Swamp Cabbage - the ultimate camp food for Southern States.

Feb 28, 2007

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The Bottom Line Swamp Cabbage is a delicious, nutritious vegetable. But this is only useful if you have Sabal Palms within the vicinity of your campsite.

What is Swamp Cabbage?

Swamp cabbage is the name given to the heart of the Sabal Palm. You can buy it canned under the name "hearts of palm", which is good in salads but I've never tried to cook it from a can.

The Sabal Palm is indigenous to Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and coastal North Carolina. They are very common and readily available in most areas. They grow wild in such abundance that they are not cultivated as a harvest vegetable.

How to harvest Swamp Cabbage:

Harvesting kills the tree so make sure there are other trees around so that you aren't decimating the lone survivor in an area. The perfect specimen is approximately 10-14 feet tall from bottom to the top of the fronds. Look for a trunk that is thick and healthy looking.

Once you have located the perfect tree, use an axe to remove the fronds. Once the fronds are removed, remove all the remaining "boots" from the tree starting from the top and working your way downward four feet. Boots are the hard outer covering, the woody parts, or "bark" of the Sabal Palm.

After removing the "boots", chop the sabal palm off about 3.5 feet from the top of the tree. You should have a cylinder shape about 3 feet long and 12 inches across.

In this state, the cabbage can be stored at room temperature for up to a week before it starts to sour.

How to prepare Swamp Cabbage for cooking:

When you are ready to serve a meal, use a semi-sharp blade to cut a straight line down the "skin" of the cabbage and then peel away the outer layers one by one until you have a creamy white cylinder about 5" inches across. This is the heart of the palm.

Once you have removed all the hard outer boots, chip away at the bottom of the swamp cabbage, as if slicing it for cole-slaw. Occasionally taste a small slice for bitterness. Once you have chipped enough from the end, the raw cabbage will be sweet on the tongue with no trace of bitterness. This process is the most important of all, because the bitterness will increase with cooking, so be sure you have removed all the bitter parts BEFORE cooking!

When fully cleaned, the trimmed cabbage should weigh from 5-10 pounds depending on the tree it was harvested from.

Once you have removed all the bitter bits, dump them out or eat them raw. Children love these bits! As do many adults who are familiar with the special treat. When raw, they aren't too bitter on the tongue, but cooking them increases the bitterness and can spoil a pot of Swamp Cabbage so err on the side of sweetness.

After the bitter parts are gone, shred the remaining swamp cabbage (heart of palm) into a large pot. Keep in mind that as you move higher on the cabbage, the bitterness increases, so be sure to taste it occasionally to be certain you are staying in the heart and not straying to bitter outer boots.

Ingredients and cooking notes::

After chipping up all that is usable, you should have filled a large pot nearly to the top with chipped swamp cabbage.

After you have done this, there are several recipes that you can use to fix Swamp Cabbage. The most popular recipes are boiled and fritters.

I think boiled Swamp Cabbage is the best treat, so I'll share that recipe here. You can find other recipes by searching with the keywords, swamp cabbage recipes.

Ingredients and items needed for preparation:
1/4 pound salt/white pork
1 medium sized swamp cabbage
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper.

One large pot with a lid.
One small frying pan to cook the pork.

How to cook swamp cabbage:

1. Fry 1/4 pound of diced salt or white pork bacon.
2. Once the salt/white pork is fully cooked, drain the excess grease.
3. Add two cups of water to your large pot of chipped swamp cabbage and bring it to a full foil.
4. Add 1 tablespoon of salt.
5. Add 1 teaspoon of pepper.
6. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar.
7. Add the salt/white bacon you have already prepared.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

This recipe makes a delicious vegetable and serves 8-20 people depending on the size of the cabbage.

Serve hot with any entree, but goes especially well with grilled meats or fried fish.

If you have trouble cutting or booting the swamp cabbage (it can be tricky) please contact me! I'll be glad to help.


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