Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Andrew Jackson and "Boil Them Cabbage Down"

For most of his adult life, Andrew Jackson lived near the hills of east Tennessee where mountaineers with fiddles and banjos sang foot-tapping tunes about common frontier foods. Today, you can still hear some of these old food-related tunes, like “Jimmy Crack Corn” and “When it’s Chitlin Time in Cheatham County.”

“Boil Them Cabbage Down” is another classic folk song played with a fiddle. Some music historians claim that its origins can be traced to those Africans who were brought to the southern states as slaves. According to this theory, some "Africans in Niger played primitive instruments that resembled the fiddle, guitar, and banjo, so when the Africans were brought to the United States, they found the fiddle to be a familiar instrument.”

Although the precise origins of this tune will likely always remain a mystery, what is certain is that it is deeply rooted in folk history and has been recorded by such popular folks singers as Pete Seeger. Maybe you've heard the lyrics:

Boil them cabbage down
Went up on the mountain
just to give my horn a blow
Thought I heard my true love say
Yonder comes my beau

Boil them cabbage down
Turn them hoecakes round
The only song that I can sing
is Boil them Cabbage Down...

The origins of “When it’s Chitlin Time in Cheatham County” are also rooted in uncertainty. If you're unfamiliar with the term dictionaries generally define chitlins as the intestines or guts of a pig. To maximize profits, slave owners during the Jacksonian era would try to feed their slaves in the cheapest manner possible. After slaughtering a hog, the best cuts of meat were typically reserved for the slave owner's use while the remains (snouts, ears, intestines, feet, etc.) were given to the slaves to eat.

Today, chitlins are still considered a delicacy in the south. Still, I’m guessing that some of you might not want to nibble on chitlins - or Boiled Cabbage, for that matter - but you might like to try this simple and delicious recipe for Sauteed Cabbage from Ina Garten

1 small head white cabbage, including outer green leaves (2 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cut the cabbage in half and, with the cut-side down, slice it as thinly as possible around the core, as though you were making coleslaw. Discard the core.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, salt, and pepper and saute for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender and begins to brown. Season to taste. Serve warm and enjoy!

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