Cabbage is an important Southern food, and this leafy vegetable grows well in certain sections of North Carolina.

“You can chop it, shred it, stuff it, steam it, boil it, ‘pickle’ it (to make sauerkraut); fry it, and best of all, you can eat it and never feel guilty about it”...because it’s good for you.

This is the opinion of Sherrie Norris of Lovin’ Spoonful, who is based in Boone, and writes a weekly foods column.

North Carolina ranks ninth nationally in cabbage volume, producing almost 70 million pounds of cabbage annually, according to North Carolina State University.

Cabbage is the hunkiest of the cruciferous vegetables that have cancer-fighting properties. Cabbages are kin to cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, turnips, kale, radishes, broccoli and collards.

The best cabbage and sauerkraut once came from the mountain communities like Boone in Watauga County. Sheri Castle grew up in Zionville, an unincorporated settlement in northwest Watauga County.

“My granddaddy’s house on the top of the hill was in North Carolina, but his cows lived in Tennessee,” she said. “For several generations on both sides, my people farmed cabbage. A few of my cousins still do.”

“There’s an old folk tale that says that new babies are found under cabbage leaves, perhaps in places too far inland for any poor stork to fly, and although I was young when I figured out that wasn’t factual, it always sounded like an auspicious start for any mountain child,” Castle wrote.

Now living in Fearrington Village in Chatham County, Castle is a food writer, educator and storyteller.

For a recent article in Our State magazine, Castle wrote:

“When I think of cabbage, I recall one of my earliest memories: I am a tiny barefoot girl standing in dense, damp, dark earth that looks like crumbled chocolate cake, the kind of topsoil found in the rich bottomland that straddles the New River and nestles into the hollers, the kind of soil and climate that’s the promised land for a cabbage.”

“Ahead of me, parallel rows of cabbage stretch as far as I can see. I now think of those cabbages as thumbtacks, with their taproots sunk into the earth, holding the very ground in place so that it wouldn’t slide off the side of the mountain or slip over the bank into the river.”

“Cabbage was an essential crop for mountain families, both for gardeners who hoped to grow all they could eat and farmers who hoped to sell all they could grow.”

The best way to make cabbage last through the winter season was to convert it into sauerkraut – a German term that means “sour cabbage.”

Julie Hubbard of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot in North Wilkesboro, said the fermentation process that makes sauerkraut was developed centuries ago in Europe and Asia as a way to preserve vegetables for months on end.

“During fermentation, lactic acid bacteria changes vegetable sugars to acids and flavor compounds that have health benefits,” she wrote. “Cabbage is high in vitamins A and C and is a rich source of phytonutrient antioxidants. Studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables can help lower cholesterol levels.

Sauerkraut may even be better for the human digestive system than raw cabbage.

Put some cabbage on your grocery shopping list. (We’ll talk more about making sauerkraut soon.) The fermentation process requires nothing more than shredded cabbage, water, salt, time...and know-how.

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