February 2019 Journal: The Miracle of the Four Cabbages



It rained and it rained. Slanting waves of rain and hard lines of rain and small misty drizzles of rain and great fat drops of rain. Wind-blown rain. The trees swayed and rocked and dropped leaves, limbs, and even whole trunks, across roads and down the steep hillsides of home. The roads were shut. The storm wore on and the earth turned to slippery mud. Generators hummed in the quiet moments between downpour. It was no time to go shopping. It was no time to go anywhere.

In the storm huddled a little family, a man, and a woman and a child. They were lucky because they had a shed full of firewood, and a warm soft house, and a large supply of candles. They had 3 wet dogs and two cross cats and a soggy garden. They had a bag of cabbages from the market; the idea had been to make a big batch of sauerkraut before the storm hit. As night fell, they listened to the rain pelt the roof and canceled their plans to go out. So the age-old question reared its head once more: what to make for dinner?

Soup is good for rainy nights, decided the woman. And so she made this soup, with one of the cabbages. It came from a book by Edward Espe Brown, one of those well-intentioned thrift store picks that had never gotten much attention, until now. (The woman collected books, and it was easy for a slender yellow volume to get lost amid the great stacks of fancy cookbooks and plant books and bird books and mushroom books on the reference shelves.) Despite her job, which was to write. recipes, she was not much inclined to follow them exactly. So this is the recipe she made, which has its roots in the Zen community at Tassajara but is her own as well. And all was as it should be.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

sweet and sour cabbage soup

It rained and rained. The gravel on the driveway washed down the road. The ditch became a river. A huge old fir with rosy conks growing from the base toppled across the road one night. A neighbor driving home encountered it and turned around to take another route. On her way there she nearly ran into another old oak that had split in half and blocked the road just minutes after driving under it. She was trapped between downed trees, she had to park on the side of the road and splash the last 2 miles home in the rain, in the weak light of her cell phone flashlight. We had better not go out again tonight, the family decided. For dinner? Another cabbage. This time, it was lightly steamed in salt water and then charred just so, strewn with fresh lemon-spiked apples and topped with a rich toasted walnut sauce. Warm and hearty, and very unlike the last night’s meal.

Charred Cabbage with Apples and Toasted Walnut Sauce

charred cabbage with walnut sauce

Still, it rained. Someone sawed through the downed trees, but the electric wires hung down still, swaying in the gusts of wind. The county closed the road, and the neighbors moved the signs and drove around the closure. But many of the surrounding roads were shut, and the fire was banked just so nicely. The day passed quickly, in gray cloud and damp wind, scrape of shovels on the driveway gravel, thump of firewood brought in from the porch. There was really no reason to leave, what with the pound of butter in the freezer, and a handful of mushrooms in the vegetable drawer, and the old white Wedgewood oven standing ready. And the cabbage, of course. It was a moment for hand pies, stuffed with celery, mushrooms, and cabbage, encased in the flakiest pastry dough. It was a good moment. 

 Cabbage Mushroom Hand Pies

cabbage and mushroom hand pies

It kept raining. The dogs stood at the door, looking out with lowered tails. Or burst out the door and galloped headlong through all the puddles, and got soaking wet and filthy and glad. The cats remained cross, perched in a window, glaring at the rain. Sometimes the sun would come out for a minute, but then it would sink back in a wallow of thick clouds. It really wasn’t so bad. In a brief break from rain, we gathered some lemons the rain had lashed from the tree. And there was still another head of cabbage in the fridge. It was time for something festive, crunchy and salty and spicy and deep fried. In the spice cabinet, labeled jars of poppy, coriander, fennel, cumin, and cumin seeds. The cookbook practically fell open to this page, as the oil began to heat.

Battered and Fried Cabbage with Crispy Seeds and Lemon

battered and fried cabbage leaves

The rain slackened and faded, though the world stayed wet. All night, the sound of rushing water from the overfull creeks, gurgling and laughing their way to river and sea. The sigh of burnt oak logs settling into ash, the gentle snores of dogs. If occasionally someone rolled over and farted gently in their sleep, it was all right, it was no big deal. Some who are uncomfortable with mystery, with magic, with grace or with brassica, might not call these four days a miracle. But to the little family, such distinctions remained trivial. For four days, the little house had held them safe in the wild weather, sustained by the pale, glowing orbs of cabbage. To be sheltered, and nourished, and sustained by the natural world is a continuing miracle. As to what might be for dinner tomorrow, only the moon might know. And she remained silent, floating in the clearing sky, quarter full, like a leaf of cabbage separated gently from the whole, revolving slowly, vegetally, through the stars, while the family dreamed on.

The sun and the clouds kept trading places. The grass and the garden grew, and all the blown-down branches make lovely pea and tomato stakes if you have somewhere to store them. Also, it’s not a bad time to plant cabbage.

Garden Notes
garden notes

Workshops & Events

Any further questions you might have about your own garden can always be brought to the store, where one of our in-house experts can assist, And we’ve got some great guest speaker events scheduled for you, too. 

Isn’t it great when people end up in professions that reflect their last names? It doesn’t always line up that way, but how charming when it does. Terri Kemp Gardner will be teaching Soils Prep and Troubleshooting 101, here at the store on Saturday, February 16, from 11am-12: 30 pm. Cost is $30; REGISTER ONLINE.

Learn how to organically enrich your soil and correct existing soil challenges. Bring samples of your challenging soil for discussion!

And of course, every year around this time, we start to get all excited about bees. It’s bee season, folks! Or, more truthfully, it’s the season to get ready for bees, which we anticipate will be arriving in little nucs around the end of April. In the meantime, for the bee-curious, we offer this free class, every year. Free Beekeeping Overview: Too Bee or Not to Bee Held on Sunday, February 10, 2019, from 11am-2pm at Mountain Feed & Farm Supply. Again, it’s FREE - but RSVP is required in store, or by calling (831) 336-8876. If you are interested in beekeeping but not sure if it's right for you, this workshop explains what it takes to become a successful, responsible beekeeper, before you commit to buying equipment and taking a paid class.

For those that have been made the plunge and are now obsessive beekeepers, we welcome you to the fold. We’ll have more classes coming up for you as well; a Spring Management and Swarms class on March 2, as well as a Beginning Beekeeper’s intensive class. The BBI is a two-part class, with variable dates; visit the website to choose the dates that work for you. Space is limited, so it’s worth signing up early if you’re interested.

There’s more to come, of course. February is the shortest month, after all. What would you like to see us offer in the coming year? Let us know what you want to know, and we’ll try to make a class around it.

In the meantime, we wish you an excellent February, with all the cabbage and all the love you could possibly desire.

This journal and the articles in it were written by Jessica Tunis, unless otherwise noted.