of time that is. I can’t avoid the manifestations of the changing season that I see in my back window view, and that I can feel, too. Right away this morning when I pulled up the blind I saw the rain, cold and steady, wetting already limp stems and wilting flowers. Stems still green have given up water intake. Weeds are growing into some empty spaces, and colors have begun to fade, as in the dusty pink of the stonecrop blossoms. My heart goes out to saponaria, the only bright color of red in the border. Like the tomatoes suddenly starting to ripen before the frost, it demands my admiration. But in general it’s a lackluster view that pulls at my attention until I finally realize I’m being told to get going, get on the stick, think about the million jobs ahead and the possibility that frost can strike us a killing blow as soon as tonight, if it clears up.
It’s tomorrow and I’ve brought in the unused dill, broken off tiny yellow squashes with their blossoms,and eaten a couple of ripe berry tomatoes. I’ve turned on the heat this morning, made a date for lunch and succumbed to atavistic demands that I prepare the left over corn to freeze and make use of an enormous cabbage I bought for two dollars. Harry always looked forward to his mother’s visits, in particular because she would cook his favorite foods, and chief among these was her stuffed cabbage, or prakis as she called it. The family all loved it as much as their father did, but I refused to learn how to make it until one visit many years later when she suffered an episode of cardiac arrest, and I knew it was time for her to teach me her tricks.
I don’t doubt there are many ways to make stuffed cabbage, but only one way to make Mrs. Bloom’s, and only one way to become the succeeding source in line for this particular dish. so the day came when I apprenticed myself to her to learn the true story of stuffed cabbage a la Ukrainian shetl. Mrs Bloom (I could not address her by her name, Rose Lily, as it made me feel hysterical) or Baubie, could neither read nor write. She met her husband on the ship from Hamburg when she was seventeen years old and never learned those skills in any language, but she had a natural knack for numbers and was a fine seamstress; she managed the family finances and never forgot anything. She was embarrassed about the reading and pretended it was her eyes, and her husband made unkind fun and failed to give her credit for her accomplishments in the course of her household management.
I do not doubt that her present method for making stuffed cabbage had changed since she came to America, nor do I doubt that it had been changing since it first appeared on the European scene in the dim past for reasons that I can only guess at. We do know that it went from mother to daughter, and we can probably be sure that it’s major change (or even invention) came after the discovery of the tomato. When I tell you how to do it you may be able to guess what changes I have made.
Our home dishes (the dishes mother used to make) always reflect some tradition, and of course there are ingredients that are non-negotiable;I always secretly thought Mrs. Bloom’s stuffed cabbage was a bit on the bland side, so once I had mastered the basic method, I tore myself lose from tradition, just as Mrs. Bloom had torn away from her own many years before. In this case, of course, cabbage is a must,and tomatoes and rice.
The only difficult job in the preparation of the cabbage rolls is in peeling the leaves off the head. I find the easiest way is to take a small sharp knife and cut around the core straight up through the head. Then dip the head in boiling water for a few minute before removing it. The leaves can then be pulled off without much trouble. As for the stuffing, mix ground turkey, rice, garlic,onion, parsley, dill together, put a tablespoon of the mix on a cabbage leaf, roll the leaf and poke the ends in with your fingers. Cut up three or four tomatoes, an onion, carrots and celery in the bottom of a large kettle. Chop the center of the cabbage and line the bottom of the kettle. Add juice of one lemon. Mrs, Bloom did not use raisins in her prakis so that my husband always felt cheated when somebody did. Mrs Bloom used a teaspoon of sugar for the sweet part of sweet and sour. Salt and pepper to taste. Lay the rolls on top of the vegetables carefully, cover the kettle and turn the heat to low. Cook over very low heat for about an hour and make sure nothing burns. Add water when necessary. Serve in bowls covered with vegetables.
This dish is valuable to anyone willing to spend a little extra time and make a lot. It is easily frozen, keeps a long time, can be frozen in ones or twos to take to work, is very good for you. It takes special notice of sustainability in the garden and in family meal planning. And it is pretty tasty when you have marked it with your own touch for the sake of some future food historian who, with luck, might be a daughter.