the plate.

Yeah, I know. This “discovery” is a proposition that would have been completely common-sense to my grandmother–except instead of a compost heap, she would have been filling bucket of “slops” which she then would have fed to the chickens and pigs.

Ah well, I always was a slow learner. Good thing education is a bet that always pays off. After all, I spent my Christmas enjoying a gorgeous sunny day in the garden patch. I happen to think that beats a season of overspending capped by an afternoon of forced merriment with the relatives by a country mile.