For Thanksgiving this year, I made an all-German menu from my cookbook: Roasted Duck Stuffed with Rum-soaked Raisins and Apples, Potato Dumplings, and Spiced Red Cabbage.
I usually do not like cabbage yet a while ago I decided it was time to take my cabbage dislike head-on. With very few exceptions like okra and celery root, I have always loved vegetables. The more I am centering my cooking around vegetables from my own garden and locally grown, seasonal produce, the less it seemed excusable to avoid an entire vegetable family. Putting a cabbage dish on the Thanksgiving table was part of my self-designed aversion training.
It is the smell of cooked cabbage that I hold the most responsible for my aversion. German food writer Ursula Heinzelmann, in her book Erlebnis Essen (2006), describes when she was apartment hunting in Berlin, there was “an almost breathtaking smell in the stairwell that became stronger the deeper you walked from the street through the main house into the rear… This was not today’s or yesterday’s cabbage, this was from two, three or more days ago, stewed since the days of Heinrich Zille [a satirical German illustrator of the late 19th- and early 20th-century portraying Berlin’s working class], and reheated over and over.” Although the apartment had a large kitchen, she passed on it. I can perfectly relate to that.
Growing up in Germany, I did not get to eat a lot of cabbage though. The days when cabbage, alongside root vegetables, was the only fresh vegetable in the winter were long over, as imported produce was available at every supermarket.
Yet a few times during the winter months my mother and grandmother ganged up – that is the way I felt – and made either Kale Stew or Braised White Cabbage. Unlike the kale, the white cabbage mixed with bacon bits was rather crunchy but I still dreaded it.
Fast-forward to the year 2003, when I was testing recipes for the first edition of Spoonfuls of Germany. I knew I was biased about cabbage but had to include German classics like Cabbage Roll-ups, Cabbage Salad, and, of course, Kale Stew, a signature dish of northern Germany.
I tested the kale recipe last, not only because l had to brace myself for it, but also because at the time, it was difficult to find a bunch of kale. This is hard to believe nowadays that kale has become a widely available and popular super food.
After I had also found the typical sausage for kale stew, called Pinkel or Pinkelwurst, at a butcher shop, I had no excuse for delaying it any longer.
On a bitter cold grey day in February, I eventually made the kale stew. I wanted to have it out of the way before the kids came home from school because I expected they would not appreciate either the smell or the sight of the dish, let alone want to eat it.
Around lunchtime, my husband and I started eating, and before I knew it, we could see the bottom of the pot. I sat there in total disbelief, happily filled, warmed up, and sleepy.
I have since developed such a taste for kale that I even grow it in my garden alongside collard greens, another member of the cabbage family.