Hannah Glass has a receipt called “Or this Way Beans Ragoo’d with a Cabbage. “ If the 17th and 18th century mothers were lucky, they might still have a cabbage hanging in the root cellar now and a few carrots and turnips. The cabbages would be hung from their roots with the large leaves left on. The turnips and carrots would be stuck in sand to stay damp (not wet) so they think they are resting in the ground. This was the common practice of looking ahead and providing fresh produce for one’s family throughout the winter months and into early spring. So, hopefully, you still have something left in the root cellar.
I talked with Ryan Beckman at Old Sturbridge Village to see what they had in the root cellar there. Unfortunately, no cabbage, as they were hit badly with blight last year and are not growing any this year in an effort to thwart it. Ryan said they had just run out of carrots last week and are focusing on the potatoes and the multitude of eggs they are blessed with at the moment. This is the time of year that they interpret the “six weeks of want.” We have cabbage still at our Farm Markets so, here in New Hampshire, we were lucky. And I found a nice small one. The turnips fared well too and the carrots may be a bit on the wilted side yet usable.
Along with my planked fish I needed a vegetable, so this receipt seemed doable, given the coolness of the season. Having no beans yet, I omitted them and decided on fresh spring asparagus. Now this receipt has a lot of steps to it. First you must clean the cabbage and cut the stem side flat so it sits nice on a plate. Then it needs to be par-boiled so it can be pierced with a fork but not fall apart. Hannah has you put the carrots and turnips in the same pot, I did mine separately.
When the cabbage was soft, I took it out and cut a cavity in the upper part for the ragout and saved the cone to mix with the other vegetables. I mashed all the vegetables together with salt and pepper and added a little of the cabbage liquid I had saved.
The cabbage went back into the pot with a bit of water, wine, vinegar from the pickled mushroom, butter and the mushroom ketchup I had made I made last fall. This was covered and simmered gently. I needed to check on it often to make sure it did not run out of liquid. With the other vegetables mashed, I placed them by the fire to keep warm.
Once the fork slid easily through the cabbage it was removed and put on a plate stem side down. The cavity was filled with the ragout’d vegetables, and the asparagus were placed around the plate. The liquid for the last cooking of the cabbage was poured over it and my side dish was complete. I added a little more vinegar, as I like mine tart, and, as a whole, it was tasty and looked very nice on the plate.
“The cabbage surpasses all other vegetables. If, at a banquet, you wish to dine a lot and enjoy your dinner, then eat as much cabbage as you wish, seasoned with vinegar, before dinner, and likewise after dinner eat some half-dozen leaves. It will make you feel as if you had not eaten, and you can drink as much as you like.”
Cato (234-149 B.C.)