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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
St. Patty's Day Cabbage
With a name like Guido, you can figure that I'm Italian, and quite proud of it. But with St. Patrick's Day approaching, I'll put my Italian heritage in neutral for a day. (My apologies to my fellow Pisans!)

Every nationality has a recognizable claim on a produce item or two. Our neighbors south of the border are most associated with hot chile peppers. Italians are as fond of their tomatoes, (does the name Roma ring a bell?)as they are of a fine glass of vino rosso! Then we have the Irish, who have made corned beef and cabbage a national dinner every March 17th.(Word has it that our traditional U.S. St. Patty's Day dinner is different than what they actually eat in Ireland. They eat more veal, beef and just about everything BUT corned beef.)

To coin a baseball phrase, cabbage goes way back,way back ... waaaaaay back! How about 4,000 years back, to be imprecise.

It is believed that cabbage evolved from a type of sea kale that grew wild on the northern European coast. At that time, it was loose leaved with an open growing pattern, more like our present day loose leaf lettuce. But even by the Roman times, the common heading variety was on the produce scene.

Cabbages have always been an important staple food because they can be grown in a variety of climates during different times of the year. Even today, cabbage production is spread out all over these here United States, from the tropical shores of Florida to the anything BUT tropical Alaska.

Three of the most popular cabbage varieties are green, red and savoy. Green and red are fairly similar in flavor, with the red getting a slight edge in sweetness. The wrinkled leaves of the savoy cabbage are softer,milder in flavor, and form a looser head than the others.

With the green and red flavors, look for a dense, hefty head with outside leaves which hug the head tightly. Yellowed leaves are a sign of old age. Also avoid those that show major cracks opposite the stem end. This is a sign that the head stayed too long in the field and is over mature. (A fully mature cabbage cracks open like an egg and sends up a seed stalk.)

The shape of the cabbage is not that big of a deal. Some varieties grown at different times of the year, in different regions, will produce cabbages with many shapes--round, somewhat pointy or flattened and drum-shaped.

The supply and demand economic rules of cabbage are suspended for the St. Patty's Day celebration. It usually works like this ... high demand + low supply = high price. But cabbage will be sold at a special promotional price regardless of its actual cost to the retailer. The equation will look more like this ... high demand +any supply = low price. Naturally, the idea is to get your wallet into the store in hopes of selling you corned beef, hot mustard and full flavored beer, along with the cabbage. (My stomach is gurgling with anticipation already!)

Currently there is plenty of California grown cabbage to supply the holiday demand. The coastal areas of Oxnard and Santa Maria grow lots of it but at any one time Texas can also come into the cabbage picture. Understandably, the more popular green color is is shorter supply with a bit higher of a price tag than its red counterpart which is in better supply. On the organic side there has been less available than usual, although many growers are due for lots of cabbage leaves ... right after St. Patty's Day. Oh well.

Cabbage is a good source of vitamin C, if it is not boiled to unconsciousness. It offers a fair amount of vitamin B1 and other minerals. I tend to steam my cabbage as that important vitamin C leaches into boiling water. Savoy cabbage in particular contains almost 20% of the RDA of beta carotene, whereas green and red have little. It's light on calories too, only about 20 per shredded cupful.

Cabbage and its related kin such as kale, cauliflower, broccoli are known to contain compounds which are thought to prevent certain types of cancer. So this is the time to take advantage of promo prices, and stock up on this nutritious, versatile vegetable.

Guido O' Gardener wishing you an Erin go braugh, and beware of that green beer!