Even when the weather's uncooperative, there's cabbage.
Although fall and winter are the main cabbage seasons, the cool-weather crop is available almost year-round. Even better, it's cheap and easy to prepare. For seven more reasons to be thankful for cabbage's ubiquity, read on:
1. Cabbage is a fertile source of world records: The heaviest cabbage listed by Guinness weighed in at 138 pounds. The plant's ability to grow to immense proportions is well-known to the more than 25,000 South Carolina schoolchildren who compete in Bonnie Plants' national scholarship program, which challenges kids to cultivate huge cabbages.
2. There are three primary types of cabbage: red, green and savoy. While the first two cultivars are commonly found in slaws and other popular cabbage dishes, savoy cabbage shows up more frequently on restaurant plates. It's easily identified by its crinkled leaves and contrasting shades of green. Savoy cabbage is sweeter, milder and more tender than red or green cabbage.
3. When choosing a cabbage, avoid obvious signs of rot and infestations: Steer clear of holes, cracks, bruises and faded leaves. A cabbage in good condition should have shiny leaves, and feel heavy for its size.
4. The word "cabbage" comes from an Old French word for "head." Nowadays, the secondary meanings of "cabbage" include money, theft and moron.
5. To prepare cabbage for coleslaw, first remove its tough outer leaves. After rinsing, vertically slice the cabbage in half with a stainless steel knife (Carbon steel will cause the leaves to turn black.) Make diagonal cuts around the core to remove it, then place the cabbage cut side-down for chopping.
6. Cabbage detractors like to cite its distinctive pungency: The Greeks were so wary of the unpleasant aroma that they avoided planting cabbage anywhere near their vineyards, for fear it would contaminate their grapes. But since the smell comes from the conversion of sulfur compounds, cooks can short-circuit the odor by steaming or quick-boiling the vegetable.
7. Cabbage is highly susceptible to disease and pests. Its natural enemies include wirestem, black rot, downy mildew, aphids, nematodes, cabbage maggots, imported cabbage worms and cabbage root flies. The good news is, cabbage is on the research list at the U.S. Vegetable Lab on Savannah Highway.