Cabbage was a mainstay in the Shuster family during both world wars. During WWI near the High Tatra Mountains in Dolny Kubin (in the lovely Orava region of what is now Slovakia), my relatives lived much of the time on cabbage, milk and cheese. Only when my great grandfather, Michal, a major in the Austro-Hungarian Army, smuggled food to his sister Karolina and to his in-laws did they enjoy other food. During the lean years on the farm in the 1940’s in Leamington, Ontario, Canada, Pauline would often serve cabbage (piled in the cold storage room during the winter) to her family for two and even sometimes three meals a day; by the spring the barn would stink of the rotting cruciferae. Her son Jerry would take a head of cabbage to work in Montreal in the 1960’s and happily munch on it for lunch, much to the amazement of his co-workers.
Full of vitamin C, low in calories and known for its anti-inflammatory and cancer fighting properties, cabbage may have been food for the poor, but for those who ate it in abundance, it was a life safer and perhaps even a life extender. Pauline lived to 94 and Karolina to 101.
Below is Pauline’s recipe for cabbage strudel as recited to her son in 1986. As a kid I remember wrinkling my nose at the idea of eating a vegetable for dessert, but once it was served I somehow forgot what it was made of. One other thing – Pauline made her own strudel dough from scratch.
- 2 ½ lbs cabbage, shredded
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1/4 lb lard
- 2-3 tbsp sugar
- 1 package phyllo pastry, thawed
- Mix salt and shredded cabbage and let stand for 2 hours
- Squeeze out the liquid from the cabbage
- Heat the lard, add sugar and stir until golden brown
- Add cabbage, stir until golden
- Unroll the phyllo pastry (5-6 sheets, sprayed lightly with butter flavored cooking spray in between)
- Spread the cabbage mixture into the phyllo pastry
- Sprinkle with more sugar
- Roll up the pastry into a log, tucking the ends in
- Baste the pastry with lard
- Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned
- Dust with icing sugar once it is out of the oven and cooled a bit