‘Of Cabbages and Kings’
“Now is the time, the Walrus said,
To talk of special things,
of shoes and ships and sealing wax,
of cabbages and kings.”
Obtaining the object of an archetypal quest usually involves a treacherous journey and slaying a horrific beast to acquire something rare or exotic. Once, I undertook a more mundane, but no less arduous quest; it began with the acquisition of a tiny
cabbage. For those unfamiliar with the breed, its wriggly ribs make it look like an exposed cranial lobe. Its leaves are tender, its taste and fragrance discreet; overall, a refined cousin of the plebian kind, and so named because of the Savoy dynasty’s predilection for its delicate charms. Savoy
I rarely buy or cook cabbage for the pragmatic reason that they’re usually too big for two people who aren’t of hearty German peasant or Dukhobor stock. But this little beauty was inspiring; so I decided to do an old-fashioned boiled dinner and began to plan the meal in earnest. I had the central motif of this culinary overture, which was the duet of cabbage and ham and the chorus of root vegetables, what was missing was the bass line – potatoes. However, it would be just too much like a boiled dinner to simply plop-in a few chunks of potato. It seemed so pedestrian, so rainy Wednesday night, when what I anticipated was the golden twilight of a Sunday evening.
A rummage through my cookbooks turned-up Potato Suet Dumplings. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a dumpling I didn’t like. A perusal of my larder revealed I had everything but the suet; its acquisition would surely be a mere bagatelle.
That smug conceit revealed my hubris; after sallies to four provenders, a glint of hope presented itself as an empty freezer shelf bearing the name of the object of my desire. A rather frustrating, but typical exchange with a fresh-faced clerk ensued: “Do you carry suet?” “Yeah” “Have you any in the store now?” “Nah” “Will you have some later?” “Yeah” “When, later?”… and so it went.
Hope, but no glory. This illustrates the essential difference between the two British national characters (Scottish and Irish) that settled
and Nova Scotia respectively. In matters of commercial exchange the former is exact and taciturn, so much so that if the Spanish Grand Inquisitor had set-up shop here, he would have beat it back to Newfoundland as fast as his galleon could carry him. However, the latter is another ‘kettle of fish altogether’. If I had been the interlocutor of a Newfoundlander, I would’ve learned all after my first breath, plus his grandmother’s recipe for mincemeat, and the sorry state of her ‘bad leg’ which prevents her from working this little culinary miracle. Either can be trying to someone who has a quest to complete before the next vernal equinox, or by .. Iberia
I trudged home disappointed, when my husband ‘pulled the fat out of the fire’: bacon trimmings! He had frozen some after his last English breakfast ‘fry-up’. I chopped the required amount finely, folded it into the dough and by all was bubbling along merrily; the dumplings being light and golden; the ham languorously falling from the bone; and the cabbage floating as pale green gossamer ribbons throughout.
By , the soft hush of contentment enveloped us as we polished-off the last of the Pinot Noir. We sighed; we yawned and stretched; and reckoned we had indeed feasted royally, on cabbage, like kings.
Braised Cabbage and Ham with Dumplings
· 1 cup mashed potatoes
· ½ cup cold, finely minced uncooked bacon fat or ¾ cups suet
· 1 ½ cup self-rising rising flour
· 1/3 cup warm water
· 1 tsp. savoury
· 1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
· Pinch of salt and pepper
In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients, gradually adding the water to form a soft dough. Knead lightly to ensure even blending; cut into 16 equal pieces and shape into round dumplings.
Braised Cabbage and Ham
· 2 ½ -3 lbs. smoked ham or corned beef, par- boiled to purge excess salt; trim fat
· ½ medium
· 2 cloves garlic chopped
· 1 large red onion
· 2 Granny Smith apples peeled and cored (substitute 1 fennel bulb trimmed for corned beef )
· 1 tsp. each: pickling spice, pepper and salt
· 1 ¾ cups hard apple cider ( substitute1 ¾ cups dry white wine for corned beef)
Coarsely chop all the vegetables and apples, place with meat and seasonings in a large covered casserole. Preheat oven to 365, add cider or wine and 1 ½ cups water. Cover and cook for 1 hour, turning meat, occasionally. Remove lid, add dumplings, raising heat to 375 and cook uncovered for 20 mins. until dumplings are cooked through.