January King Cabbage

This year I planted January King cabbage, an heirloom cabbage that Adaptive Seeds claims: “overwintered under row cover & a good covering of snow, & survived our 5 ̊F lows in December 2013.” I remember ordering seeds during a particularly cold spell last year and looking for vegetables that would survive whatever the next year’s winter would bring. January King was an excellent choice. So far this winter, our nighttime temperatures have reached the mid 20s, and January King is thriving. I hope I don’t have to test it or any of our other winter vegetables at even lower temperatures!

Cabbage, JK young

It’s a beautiful cabbage, soft green outer leaves tinged with purple. By the middle of our unusually warm fall, plants seeded indoors in early June and set out in mid-July had filled out into gorgeous rosettes and gained more comments for their beauty than any other vegetable in the winter garden. Then with our coldest nights, they took on a frosty beauty that clearly justified their name. Now their leaves are darker green with even stronger purple.

Cabbage JK frosted

Cabbage JK post frost

I grow just a few cabbages each year, sometimes a red like Ruby Perfection or a smooth green like Gonzales and often a crinkly-leaved Savoy like Melissa or Alcosa. Savoy is my favorite for both its tender texture and mild, sweet flavor, so it was a bonus that cold-tolerant January King is also a Savoy-type. Its leaves are not so crinkly as other Savoys but are very sweet and tender, especially after several strong frosts.

The reason I grow only a few cabbages is that a four or five pound cabbage can last a long time when there are just two people to eat it. Its cousins Brussels sprouts, kale and collards which we can harvest in smaller amounts seem much more manageable for two, but cabbage is just enough different from the other crucifers that it adds another taste to winter meals. For that reason it’s worth growing.

Cabbage JK on counter

Cabbage JK half


And in the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting with a recipe that makes me glad I have lots of cabbage. In the December 2015 Food and Wine magazine, chef Carla Hall shares a recipe for Sautéed Collards and Cabbage with Gremolata. I followed her instructions exactly the first time with delicious results. I quickly sautéed the thinly sliced collards and cabbage with a little olive oil, shallots and garlic until “wilted and crisp-tender,” added a little crushed red pepper and lemon juice and then served it with a few spoonfuls of the gremolata, a mixture of finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, lemon zest and juice and olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. The sweet, lightly browned cabbage and sweeter collards combined wonderfully with the mixture of sharp lemon, herby parsley and pungent garlic.

Cabbage JK and collards

In later iterations, I’ve substituted kale for collards, then radicchio for collards and once used apples instead of another green. All were delicious with or without the gremolata. And we went through an entire five-pound cabbage with all these variations on this great technique.

There are lots of other cabbage recipes I’ll be making in the next winter weeks. Old favorites are cabbage risotto, a rich and creamy blend of rice, dissolving cabbage and melting cheese, and cabbage with buckwheat pasta and fontina cheese, a satisfying combination of earthy textures and flavors known as Pizzoccheri in Italy. And of course there is slaw and its many variations. With all these possibilities, two people and a cabbage don’t sound so daunting after all.

Sautéed Collards and Cabbage with Gremolata

Carla Hall


3/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic plus 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest plus 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt 

Black pepper

4 shallots, halved and thinly sliced (3/4 cup)

1 1/2 pounds green cabbage, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick (9 cups)

1 1/2 pounds collard greens, stems discarded, leaves sliced 1/4 inch thick (12 cups)

3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper


In a small bowl, combine the parsley, minced garlic, lemon zest, 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice and 6 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper and mix well.

In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the shallots and sliced garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until light golden, about 5 minutes. Add the green cabbage, collard greens and the remaining 
2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the collards and cabbage are wilted and crisp-tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in the crushed red pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Transfer the greens to a platter, top with the gremolata and serve.


The gremolata can be made up to 3 hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature.


Seed Ordering 2015

There’s a lot to distract the kitchen gardener trying to put together seed orders for the year ahead. For starters there’s the “New For This Year” page at the beginning of every catalog, hard to resist pausing over before turning to the catalog proper. Once into the listings, there are the names of each variety, sometimes descriptive, occasionally amusing or even puzzling, and then, in engagingly written paragraphs, the story behind each seed and its particular traits of cold-hardiness or early ripening, taste or nutritional value. All these details invite a pause to compare possibilities and wonder whether to stay with an old favorite or take a chance on an intriguing new variety.

A new distraction in recent years is the unusual colors of vegetables that traditionally came in one color, orange carrots now in red, yellow or purple, snowy white cauliflower now in green, orange or lavender. Are these simply novelties or improvements? Would they taste as good as the original? Are their flavors and colors better raw or cooked?

A final pleasant distraction for the kitchen gardener is imagining meals from vegetables that haven’t had a place in the kitchen garden for a while or have never had one. Is this the year to grow a few Savoy cabbages again, to grow broccoli raab instead of relying on spring kale buds or maybe to plant some rows of flint corn to dry and grind for polenta?

Seed catalogs 2015I’ve been spending the past week indulging in all these distractions as I page through favorite Maine catalogs, Fedco, Johnny’s and Pinetree, Oregon’s Territorial Seed Company, British Columbia’s West Coast Seeds, and some wonderful, smaller Pacific Northwest seed company catalogs in print and online, Adaptive Seeds and Wild Garden Seed from Oregon and Uprising Seeds from Bellingham, Washington. I’m getting close to finalizing orders, to finding a balance between old and new, familiar and startling, between comforting tastes and exciting new flavors.

While non-orange carrots seem a bit trendy I’m tempted to order some purple, red and yellow carrots. Many companies offer Purple Haze, a 2006 AAS winner, and Yellowstone, a truly yellow carrot. Uprising Seeds offers Dragon, a dark red to purple carrot, claiming that it’s spicy and sweet. New this year at Territorial is Red Samurai, “a great tasting true red carrot.” I’ve been roasting my favorite orange Mokum carrots sprinkled with cumin and coriander seeds following a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s inspiring new cookbook Plenty More (2014). Adding purple, red and yellow shades to this mix would be pretty on a summer or winter table.

Brussels sprouts have satisfied our taste for cabbage flavor from the winter garden and their great cold hardiness and manageable size are other points in their favor. For two people, a dozen small Brussels sprouts are gone in one meal while a whole cabbage lasts for several days at least. Still Savoy cabbage with its crinkly leaves and sweet cabbage flavor tempts me this year. When I used to grow it, I made a delicious pasta dish with buckwheat noodles, Fontina cheese and Savoy cabbage wilted in olive oil and lots of garlic. I’m going to order seeds of January King, an heirloom offered by Uprising, Adaptive and West Coast Seeds. A point in its favor is its cold hardiness.  Uprising’s catalog description calls it “practically indestructible.”

Flower buds from kale, Brussels sprouts and mustards are an early spring treat, sweet with only a slight cabbage flavor. Broccoli Raab looks similar but has a much more pungent flavor. Whenever friends serve it, I wonder why I don’t grow it. It’s so delicious. This year I plan to. Territorial carries Sorrento and Fedco carries Quarantina, meaning “40 days,” the time to maturity for this fast-growing Italian green. I’ll plant it for a fall and early winter crop.

Fedco and Adaptive Seeds offer Abenaki flint corn, described by Adaptive as “best for polenta, grits and wet batter cornbread” and “tolerant of difficult growing conditions.” I have success ripening sweet corn listed at 70 days to maturity so I’m optimistic that Abenaki, listed at 80-90 days to maturity will ripen so I can experiment with grinding our own polenta. Soft, warm polenta topped with sautéed greens or roasted vegetables is a favorite winter meal as is polenta cooled, sliced and grilled and served hot with sausages or pork chops. Of all this year’s seed order candidates, this one will be the biggest experiment.

All of these distractions are part of the pleasure of planning a kitchen garden, a perfect way to spend early January days. I’ll send in the orders in the next few days and soon boxes of seeds will arrive at the mailbox carrying the promise of many delicious meals in the garden year ahead.