200 days of this and I get to celebrate with …cabbage? Oh, come on! Throw me a bone here. Couldn’t it be cake? Maybe some champagne? Hell, even a victory steak would have been nice? But no, it’s cabbage – the smelly kid at the back of the class. I suppose it does kind of reflect the randomness of the this whole quest. I’m just following the calendar and have no influence on whatever it is we are celebrating. It reminds me that it’s not all glamour here. This journey has not been all cupcakes and cotton candy. It’s been sardines and apricots too. And now cabbage.
Cabbage is a leafy vegetable from the brassicas family in the botanical world. That’s a family that includes such produce department stars as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, rutabaga and turnip as well as a large variety of common weeds. It’s been around for thousands of years and it’s part of almost every culture’s cooking and tradition. It’s come a long way. The original plants had much thicker leafs which allowed them to retain more water which helped them grow in colder climates. Anyone that has been to a winter farmer’s market in New England would know that fact because cabbage seems to be one of your three choices of vegetables at a winter’s market (the others being carrots and turnips). Round-headed cabbages, what we see today, first showed up in the 14th century in England and then spread to Europe and beyond. In the mid-16th century, French explorer Jacques Cartier brought the first cabbage to America. Cabbage became necessary on long ocean journeys because it has high amounts of vitamin C which prevent scurvy. Ship doctors also used sauerkraut (cabbage preserved in brine) to treat wounds of sailors and prevent gangrene. Why aren’t there any sea ditties about the merits of cabbage? It would seem appropriate. (Source: History of Cabbage from VegetableFacts.net)
I don’t hate cabbage. I actually like it in many forms. Coleslaw (or any slaw) for instance. My mom used to make a pretty good one using green cabbage, mayo, a little vinegar and some sugar. That’s the coleslaw of my youth. The coleslaw at KFC is also a star and in fact, if you skip the slaw with your chicken, gravy and biscuits, you are missing out. I’m always excited to try the slaw at any barbecue place too. In fact, that should be part of how you judge a BBQ joint. Not just on the ribs and sauce, but on the slaw and cornbread too. Outside of coleslaw, if you have ever tried a fish taco, the slaw in the taco is a big part of the taste. The cabbage gives it that crunch that you need in a taco bite plus its coolness brings in a great balance to the hot, crispy fish. It’s kind of what makes the taco. I’m all for slaws.
Sauerkraut on the other hand is a different story. I can’t get myself to try it. I think because the name scares me, and then the smell does. I hear people rave about it. Perfect on a hot dog or on a Reuben sandwich. But I just can’t get past the smell and look. It looks like a swamp monster just coughed up a hairball. There is no color there. It’s almost transparent. Plus it smells like my gym bag. I also know I’m missing out too because a Reuben sounds like a pretty good time. But the heart wants what it wants and the nose smells what it smells
Being of Irish Catholic descent, I of course know about cabbage as the thing that gets served next to the corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. Growing up, I would always push the cabbage aside. Then when I was older, we served it a restaurant I was working at and I decided to gave it a try. It was actually pretty good. Really good. It soaks up the flavor of the beef and the brine so it delivers a great taste in every bite. So I’m a fan. It does stink however. It’s the curse of cabbage. I could have made that today, but I have a feeling that a corned beef and cabbage dinner will be coming in about a month, so I didn’t want to over do it. I’ll save myself, as I do every year, for my annual corned beef and cabbage feast on St. Patrick’s Day.
The smell is why I didn’t want to cook cabbage at home. There’s something about boiled cabbage that just emits an odor that can only be compared to feet. That’s not a selling point. The smell of something cooking should be soothing, warming and enticing. It should not make you think what has gone bad. That’s where cabbage needs some help in the PR department. Plus it’s a lingering smell too. Tonight’s boiled cabbage will waft around in the air until tomorrow. No thanks. But if I wasn’t going to cook cabbage at home, I had to figure out where I would be able to get a cabbage dinner. I know that stuffed cabbage is an Italian dish that’s pretty popular, but I don’t think I have ever seen it on a take-out menu. I think they have some kind of stuffed cabbage on the hot prepared food line at Clements Market, but I wasn’t sure. All my ideas had a glimmer of hope, but nothing was a definite. I din’t feel like going on a goose chase either. Then I remembered a place that definitely has cabbage on the menu and that celebrates a culture that truly enjoys their cabbage. That culture was Polish and the restaurant was Patti’s Pierogis.
Lola was going out for the night with her friends, so I was on my own for dinner. I called ahead for a take-out order and went heavy on the cabbage. I started with a soup called Kapusta, which is a Polish stew of cabbage, potatoes, kielbasa and onion. I followed that up with some Cabbage Kraut Pork pierogis which were billed as Guy’s favorite (that would be Guy Fieri who has filmed his show at Patti’s). I figured that was a good recommendation. Then I finished my order with a golabki. That’s how it is written on the menu, but it should be written as ‘gołąbki’ with that weird letter in the middle. It’s pronounced as “Go-wum-ki” and makes you feel like an idiot when you order it as “Go-lob-ki.” It’s simply a boiled cabbage leaf stuffed with rice and pork and topped in a tomato sauce. That was a pretty could smattering of cabbage food, so I placed the order and then took the ten minute drive to Fall River to go pick it up.
We went to Patti’s back in the summer on National Pierogi Day. It’s a hidden gem in the heart of Fall River and it specializes in pierogis, so it’s not your typical restaurant. Polish food is their expertise and they do a great job with it. The place was busy as usual, but nothing crazy. I found a parking spot right in front. I then found a spot at the bar between guys playing Keno which was where I picked up my order. I was home in no time with some delicious hot cabbage for dinner. I carefully took it out of the packaging and put it on plates so I could at least pretend to be civilized. Then I went to feasting.
That was the Kapusta which gave me a first awful whiff of cabbage. I guess I was expecting that, but it still took me by surprise. It was very thick with shredded cabbage and had a sauerkraut look to it. I stirred it up and found some nice chunks of potatoes in there and some slices of kielbasa as well. It was a hardy soup for sure. I will say the potatoes and kielbasa were excellent. They gave it the texture it needed, plus the potatoes soaked up all the goodness inside and they were especially tender and tasty. The cabbage was just ok. It tasted like sauerkraut to me (at least what I remember it tastes like from the few times I have tasted sauerkraut.) Plus the cabbage smell was pretty strong so it would float into your nostrils before every bite. A good soup, but not my favorite. I would have preferred it without the cabbage.
They are famous for the pierogis and the pierogis were great. The pork was very subtle but definitely gave each pierogi a little extra flavor. The kraut inside was the dominant flavor. It wasn’t too bad as it was wrapped inside the doughy goodness of the pierogi which was fried to perfection, but it was still a sauerkraut taste. It was fine however. My only regret is that there are so many varieties of pierogis on their menu, I was eating the ones that I’d probably not select. I would have much preferred a plain potato and onion one. But, it was cabbage day, so I had to brave through it. The Golabki was actually the star of the dinner. The cabbage had that good, deep cooked cabbage flavor and it was tightly wrapped around the rice and pork which was delicious. Combined with the tomato sauce, it made a great combo. I could have had just this for dinner and been happy. I may not have loved the pierogis and the kapusta, but the golabki was a star. When we go back to Patti’s for other pierogis (cabbage be damned), I will order up a golabki because it’s that good.
My problem now was that I had a house that stunk like cabbage and a wife who would be coming back home in about an hour. I cleaned up all my dishes and then lit a candle to help alleviate the odor. I felt that seemed like suspicious behavior – what guy lights a candle when he’s home alone? – so I made sure I blew it out about a half hour before she was expected home. I also brushed my teeth in the hopes to get rid of kraut breath. My only other concern was what was happening inside my belly – the curse of the cabbage. That would be a bit more difficult to cover up. But I think I managed. When Lola came home she was none the wiser. Until now, I suppose.
200 hundred straight days of celebrating and I got to feast on cabbage like a scurvy-ridden sailor. Cabbage isn’t all that bad. It’s really not. I kind of enjoy it. It just has some baggage, as we all do. I’ve learned that this quest is about rolling with it. Don’t worry about what the calendar says, just follow along, use your head and good things will come. So far it’s worked. Let’s see how that works out for the next 165. Thanks for following along.
Next Up: National Drink Wine Day (See! They’re not all bad)