Whatever the weather, our friend and neighbour Emma Chambers, makes a delivery of her vegetables with a cheery smile. She grows most of her produce within the walls of the Shaftesbury Estate, Wimborne St Giles and at the beginning of the week we receive an email full of news from her plot along with a reminder of what is in season and the treats that have joined her regular list. Emma’s message may contain a recipe or it may be news that a tree blew down in the night and squashed her hen house but luckily the birds survived! During the late winter we will learn stories of the robin who follows her diligently around the beds as she digs or mulches and in the hot summer months we may have a little grumble that it is too hot and she would LOVE some rain.
Last Monday Emma sold the virtues of cabbage. I HATE cabbage, it reminds me of over- cooked school dinners, the remnants of which I would hide in the pockets of my pinafore, when the prefect wasn’t looking. I always intended to dispose of the offending vegetable as soon as the opportunity arose, along with the bacon rind that also found its way into my bulging dress. Somehow, my mind was distracted after lunch and I forgot this chore, so I dread to think of the mangled deposits concealed in my clothing, that made their way to the laundry.
I am sure everyone can share childish exploits of hiding cabbage under the neatly placed knife and fork on your dinner plate or even throwing it across to the fat Labrador waiting at the end of the table who will eat anything… well almost anything.
But bless her, Emma sold the virtues of cabbage so well. She shared nostalgic thoughts of how proud it made her feel to be growing them in such an historic garden. For a moment I had a vision of her toiling away, within those beautiful walls and I couldn’t resist ticking the box on her spreadsheet and so committing the greens to my order. It was only when I had pressed send, that I began wondering what I was going to do with it.
There is a tale that cabbages were first grown in this little corner of Dorset. In fact, if you visit the village church take time to admire the beautiful stained glass windows. Look carefully and you may discover images that depict the infamous vegetable. The first baronet, Sir Anthony Ashley (1551-1627/8), inherited the St Giles Estates upon the death of his cousin Sir Henry Ashley III. It was Sir Anthony who imported the first cabbage seeds from Holland to England and they were grown here in the village during his lifetime.
Back to the present and our vegetable box arrived just in time for the weekend and sure enough there was the offending Deadon cabbage, but I couldn’t deny how beautiful it was. Squeaky fresh and covered in delicate raindrops, the hearty brassica must have just been picked within moments of being delivered and it was large enough to feed at least ten hungry mouths.
You can do this, I told myself, a beautiful cabbage such as this deserves to be loved or at the very least appreciated for the care that it has been given to grow and flourish.
Seven ways to enjoy your greens…
- Preheat your wok or place a heavy based frying pan on the floor of your AGA roasting oven. Finely shred the green leaves and stir fry in rapeseed oil. When it is almost done, add a finely chopped red chili a little garlic, a squeeze of lemon and some toasted pine nuts. Serve as a side or top with a fried egg for a quick lunch dish.
- For a one pot midweek meal, quickly slice an onion or add some shallot confit to a large preheated pan, allow a couple of sausages per person and cut each of these into three chunks. Add to the pan and stir until they are beginning to brown add a couple of handfuls of chopped cabbage along with a bottle of cider, a dollop of wholegrain mustard and a teaspoon of apple or redcurrant jelly. Stir to combine then pop the lid on and place on the lowest runners of the AGA roasting oven or 180 C in your conventional stove. Cook for 30 minutes or until the sausages are piping hot. If you like throw in a handful of frozen peas, and bring back to the boil on the hob or in the oven with the lid off, so that the peas are just cooked and do not lose their colour. Serve with sourdough to soak up the juices.
- For the Sunday roast, I often cook leeks to serve as a vegetable, partner these with blanch and refreshed shredded cabbage and serve with a little parsley butter. You will find that the sweetness of the leeks is the perfect remedy to lift the bitter greens to new heights.
- For a casual weekend lunch with friends, make AGA chips or potato wedges brushed with olive oil and roasted until the skins are crispy and the insides are light and fluffy. Slow roast ribs that have been marinated in your favourite sweet and sour recipe. Whilst these are cooking simply shred the softer white inner leaves and combine with finely sliced fennel and a couple of crisp eating apples. At the last minute dress with an emulsion of mustard, honey, cider vinegar and rapeseed oil and season well to serve.
- Who can resist Colcannon? All of that rich and creamy mash combined with tender spring onions softened in butter, alleviates any thoughts of bitter cabbage. Serve alongside a couple of bacon rashers or a gammon joint that has slowly simmered in the AGA. We select King Edward potatoes to create a fluffy mash and cook our spuds using the 80/20 rule*. If you are preparing your potatoes on the hob, make sure they are completely dry before you mash them and then warm your single cream or butter and milk gently before adding it to the mashed potatoes. Meanwhile blanch and refresh the cabbage and sweat the spring onions until tender. Mix everything together well and season generously.
- Waste NOT, Want NOT. Wash the outer leaves in salted water and remove the coarse stem. Blanch for a minute in boiling water and then refresh in iced water. Pat dry and then stuff with leftover risotto or roasted vegetables. Make a rich tomato sauce using the same simple method that we serve with our homegrown baked beans then pour this over the top of the stuffed cabbage leaves and bake in the oven until piping hot.
- And finally, if there is any cabbage left, ferment it with a generous sprinkling of Dorset Sea Salt and some dried caraway or fennel seeds.
*If you are reading this and you are an AGA cook wondering what the 80/20 rule is, you really need to treat yourself to one of our courses and learn how to make the most of your beloved stove!