The cabbage of my youth closely resembled old gym socks left out in the rain too long and maybe chewed by some sort of wild animal.

It smelled vile and sulphurous, was the color of old phone book pages and tasted like centuries-old sweat. Usually left to cook for hours with little to no seasoning, it splatted onto your plate with all the personality and appeal of a boiled brain poured from a blender.

Not tasty. Not tasty at all.

At some point, some wise person introduced me to well-cooked cabbage.

Sweet leaves with a hint of smoke from the sausage or bacon, flavored with pepper and salt, and the vibrant green that comes from a cooking time measured in minutes not eons.

It left me hungry for more, and I discovered cabbage rolls — tender leaves wrapped around savory meat filling and topped with a tomato sauce that accented the natural sweetness (yes, sweetness) of the cabbage; cabbage used as a stuffing in dumplings, where it sopped up all the delicious, rich tastes of the food around it; and cabbage as a pickle, piquant, vinegary and crunchy amid a pile of soft, sweet onions and tender green tomatoes. It’s now hard to say what my favorite cabbage dish is. It varies from season to season and mood to mood.

What doesn’t change, though, is that with cabbage, things are almost always best kept simple.

Don’t fool too much with it, don’t cover it in too much goop and, for the love of all that’s holy, watch that cooking time. You will be richly rewarded.

Beth Colvin is The Advocate’s assistant Food editor. She can be reached at