Cabbage has appeared previously in the Fresh Take position, opening this column up to charges of being an “aufgewarmter Kohl,” or warmed-over cabbage (the German idiom for an old story.)
But Xiao Bao Biscuit owner Joshua Walker was insistent on showcasing the savoy, which he guarantees is more enthralling than tatsoi and daikon, among other Asian vegetables now ready for harvesting from specialty farms and gardens in the Lowcountry. “It's one of my faves,” Walker says. Why all the fuss? Perhaps one of the following seven facts will help explain the brassica's allure:
1. Savoy cabbage is renowned for its crinkly leaves, which are sufficiently tender for eating raw. Unlike the red or green cabbages that only appear in the raw when they're chopped up for coleslaw, savoy cabbage works as a lettuce substitute in salads; a savoy leaf also can be used as the outer shell of a vegetable wrap.
2. The downside of the savoy cabbage's construction is the tender leaves often fall victim to overcooking: Take care when roasting, braising, boiling or steaming. And because its thin leaves aren't packed as tightly as red or green cabbage leaves, the savoy head is more susceptible to collecting moisture and rotting. Even when stored in the refrigerator, a savoy cabbage is unlikely to last much more than a week.
3. Around the time that French explorer Jacques Cartier was planting North America's first cabbages, Savoy cabbage started appearing in Germany. Within a few decades, it was being planted in England; its English name debuted in print in 1578. Although the medieval Savoy region encompassed the modern border of Italy, France and Switzerland, its namesake cabbage may have come from Holland.
4. Unlike many vegetables, savoy cabbage belongs to the small group of greens enhanced by frost. While South Carolina savoys aren't always the beneficiaries of cold winter weather, the late food writer Angelo Pelligrini wrote evocatively of unearthing savoy cabbage from his snowed-over garden in Seattle: “There is something in the declining sun, in the gradual cooling of the earth ... if man can freeze vegetables and preserve them for the table, why not nature?”
5. Once savoy cabbages established a British foothold, they were incorporated into Halloween celebrations. According to English food writer Jane Grigson, “Mummers would go round and bang on doors with cabbages and turnips stuck on the ends of sticks.” The cabbage pounding and singing would continue until a person inside the house produced a scone or potato, presumably as a snack rather than a projectile.
6. Savoy cabbage is a good source of fiber and vitamins C, K and B6. But because it's so handsome, it's sometimes planted for purely ornamental purposes.
7. Judging from letters sent to agricultural journals, 18th-century savoy cabbage growers were forever coping with grubs and other vermin. “The Complete Farmer,” published in 1767, recommended removing offending bugs by hand “as fast as they are seen, and destroyed by treading them under foot.” In the event of too many invaders to address one-by-one, the manual suggested sending a flock of turkeys into the savoy patch.