Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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In Praise of an Old Friend

 cabbagehead of white cabbage isolated on white photo by vvoennyy on Envato  Elements

Maybe I'm reverting to ancestral type.

Lately it seems as if I must be on the Cabbage Diet. Cabbage soup, cabbage strudel. Cabbage pancakes, cabbage rolls. Sauerkraut and peas in brown onion gravy. Last week I made a batch of cabbage with noodles and poppy seeds, which I hadn't tasted since I was a kid. Delicious.

Here in the frozen North, we eat lots of cabbage. Cabbage dependably grows when other vegetables have mostly given up the ghost. There's nothing showy about it, nothing pretentious. It's just good, dependable, affordable, staff-of-life food. All hail the humble cabbage!

Rightly prepared—but of course this is true of any vegetable—cabbage is delicious. (Badly prepared, it's not worth eating, but the same can likewise be said for any vegetable.) And when it comes to versatility, few can compare with it: my litany cited above only begins to scratch the surface.

And, of course, it's Yule, today being the third day thereof. Where I come from, Midwinter's Eve means cabbage rolls and poppy seed cake. Anyone that comes from Pittsburgh, regardless of ethnic derivation, knows that if you don't eat cabbage rolls at Yule, the Sun will literally not rise in the morning.

Of how many vegetables can you say that?

(And yes, that actually is a blown-glass cabbage ornament, hanging on the tree. Hey, I'm from Pittsburgh. There's a purple cabbage on there too, if you look.)

Jane Smiley's 1988 The Greenlanders is a remarkable novel. It reads like a family saga, telling the grim tale of the last generations of Greenland Norse, as the climate gets worse and the ships from Europe stop coming. Their ingrained Christianity makes it impossible for them to learn anything from the heathen skraelings who actually know how to survive in the worsening climate (but how can one remain Christian when you can't grow wheat and grapes for the eucharist?), and eventually it becomes clear to everyone that—just as the old myths said—the end is in sight, and there's no escape.

As things begin to fall apart, one old priest who, as a young man, was sent from Ghent to minister to the Greenlanders, and has lived for years, like everyone else, on milk, cheese, seaweed, and seal and reindeer meat—says to a colleague, the only other person on the island who has ever been anywhere but Greenland:

“Do you not feel that, somehow, everything would be all right if you could just have a little bit of cabbage?”

Yes, Sira Páll, you're right: that's exactly how I feel. Moreover, it's true.

Hey, check this out: slaw with green peas and peanuts in a mayonnaise-lemon vinaigrette dressing.

Gods, it sounds delicious. I can't wait to try it.




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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