Wednesday, May 4, 2011

CABBAGE



Cabbage is a vegetable that comes from the ground like magic. It is sometimes mistaken for lettuce, which is a terrible mistake. They look alike, in many ways. It can be very confusing.

Cabbage has been eaten by many people throughout history. It has gotten the silent stamp of approval from millions. I think it is a thing of Europe? Is that true? Do Europeans like cabbage? I seems like they would. I'm going to go on record with this. Europe loves the humble cabbage.

I was taught to cook cabbage in three ways. The first involves eating it raw, right out of the dirt, with a little salt. That is a satisfying and simple method. It is crunchy, and requires no effort, aside from maybe a little rinsing and slight chopping. The next way involves slicing it into pieces with a knife (or a small hatchet), throwing it in a pan with some oil, and cooking it down until it is hot and steamy. Maybe some salt would be good at this point. I would not presume to tell anyone how to season their veggies. I am not a presumptuous man.

The third method is passed down from the Deutschlanders from whence I am bred. It is the way of sauerkraut, and it is delicious. Many were the autumn afternoons I spent with my family, shredding cabbage with large graters, packing the stuff into mason jars, and watching the jars then be sealed with secret spices and vinegars.

(Full disclosure: I did not do this very often. It is super boring.)

The jars would then go in our "kraut cellar", which was mostly just a big hole under our porch. In the months to come we would crack open those jars, and then eat that kraut. We ate that kraut so hard.

I enjoy the nasty, soggy sauerkraut that comes on sidewalk vendor hot dogs, and also the fancy stuff that expensive bratwurst and knackwurst sit on top of at fancy Bavarian restaurants. When I was a young child, one of my neighbors was in Patton's Third Army, and marched across France in World War Two. He said that the Germans would carry sacks of sauerkraut as part of their rations, and that they smelled something terrible. I was really young and didn't quite realize what he was talking about, and took him at his word. In retrospect, he may have been fucking with me.

(Thinking about the stories I was told drove me to google "german army rations ww2". Someday, when my body is found slumped and cold due to "mysterious circumstances", that will be on my browser history, right after "Susanna Hoffs" and "cabbage head kids in the hall". I hope I am not judged too harshly by posterity.)

The World War II veteran in question was a really nice guy, and he had greenhouses that were fascinating places when I was a kid. I remember how the small pebble gravel crunched when you walked, and the air was always humid and aromatic. A system of pipes hanging from the rafters misted the plants now and then, and there was an occasional piece of interesting or comical pottery hidden here and there. The way the sunlight diffused through the ceiling and walls gave everything an ethereal quality, and coupled with these antiquated, purple, florescent lights that ran in long rows throughout, walking into the greenhouses was like being in a completely new world. I get the same feeling going to the different climate pavilions at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and it's still a weird and quietly thrilling experience.

I once saved up my money because I decided I wanted a cactus, and when I went to buy one, he refused to let me pay for it, insisting I take it as a gift. His wife always called him by his last name, which made me laugh, and the first time I ever saw DOCTOR WHO was at their house, one night while they were babysitting me. It was a super creepy rerun of an early black and white episode, and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen on television.

I often wish I had had the foresight and wherewithal as a teenager to take a tape recorder over to those greenhouses, and interview this gent. I wish I had his stories about World War II on record, and I wish I knew more about the plants that sat in neat rows up and down the greenhouse walls and in a huge trough down the center. Mostly the World War II stuff, though. This is a major regret in my life.

The last time I was in Tennessee, I noticed that the greenhouses were in total disrepair. My neighbor and his wife have long since passed away, and creeper vines and entropy have taken their toll on the buildings. The cactus did not last either.

Amyway, I like cabbage.