They’ve existed since the 16th century and found their way through Europe and across the channel to the British Isles from their native Belgium. Their bigger relatives, broccoli and cabbage, had originally grown wild and are believed to have been domesticated centuries earlier from the Celts, presumably before 1000 B.C. Although the Romans are often given credit for introducing this vegetable to their European neighbors, the humble cabbage appears in food histories and is generally credited to the Celts, as their armies invaded the Mediterranean areas, where the Romans embraced it (but they most certainly did not espouse the Celtic armies). It became a favorite food, as it was simple and inexpensive to grow and could be dropped into a pot of boiling water and eaten plain or in a soup or stew. No blue-blooded Irishman would observe St. Patrick’s Day without a plate of corned beef and cabbage.
Throughout history, conquering armies have taken their popular foods into other countries and, depending upon the climates and growing conditions, cabbage took on different colors and appearances. Irrespective of who gets the nod for detecting this popular vegetable, it had been widely accepted in Europe and often fermented and chopped. (Once again, explorer Marco Polo missing out detecting cabbage in his travels but possibly ate it in his native Italy.)
Cabbage made its appearance in the usa around 1700 and was probably grown and eaten by the colonists, in addition to some Native Americans. Centuries before, cut up and originally eaten with vinaigrette, the Dutch took coleslaw to a new (and less healthy) level with the addition of egg, some sort of fat and dairy, normally in the shape of our mayonnaise. This version has been referenced in American literature as far back as 1785. Some daring chefs included shredded carrots and jazzed it up a bit, but the basic recipe still dominates American menus. Because it was highly perishable and cluttered, it certainly wasn’t packed into the bags of military soldiers or cowboys, but it has thrived as a popular side dish with all-American sandwiches, hot dogs and burgers, and a popular salad with barbeque and fried chicken.
When the wildly popular fast food restaurant which specializes in chicken eliminated it from their menu, there was a national uproar (including from this author). They replaced it using a spinach salad, but that just didn’t cut it for coleslaw fans, which attests to its popularity.
And talking of shredded cabbage, the Germans, Czechs and Polish have their cherished fermented sauerkraut, which is usually served as a hot vegetable. Jewish delis
Serve it cold as a side for a major filling in Reuben sandwiches.
So where does this leave our Brussels sprouts? Over 90 percent of the U.S. source of these miniature cabbages are grown in the cool climate of San Francisco and
Agricultural regions just south of the Bay. Production started in the Louisiana delta and eventually found its way into the West Coast where the growing climate was more favorable.
Although they are a popular item on holiday tables, this author advises that you follow recipes from top chefs to ensue they turn out tasty, company and well-seasoned. And incidentally, Brussels sprouts top the list as the most hated vegetable in the U.S. and consistently make the top five list globally. So for those people in that camp, they’ll be absent from the family dinner table. Bon appetit.
Writer Dale Phillip confesses that she abhors Brussels sprouts (no hate mail, please). It was painful to just write this article, but she believes she has a duty to the Brussels sprouts fans. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, she lived in one of these households who was subjected to over-boiled vegetables, although her mother was an excellent cook. Her favorite veggie is spinach, and she is a huge fan of sauerkraut (Czech style) that her family enjoyed weekly. She also buys and makes coleslaw and took to a long mourning period following her favorite poultry fast-food restaurant removed it from their menu.