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Cabbage Patch Quiz : The Reasons to Grow This Leafy Winter Staple Are Many

January 25, 1998|SUSAN HEEGER

Why would anyone plant cabbage?

For pennies a pound, you can buy it washed and shredded, ready to drop into your salad. And in the regal company of baby corn, orange peppers or white eggplant, cabbage is a commoner, associated throughout its history with starving peasants. What's more, a dense, hard cabbage head is also a well-known metaphor for stupidity.

Yet there's something magic about Brassica oleracea. It has weight. It has substance. Hold one in your hand. Watch it grow from speck to sphere, gathering steam like a snowball rolling downhill. When you loosen the leaves from their turgid clasp, you know you're getting to the heart of something.

A cool-weather vegetable, cabbage grows from fall into early summer in moist, fertile soil. A native of western Europe, it comes in many shapes and sizes, from the large, smooth green we chop for coleslaw to the smaller reds and ruffled Savoys. It likes room to roam and partners well in the kitchen patch with potatoes, beets, celery and onions. Nitrogen fertilizer will make it leafier, and shifting its location from year to year will keep the bugs down.

Despite the abuse cabbage has taken, it places high on the nutritional heap, with more vitamin C than corn, more calcium than peppers and more vitamin A than the tender eggplant. Not to mention how it lifts your spirits to glimpse those improbable heads, beaded with dew, braving the elements in your winter garden.

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