Most Likely To Be Pilfered

Scene of the crime: small heads growing back

When my mother heads back to New Jersey after visiting me in upstate New York, she generally gets up very early. She’s 81, but still works six or seven days a week in a bakery, and if she hits the road by 5AM, can be there before 8AM. She’s German, and for her generation at least, work WAS the culture.

The problem with this early departure is that I’m usually still asleep and unable to monitor what disappears from my vegetable garden. One year she took an entire 10-gallon can of tomatillos off my back porch after I suggested that she take “some.” Parsley, tomatoes, summer squash–she will grab a large knife and fill bags with whatever looks good. She used to do the same thing to my aunt the farmer, when she was alive. My mother is not interested in gardening, but harvesting? That’s an entirely different story.

I don’t really mind, and let’s give her points for an excellent palate that can tell the difference between homegrown and Whole Foods. But I struggle to get enough cabbages to maturity for both her and me. Cabbage seedlings are a favorite snack of many creatures around here. After my first group of seedlings was entirely eaten this summer, I planted another round of cabbages from seed and managed to get four red cabbages and two beautiful Italian pink-tinged green cabbages to a decent size. Enough for sauerkraut and maybe one big bowl of cole slaw, but that’s it.

But my mother LOVES red cabbage, which she calls blaukraut. (The Germans emphasize the blue in the purple, not the red.) She especially loves my red cabbage, which she feels has better flavor than anything she can buy in Jersey. She makes a really excellent dish of braised red cabbage with bacon, onions, apples, vinegar, and a little sugar that always appears beside the turkey on Thanksgiving.

She was here a month ago. I told her she could take a cabbage. She didn’t hear the article and took two. Now, I’ll be visiting her this weekend. Her one request? “Bring me a cabbage!” Hmmmm.


  1. I love this post. It’s a peek into family dynamics at their best. It looks like you’ll just have to start growing more of her favorite things!

  2. One night as I was closing down the garden section of my big box store, the mystery of the disappearing ornamental kale leaves was solved. There sat 2 large rats who needed greens to go with their diet of birdseed and Scotts fine fescue, happily chomping away. They seemed to prefer the purple over the white.

  3. My God! Your German mother is 81, still works six days a week and has the time and energy to steal food and then cook a scrumptious dish. Oh woe is me. My mother is diluted, only half German. She retired at about 58. I keep telling her she knows where the vegetable garden is and can harvest whatever she needs. Nope. I have to harvest everything. Strange produce can cause problems. She is perplexed by the pumpkin (Long Island Cheese Squash) I produced.

    At 84 she is on a mission to plant as many bulbs on this mountain as she can stuff in the ground. Cooking is not her mission.

  4. I hope I’m that energetic when I’m 80!!
    And I have a similar red-cabbage dish that we just love . . . even though I’m not German – 1/4 Bohemian/Czech and the rest Scots-Irish, and my husband’s family is entirely English and Scots-Irish.

  5. Plan green cabbage this year. Made my usual small batch of kraut and I don’t know what I did but I got black mold. growing on the sides of the container. It didn’t smell horrible but it didn’t smell like kraut. I almost cried when I dumped it on the compost pile. Love to read about mothers in their 80’s who are still self functioning people even if they are making pigs of themselves over your garden.

  6. my german partner, 47, is still of a generation that WORKS (happily for me). she makes me the same dish, but she calls it Rotkohl. regional difference perhaps (from near frankfurt). i love the story.

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