The Ancient Gardener's Instructor: Dispatches from Wesley Greene
December 26, 2012Now that the nighttime temperatures are falling below 30° Fahrenheit it is time to harvest the cabbage coleworts. We spoke last week of the collard green that is so well loved in the southern states, seldom grown in the northern states and are virtually unknown in Europe. The reason for this disparity in popularity is that the ancient colewort, which became the American collard, was replaced in England during the 18th century with the cabbage colewort which is nothing more than the common cabbage harvested before it forms its head. This was explained in The garden vade mecum, published in England in 1790, “The cabbage colewort, raised from the seed of any of the smaller-heading cabbages, is greatly preferable for tender boiling and eating to the common open colewort, which boil tough and rank-tasted; and therefore it is advisable to raise only the cabbage colewort for the table.”
The taste for cabbages over coleworts appears to be a northern trait that is expressed in this country by Philadelphia nursery man, Bernard McMahon in 1806: “Savoy, Battersea and Sugar loaf cabbages are grown for a supply of young greens and when used in that state they are called coleworts, having totally superseded the true colewort, which was formerly cultivated for boiled salads.”Cabbage-coleworts are, indeed, much milder flavored than is the collard green which may better agree with the more delicate palate of the northern epicurean. It may also be true that northern chefs have not yet learned the art of growing and preparing the collard green. Be that as it may, if your cabbages have not yet formed their heads when freezing weather arrives they are better used in the open headed, or cabbage colewort, stage as they will almost certainly degenerate in the severe weather of mid-winter.
For a further illumination of the Brassica genus we invite you to examine Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners. (Rodale Press)