Sacred Cabbage, Re-visited

I’m not usually on the cooking rota and we don’t usually eat meat.  This year, however, Bill raised some chickens for slaughter, shot a deer for venison, and it’s necessary to cull the males from the duck population once in a while.  So we’ve experimented with meat this winter and whether we’ll go back to being strictly vegetarian or not is something the sisters will decide later this spring.

cabbagesBut Bill apparently boasted that I used to make corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day before we moved to the farm.  Somehow the sisters thought corned beef was a good idea.  Somehow I ended up cooking on St. Patrick’s day.

I don’t have the loving relationship to cooking that everyone else here does.  I can’t account for that.  Maybe feeding four endlessly hungry children and a then-diet centered upon meat has something to do with it.  And perhaps my severe allergies to milk, eggs, and gluten – wheat and most other grains – basically our culture’s diet – didn’t help.  Food was killing me most of my life.

Bill bought a slab of corned beef.  Because we try to eat only the food we grow and because we’re out of our own carrots, the suggestion came to me that I should substitute squash for the carrots.  I quietly squashed that idea and bought organic carrots.  Besides, we didn’t grow the corned-beef.  So I bought an orange.  And currents.  I made gluten-free current and orange-zest scones in honor of St. Patrick.  I boiled a huge pot of corned beef, our own potatoes,  the purchased carrots, and finally our cabbage in a gorgeous liqueur of peppercorns, caramelized onions, mustard seeds, a few grains of cumin seed, a pinch of curry powder – not enough to taste,  but just enough to subtly flavour.

I love Indian food.  One of the goals of my life is to be fluent in Indian cooking – that is, to be able to look at what we have – a fresh cauliflower, a few withered potatoes, a baggie of  our frozen peas, and create magic.  I’m working my way through a vegetarian Indian cookbook. 

I have a golden box of spices.  I shop in  “Curry Hill” just a couple stops south of Grand Central Station in New York City.  The golden box reminds me to feel the magic of the ancient and modern spice trades.  My spices come from Indonesia, India, the Middle East, South America.  The golden box also reminds me that I’m pushing against the boundary of the sisters’ rule of life – to live locally and sustainably.

It was not the pinch of curry and the handful of peppercorns that broke through to my heart, however.  While the sisters were saying the noon office I added the last ingredient, the cabbage.  OUR cabbage, cut in wedges and frozen last year.  I suddenly remembered the “voice” of the Spirit saying, “Come to my garden” and the vision of the blue-gray cabbage in my mind’s eye when we first came to live at the farm.

Touching that frozen cabbage full of the sun’s energy, the earth’s holiness; remembering the cycle from tiny pale seed upstairs in the seed room to blue seedling in the rich soil, to tight mound of green fruitfulness, to harvesting, slicing, freezing, now in my hand as I place each wedge into the boiling liqueur while the sisters pray …

I remember … “come to MY garden.”  The breathless moment of holiness in my day yesterday was not handling the rare spices , but the feeling in my palm the sacred cabbage which grew just at the edge of the convent enclosure.

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One Response to “Sacred Cabbage, Re-visited”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    But what better way to connect the food of your own soil with the tastes of the world than with spices gathered from every corner of the Earth? I think more people would be eating their vegetables if they were always cooked with curry and other yummy spices. My 3-year old daughter is already using the word “masala” when she sees me making my spice mixes in the kitchen. “What’s in the masala today?”

    Another idea may be to try to grow some of those spices and herbs in the garden. I just ordered some lovely seeds for this year’s garden – including Holy basil – which may or may not work. Fennel and coriander can definitely be grown for seed in this climate, why not curry leaves and fenugreek?

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