This year I am growing several different varieties of cabbage on my allotment plot, The Circus Garden, and all being well these should keep us supplied with cabbage from now through to January.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I grow my vegetables using organic principles. This means that I do not use pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or artificial fertilisers. To deal with the pests and diseases that cabbages and other plants face requires a little imagination on the part of the organic gardener. For example to deal with common cabbage pests I intersperse French marigolds amongst my brassicas. These deter whitefly and also help divert slugs away from my cabbages. I also grow my cabbages under fine mesh to thwart whitefly and caterpillars. I practice crop rotation and always plant my brassicas in a bed that has grown legumes the previous year as legumes “fix” nitrogen in the soil, vital to the healthy growth of cabbages.
The earliest of the varieties I am growing, Greyhound, is a summer cabbage with an attractive pointed heart, and it is now ready to harvest. Like the other varieties I grow Greyhound is a heritage variety, grown from “true” seeds rather than from F1 or hybrid seeds.
The attraction of F1 seeds for the vegetable grower is that they have been carefully created to guarantee specific desirable characteristics. In respect of cabbages, these characteristics would be things like disease resistance, a short growing season and a high yield, all particularly advantageous to commercial growers.
The disadvantage, however, is that the grower of these hybridised varieties has to purchase the seed for their F1 vegetables every year. This is because hybrid seeds are the result of cross fertilisation of two different parent plants. Unlike “true” seeds, the seeds of F1 varieties do not produce the same plant when they are collected and sown. Instead they will most likely either prove to be sterile or they will produce a strange crop of sorry-looking plants with divergent characteristics, which look nothing like the parent plant they came from.
By contrast a key advantage of “true” seed is that it can be gathered from the parent plant and used the following year to produce the same plant. The seeds I sow have come down through the generations. They have, of course, changed in that time but they have done so by evolving slowly and naturally, by adapting to their environment.
There are very strict laws governing the production and sale of seeds in this country and within the European Union . These laws demand a large fee for “registering” any seed variety that is intended for sale. This legislation is primarily in place to protect the interests of big-business rather than consumers, and in effect it is a form of intellectual copyrighting.
Inevitably the requirement to register, and pay to register, seeds intended for sale has meant that seed companies are mostly interested in registering the seed varieties that are attractive to the large-scale commercial growers. This is because they need to sell large quantities of their seeds in order to claw back the costs of development and registration, and beyond that, to make a profit. In essence this means that they prioritise F1 seeds for commercial growers rather than “true” seeds for the small-time organic growers like me. As a result, slowly, but seemingly inexorably, we are losing more and more of our “true” heritage varieties every year.
This one is a hot and spicy noodle dish, bursting with heat and flavour, which is loosely based on mee goreng, an Indonesian street food classic.
Dried shallots are obtainable from Asian grocery stores and some supermarkets. Alternatively you can make your own, as I do, by deep frying thinly sliced shallots in hot groundnut oil until they are golden and crisp. They will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
Indonesian style spicy noodles with summer cabbage
3 red chilli peppers
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Juice of 2 limes
pinch of salt
1 small organic spring cabbage, shredded
300 g organic noodles (I used brown rice udon noodles), cooked, drained and refreshed in cold water
1 onion, sliced thinly
240 g firm tofu, gently pressed to remove excess moisture and then cut into roughly 1.5 cm cubes
6 organic spring onions, white and green parts, chopped diagonally
60 ml soy sauce
30 ml water
100 g bean sprouts
20 g unsalted peanuts
1 tbsp dried shallots
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
3 tbsp groundnut oil
1. First prepare the tofu by wrapping the block in a clean tea towel or several layers of kitchen paper and placing it between two flat chopping boards or baking trays. Put weights carefully on top and leave for at least thirty minutes.
2. Unwrap the block of tofu, wipe it dry and cut into 1-2 cm cubes. Roll the tofu cubes gently in the cornflour so that they are lightly coated.
3. Heat a wok over a high heat. As soon as it begins to smoke add two tablespoons of the groundnut oil. After thirty seconds add the tofu (you will need to do this in a couple of batches to avoid crowding the wok which would lower the temperature too drastically). Cook, stirring from time to time, until the tofu has crisped up and browned slightly. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Set to one side.
4. Slice the tops of the chilli pepper. Chop the remainder of the chilli peppers roughly but don’t remove the seeds as this dish relies on their heat. Place in a mini chopper with the garlic, lime and salt and blitz into a paste (alternatively use a pestle and mortar to reduce to a paste). Add the soy sauce and water and stir to combine.
5. Wipe the wok clean and place it over a high heat. Once hot, add the peanuts and dry fry them, stirring constantly for a minute or two until they begin to brown. Remove the peanuts from the wok, lightly crush or chop them and set to one side.
6. Place the wok back on a high heat and add a further tablespoon of oil. Add the cabbage and Cook for three to four minutes until it is starting to colour and wilt.
7. Add the spring onions and the bean sprouts and cook for a further two minutes, again stirring frequently, before adding the tofu, peanuts, noodles, the chilli, soy sauce and water mixture and most of the chopped coriander, reserving a little for garnish. Stir to combine everything thoroughly.
8. Remove the wok from the heat and share the contents between two bowls. Top with the dried shallots and reserved chopped coriander and serve immediately. “Selamat Makan!”, as they say in Indonesia.