1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cabbage

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CABBAGE. The parent form of the variety of culinary and fodder vegetables included under this head is generally supposed to be the wild or sea cabbage (Brassica oleracea), a plant found near the sea coast of various parts of England and continental Europe, although Alphonse de Candolle considered it to be really descended from the two or three allied species which are yet found growing wild on the Mediterranean coast. In any case the cultivated varieties have departed very widely from the original type, and they present very marked and striking dissimilarities among themselves. The wild cabbage is a comparatively insignificant plant, growing from 1 to 2 ft. high, in appearance very similar to the corn mustard or charlock (Sinapis arvensis), but differing from it in having smooth leaves. The wild plant has fleshy, shining, waved and lobed leaves (the uppermost being undivided but toothed), large yellow flowers, elongated seed-pod, and seeds with conduplicate cotyledons. Notwithstanding the fact that the cultivated forms differ in habit so widely, it is remarkable that the flower, seed-pods and seeds of the varieties present no appreciable difference.

John Lindley proposed the following classification for the various forms, which includes all yet cultivated: (1) All the leaf-buds active and open, as in wild cabbage and kale or greens; (2) All the leaf-buds active, but forming heads, as in Brussels sprouts; (3) Terminal leaf-bud alone active, forming a head, as in common cabbage, savoys, &c.; (4) Terminal leaf-bud alone active and open, with most of the flowers abortive and succulent, as in cauliflower and broccoli; (5) All the leaf-buds active and open, with most of the flowers abortive and succulent, as in sprouting broccoli. The last variety bears the same relation to common broccoli as Brussels sprouts do to the common cabbage. Of all these forms there are numerous gardeners' varieties, all of which reproduce faithfully enough their parent form by proper and separate cultivation.

Under Lindley's first class, common or Scotch kale or borecole (Brassica oleracea var. acephala or var. fimbriata) includes several varieties which are amongst the hardiest of our esculents, and seldom fail to yield a good supply of winter greens. They require well-enriched soil, and sufficient space for full exposure to air; and they should also be sown early, so as to be well established and hardened before winter. The main crops should be sown about the first week of April, or, in the north, in the third week of March, and a succession a month later. The Buda kale is sown in May, and planted out in September, but a sowing for late spring use may be made in the last week of August and transplanted towards the end of September. To prevent overcrowding, the plants should be transplanted as soon as they are of sufficient size, but if the ground is not ready to receive them a sufficient number should be pricked out in some open spot. In general the more vigorous sorts should be planted in rows 3 ft. and the smaller growers 2 ft. apart, and 18 in. from plant to plant. In these the heads should be first used, only so much of the heart as is fresh and tender being cut out for boiling; side shoots or sprouts are afterwards produced for a long time in succession, and may be used so long as they are tender enough to admit of being gathered by snapping their stalks asunder.

The plant sends up a stout central stem, growing upright to a height of about 2 ft., with close-set, large thick, plain leaves of a light red or purplish hue. The lower leaves are stripped off for use as the plants grow up, and used for the preparation of broth or "Scotch kail," a dish at one time in great repute in the north-eastern districts of Scotland. A very remarkable variety of open-leaved cabbage is cultivated in the Channel Islands under the name of the Jersey or branching cabbage. It grows to a height of 8 ft, but has been known to attain double that altitude. It throws out branches from the central stem, which is sufficiently firm and woody to be fashioned into walking-sticks; and the stems are even used by the islanders as rafters for bearing the thatch on their cottage-roofs. Several varieties are cultivated as ornamental plants on account of their beautifully coloured, frizzled and laciniated leaves.

Brussels sprouts (Brassica oleracea var. bullata gemmifera) are miniature cabbage-heads, about an inch in diameter, which form in the axils of the leaves. There appears to be no information as to the plant's origin, but, according to Van Mons (1765-1842), physician and chemist, it is mentioned in the year 1213, in the regulations for holding the markets of Belgium, under the name of spruyten (sprouts). It is very hardy and productive, and is much esteemed for the table on account of its flavour and its sightly appearance. The seed should be sown about the middle of March, and again in the first or second week in April for succession. Any good garden soil is suitable. For an early crop it may be sown in a warm pit in February, pricked out and hardened in frames, and planted out in a warm situation in April. The main crop may be planted in rows 2 ft. asunder, the plants 18 in. apart. They should be got out early, so as to be well established and come into use before winter. The head may be cut and used after the best of the little rosettes which feather the stem have been gathered; but, if cut too early, it exposes these rosettes, which are the most delicate portion of the produce, to injury, if the weather be severe. The earliest sprouts become fit for use in November, and they continue good, or even improve in quality, till the month of March following; by successive sowings the sprouts are obtained for the greater part of the year.

The third class is chiefly represented by the common or drumhead cabbage, Brassica oleracea var. capitata, the varieties of which are distinguished by difference in size, form and colour. In Germany it is converted into a popular article of diet under the name of Sauerkraut by placing in a tub alternate layers of salt and cabbage. An acid fermentation sets in, which after a few days is complete, when the vessel is tightly covered over and the product kept for use with animal food.

The savoy is a hardy green variety, characterized by its very wrinkled leaves. The Portugal cabbage, or Couve Tronchuda, is a variety, the tops of which form an excellent cabbage, while the midribs of the large leaves are cooked like sea-kale.

Cabbages contain a very small percentage of nitrogenous compounds as compared with most other articles of food. Their percentage composition, when cooked, is—water, 97.4; fat, 0.1; carbohydrate, 0.4; mineral matter, 0.1; cellulose, 1.3; nitrogenous matter (only about half being proteid), 0.6. Their food-value, apart from their anti-scorbutic properties, is therefore practically nil.

The cabbage requires a well-manured and well-wrought loamy soil. It should have abundant water in summer, liquid manure being specially beneficial. Round London where it is grown in perfection, the ground for it is dug to the depth of two spades or spits, the lower portion being brought up to the action of the weather, and rendered available as food for the plants; while the top-soil, containing the eggs and larvae of many insects, being deeply buried, the plants are less liable to be attacked by the club disease. Farm-yard manure is that most suitable for the cabbage, but artificial manures such as guano, superphosphate of lime or gypsum, together with lime-rubbish, wood-ashes and marl, may, if required, be applied with advantage.

The first sowing of cabbage should be made about the beginning of March; this will be ready for use in July and August, following the autumn-sown crops. Another sowing should be made in the last week of March or first week of April, and will afford a supply from August till November; and a further crop may be made in May to supply young-hearted cabbages in the early part of winter. The autumn sowing, which is the most important, and affords the supply for spring and early summer use, should be made about the last week in August, in warm localities in the south, and about a fortnight earlier in the north; or, to meet fluctuations of climate, it is as well in both cases to anticipate this sowing by another two or three weeks earlier, planting out a portion from each, but the larger number from that sowing which promises best to stand without running to seed.

The cabbages grown late in autumn and in the beginning of winter are denominated coleworts (vulg. collards), from a kindred vegetable no longer cultivated. Two sowings are made, in the middle of June and in July, and the seedlings are planted a foot or 15 in. asunder, the rows being 8 or 10 in. apart. The sorts employed are the Rosette and the Hardy Green.

About London the large sorts, as Enfield Market, are planted for spring cabbages 2 ft. apart each way; but a plant from an earlier sowing is dibbled in between every two in the rows, and an intermediate row a foot apart is put in between the permanent rows, these extra plants being drawn as coleworts in the course of the winter. The smaller sorts of cabbage may be planted 12 in. apart, with 12 or 15 in. between the rows. The large sorts should be planted 2 ft. apart, with 2½ ft. between the rows. The only culture required is to stir the surface with the hoe to destroy the weeds, and to draw up the soil round the stems.

The red cabbage, Brassica oleracea var. capitata rubra, of which the Red Dutch is the most commonly grown, is much used for pickling. It is sown about the end of July, and again in March or April. The Dwarf Red and Utrecht Red are smaller sorts. The culture is in every respect the same as in the other sorts, but the plants have to stand until they form hard close hearts.

Cauliflower, which is the chief representative of class 4, consists of the inflorescence of the plant modified so as to form a compact succulent white mass or head. The cauliflower (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis cauliflora) is said by our old authors to have been introduced from Cyprus, where, as well as on the Mediterranean coasts, it appears to have been cultivated for ages. It is one of the most delicately flavoured of vegetables, the dense cluster formed by its incipient succulent flower-buds being the edible portion.

The sowing for the first or spring crop, to be in use in May and June, should be made from the 15th to the 25th of August for England, and from the 1st to the 15th of August for Scotland. In the neighbourhood of London the growers adhere as nearly as possible to the 21st day. A sowing to produce heads in July and August takes place in February on a slight hotbed. A late spring sowing to produce cauliflowers in September or October or later, should be made early in April and another about the 20th of May.

The cauliflower succeeds best in a rich soil and sheltered position; but, to protect the young plants in winter, they are sometimes pricked out in a warm situation at the foot of a south wall, and in severe weather covered with hoops and mats. A better method is to plant them thickly under a garden frame, securing them from cold by coverings and giving air in mild weather. For a very early supply, a few scores of plants may be potted and kept under glass during winter and planted out in spring, defended with a hand-glass. Sometimes patches of three or four plants on a south border are sheltered by hand-glasses throughout the winter. It is advantageous to prick out the spring-sown plants into some sheltered place before they are finally transplanted in May. The later crop, the transplanting of which may take place at various times, is treated like early cabbages. After planting, all that is necessary is to hoe the ground and draw up the soil about the stems.

It is found that cauliflowers ready for use in October may be kept in perfection over winter. For this purpose they are lifted carefully with the spade, keeping a ball of earth attached to the roots. Some of the large outside leaves are removed, and any points of leaves that immediately overhang the flower are cut off. They are then placed either in pots or in garden frames, the plants being arranged close together, but without touching. In mild dry weather the glass frames are drawn off, but they are kept on during rainstorms, ventilation being afforded by slightly tilting the frames, and in severe frost they are thickly covered with mats.

Broccoli is merely a variety of cauliflower, differing from the other in the form and colour of its inflorescence and its hardiness. The broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. botrytis asparagoides) succeeds best in loamy soil, somewhat firm in texture. For the autumn broccolis the ground can scarcely be too rich, but the winter and spring sorts on ground of this character are apt to become so succulent and tender that the plants suffer from frost even in sheltered situations, while plants less stimulated by manure and growing in the open field may be nearly all saved, even in severe winters. The main crops of the early sorts for use in autumn should be sown early in May, and planted out while young to prevent them coming too early into flower; in the north they may be sown a fortnight earlier. The later sorts for use during winter and spring should be sown about the middle or end of May, or about ten days earlier in the north. The seed-beds should be made in fresh light soil; and if the season be dry the ground should be well watered before sowing. If the young plants are crowding each other they should be thinned. The ground should not be dug before planting them out, as the firmer it is the better; but a shallow drill may be drawn to mark the lines. The larger-growing sorts may be put in rows 3 ft. apart, and the plants about 2½ ft. apart in the rows, and the smaller-growing ones at from 2 to 2½ ft. between, and 1½ to 2 ft. in the rows. If the ground is not prepared when young plants are ready for removal, they should be transferred to nursery beds and planted at 3 to 4 in. apart, but the earlier they can be got into their permanent places the better.

It is of course the young flower-heads of the plant which are eaten. When these form, they should be shielded from the light by bending or breaking down an inner leaf or two. In some of the sorts the leaves naturally curve over the heads. To prevent injury to the heads by frost in severe winters, the plants should be laid in with their heads sloping towards the north, the soil being thrown back so as to cover their stems; or they may be taken up and laid in closely in deep trenches, so that none of the lower bare portion of the stem may be exposed. Some dry fern may also be laid over the tops. The spring varieties are extremely valuable, as they come at a season when the finer vegetables are scarce. They afford a supply from December to May inclusive.

Broccoli sprouts, the representative of the fifth class, are a form of recent introduction, and consist of flowering sprouts springing from the axils of the leaves. The purple-leaved variety is a very hardy and much-esteemed vegetable.

Kohl-rabi (Brassica oleracea var. caulo-rapa) is a peculiar variety of cabbage in which the stem, just above ground, swells into a fleshy turnip-like mass. It is much cultivated in certain districts as a food for stock, for which purpose the drumhead cabbage and the thousand-headed kale are also largely used. Kohl-rabi is exceedingly hardy, withstanding both severe frosts and drought. It is not much grown in English gardens, though when used young it forms a good substitute for turnips. The seeds should be sown in May and June, and the seedlings should be planted shallowly in well-manured ground, 8 or 10 in. apart, in rows 15 in. asunder; and they should be well watered, so as to induce quick growth.

The varieties of cabbage, like other fresh vegetables, are possessed of anti-scorbutic properties; but unless eaten when very fresh and tender they are difficult of digestion, and have a very decided tendency to produce flatulence.

Although the varieties reproduce by seed with remarkable constancy, occasional departures from the types occur, more especially among the varieties of spring cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli. The departures, known technically as "rogues," are not as a rule sufficiently numerous to materially affect crops grown for domestic purposes. Rogues appearing among the stocks of seed-growers, however, if allowed to remain, very materially affect the character of particular stocks by the dissemination of strange pollen and by the admixture of their seed. Great care is exercised by seed-growers, with reputations to maintain, to eliminate these from among their stock-plants before the flowering period is reached.

Several species of palm, from the fact of yielding large sapid central buds which are cooked as vegetables, are known as cabbage-palms. The principal of these is Areca oleracea, but other species, such as the coco-palm, the royal palm (Oreodoxa regia), Arenga saccharifera and others yield similar edible leaf-buds.