By Norris Chambers


            I have been familiar with cabbage as long as I have been familiar with anything. We raised cabbage in the field and we ate it at meal time, either raw or boiled. It was also an ingredient in the preparation of chow chow, an addition that adds a great flavor to pinto beans.

The name also provided the name of an old fiddle tune, Boil Them Cabbage Down, that has provided the old timers with a tempo for dancing and listening for many, many years. This would indicate that boiling cabbage has been a common practice for a long time.

            For about the same length of time I have known about raising cabbage I have known about cows and the milk they have been generous enough to contribute to mankind. In spite of my wide experience with cattle and cabbage I have never seen a cow eat cabbage. We have all heard the expression, “How the cow ate the cabbage!” Old timers, and some of the modern timers, often threaten to tell someone how the cow ate the cabbage. I have never been fortunate enough to have a dispenser of information tell me and have never worried much about it.

            Clifton and I used the expression from time to time but we never really told anyone how it happened. We didn’t know that a cow would eat cabbage any differently from eating turnips, tomatoes or cucumbers from the garden.

            It wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally resorted to solving this mystery. The know-it-all Internet offered many solutions. The meaning of the expression seemed to be that the one explaining how the cabbage-eating cow consumed her cabbage wasn’t talking about a cow at all. It was intended to get the ignorant party thinking in the right direction on some other pertinent question. The origin of the term dated back to some old lady who called the cops and reported a cow in her garden eating her cabbage. She told them that the cow was pulling up the cabbage in a very peculiar way. She was wrapping her tail around them and after lifting them from the row was slapping the whole head in her mouth and gulping them down!

            The policeman who answered the phone had to see this so he hurried out to her place. He was shocked to find a stray elephant pulling the cabbage up with his trunk and eating it. No cow was involved in the unusual violation but the explanation of how the cow ate the cabbage did not die. Therefore, if you want to get someone reprimanded about a questionable action, you can tell him how the cow ate the cabbage. It is not necessary to refer to the partially blind lady and the elephant. All you have to do is correct his thinking and you have told him how the cabbage was eaten by the cow!

            We always had a row of cabbage in the garden. All of the animals on the farm liked it and the old timers at the table considered it an excellent food during its season. Clifton and I and our fishing friends always took a head or two of fresh cabbage when we made one of our frequent over-night fishing trips to Pecan Bayou or Red Creek!

            These fishing trips were a well-planned excuse to stay up all night around a big camp fire. We always took plenty of food with us as well as an adequate supply of coffee. In addition to the food we carried with us we had fresh cat fish from the trot lines and sometimes a tasty squirrel or two on the side. Many times a block of ice and an ice cream freezer provided a cooling treat. A big head or two of cabbage boiling down in a pot was a seasonal treat that was always a welcome item on our menu!

            The old timers said it is always darkest just before the dawn. On one particular trip to the bayou we began our preparations for the homeward trip during the darkest part of the dawn, just when the fire was burning low and the food was about all gone. There was still a half head of cabbage in the pot and a few pieces of fish in a skillet. Clifton asked if anyone wanted any more cabbage. Since no one answered affirmatively he pulled the big hunk out of the pot on a fork and began eating. He had eaten about half of it when he suddenly pulled it away from his mouth and held it close to the coals of fire for a better view. He was spitting and gagging and carrying on like a sick horse. “Ohhh!” he complained, “I just ate over half of a big cabbage worm!” Everyone started laughing except Clifton. Clyde commented, “At least it was well done!”

            Everyone except Clifton thought it was funny. Clifton did think it was funny when he threw the cabbage in the dying fire and a glowing coal popped out and landed on Clyde’s foot.