If I look at other food writers and cooks, I am definitely not the only one with a complex attitude toward cabbage. There aren’t many who would pour their hearts out in an unmitigated love serenade to the forebear of all brassicas. The only one I can think of is Nora Ephron, with her piece “The Lost Strudel” — admittedly less of a love song and more of an elegy.
Ephron’s strudel, a savory version stuffed with cabbage, was made in a Hungarian bakery on Third Avenue in Manhattan called Mrs. Herbst’s. It had a buttery, flaky, crispy crust, “with a moist filling of sautéed cabbage that’s simultaneously sweet, savory and completely unexpected, like all good things.”
Alas, Mrs. Herbst’s shut its doors around 1982, and Ephron, despite her best efforts, couldn’t find an alternative or recreate the original. As she writes: “And so, at first, you hope. And then, you hope against hope. And then finally, you lose hope. And there you have it: the three stages of grief when it comes to lost food.”
Another author who seems to conflate humans and cabbages is the English food writer Jane Grigson. “As a vegetable,” she writes, “it has original sin, and needs improvement. It can smell foul in the pot, linger through the house with pertinacity, and ruin a meal with its wet flab. Cabbage also has a nasty history of being good for you.”
So there you have it, all of cabbage’s shortcomings, laid out on a platter, no words minced.
Yet Grigson also begins to hint at solutions and mitigating circumstances. No. 1 is the type of cabbage used. She mentions John Evelyn, a 17th-century English writer and horticulturist who wrote about savoy cabbage, a relatively new variety at the time that was “not so rank, but agreeable to most Palates.” If I were a savoy cabbage, I wouldn’t welcome that compliment.