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Go green with versatile and inexpensive cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day


March 11, 2014
By Susan Greer Canadian Press

March 11, 2014 , London, Ont. – Corned beef and cabbage is
about as authentically Irish as pizza. But in North America, and particularly
in the U.S., it is synonymous with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

March 11, 2014 , London, Ont. – Corned beef and cabbage is
about as authentically Irish as pizza. But in North America, and particularly
in the U.S., it is synonymous with the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

The story goes that impoverished Irish
immigrants to New York couldn’t get or afford their first choice — Irish bacon,
which is similar to back bacon — so they borrowed the idea of corned beef from
their Jewish neighbours. Potatoes were available, but cabbage was cheaper, so
the Irish-American tradition of corned beef and cabbage was born.

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It has become so popular that the U.S.
Agricultural Marketing Resource Centre says March sees the biggest demand for
cabbage in that country because of St. Patrick’s Day. But that could be a
problem this year.

A U.S. trade publication called The Packer
says the “polar vortex” that reached far into the southern States this winter
hurt cabbage crops in northern Florida and Texas, limiting supplies and
resulting in prices that almost doubled in February and were expected to
continue into March.

Canadian cabbage fans don’t have to worry,
at least not for a while.

Homegrown cabbage harvested last fall will
be available here until April, says Jamie Reaume, chair of the Ontario Food
Terminal in Toronto and executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers’
Association, based in Newmarket, Ont.

When Canadian consumers could see the
effects of the U.S. problems is in May and June, he says, what Canadian growers
call their “lull time — just between the end of our stored cabbage and the
beginning of the new crop season for July.”

He also says there is no spike in Canadian
demand for cabbage corresponding to St. Patrick’s Day and called cabbage sales
“pretty flat line” throughout the year.

Cabbage is grown commercially in most
provinces in Canada, says Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, with Quebec leading
the way, followed by Ontario. The main varieties are green, red and Savoy
cabbage, but green is the most common because it stores best over the winter.
But in a test last year, the more delicate varieties were successfully stored,
Reaume says, so that could be a trend in the future of the industry.

Mary Shabatura and her family grow about 40
hectares of green, red and Savoy cabbage in Ontario’s Norfolk County. Depending
on the weather, they will plant their spring crop in April for harvest as early
as June, with additional plantings in May and June. The early varieties take 50
to 60 days to mature, while the hardier storage type — mainly the green cabbage
— take about 120 days, she says.

“For the spring ones, you won’t get as
heavy a head. It will be a lighter head (in weight) and very green.”

Green cabbage has the strongest taste, she
says. Savoy, which has dark green crinkled leaves, “is a little softer (in
texture) and is a milder cabbage (in taste).”

But the two can often be used
interchangeably in many recipes.

Napa cabbage, sometimes called Chinese
cabbage, with pale green crinkled leaves and a white core, looks more like a
head of romaine lettuce than a typical head of cabbage and has the mildest
flavour.

Shabatura uses cabbage a lot in her
kitchen, both cooked in soups, stews and cabbage rolls and raw in coleslaw.

The key to combating the smell of cooking
cabbage is not to overcook it, says Foodland Ontario. It should be cooked
quickly, until just tender, in an uncovered pot.

Other suggestions include using
stainless-steel or enamelled cast-iron pans to cook cabbage instead of aluminum
and adding a bay leaf, a little vinegar or lemon juice to the pot. Vinegar or
lemon juice will also preserve the bright colour of red cabbage.

Cabbage is a versatile vegetable. It can be
steamed, boiled, braised in butter, microwaved, baked, pickled or added to
stir-fries.

Nutritionally it is a good source of
vitamin C and is associated with lowered risk of certain cancers.

When buying cabbage, look for firm, heavy
heads of green, red and Savoy cabbage with closely furled leaves. Napa should
be crisp and pale green.

It can be refrigerated, tightly wrapped in
plastic, for up to two weeks. Once cut, it should be used within a few days.