< Vegetables

Kohl Rabi


Brassica oleracea caulo-rapa

Kohl Rabi was one of the novelty vegetables in 19th century America. Grown experimentally in isolated plots maintained by horticulturists from about 1840, commercial seed became available in the 1850s in Great Britain through Peter Lawson (the U. S. Patent Office distributed Lawson seed for the Large Purple Kohl Rabi in the 1850s),[1] and in United States during the 1860s through Peter Henderson and Landreth Seeds. It did not come into general cultivation, however, until the 1880s. In 1888, a Cleveland grower described its introduction into the local market: “This year we started some kohlrabi-plants in the greenhouse; and during the month of June we had quite a lot of beautiful bulbs ready for the market. The boys suggested that the vegetable would not sell, because nobody knew what to do with them . . . . Well, to my great surprise the kohlrabi very soon got a footing. It is true, that people did not know how they were to be cooked—a good many of them—and quite a number had never seen or heard of such a thing; but they had got into a sort of way of thinking that whatever we carried was good, if it were cooked right. Ernest's wife thought she would try cooking them as we do vegetable oysters, and they declared them to be " just splendid." Young married couples are a good deal inclined, you know, to call everything "just splendid." Other folks cooked them as they do turnips or mashed potatoes, and they proved to be "splendid " that way. Pretty soon the kohlrabi-bulbs were called for a good deal faster than they grew, and we didn't have any trouble with overgrown ones.”[2]

Kohl Rabi first received notice in the sixteenth century in Italy and Germany. Its earliest commentators thought that the bulb stalked green resulted from the cross between a cabbage (cole/kohl) and a rape plant (Rabi).[3] This supposition has proven mistaken. It is entirely a cabbage in its constitution, and its form a natural mutation. German gardeners embraced the plant and developed it from the sixteenth to the early 19th century when it began attracting general notice. It distinctive stalk swells above ground (the rutabaga or Swedish turnip was the cabbage variety in which the swelling occurred below the soil surface). Greatly drought tolerant, the vegetable proved a boon to areas with low annual rainfall in the American west.[4] It had the additional commendation of preferring clay soils, so could be grown in areas where turnips did not flourish. The plant’s foliage went for cattle feed, being savored as much as any plant from the cabbage family.

A farmer hand planted three Kohl Rabi seeds in moist soil a foot apart at the same time corn was sown. The usual practice of thinning plants took place when the vitality of the seedlings could be registered.

1. “Seeds from the Patent Office,” The Country Gentleman 8 (1856), p. 111.
2. Amos Ives Root, What to Do, and How to be Happy while Doing It (Medina, OH: A. I. Root, 1888), pp. 68-69.
3. E. Louis Sturtevant, “History of Garden Vegetables: Kohl Rabi,” The American Naturalist 22 (Chicago, 1888), p. 979-81.
4. Annual Report of the Experimental Station at Kansas State Agricultural College (Topeka: George Crane, 1889), pp. 47-49.

Early White    History

The bulbs are greenish-white outside; flesh white and tender, while young. The best condition for use is when the root is from 3 to 4 inches in diameter; if younger, it partakes too much of the taste of the Cabbage, and when older it is dry and stringy. The best market sort. {Henderson]

Large Purple    History

Almost identical with the preceding, except in color, which is a blueish-purple. {Henderson]

Late Green    History

best for general cultivation, and productiveness.

Curled Leaf    History

a Neopolitan Kohl Rabi

Artichoke Leafed    History

Introduced before 1863.

Kohlrabi (Letters to a Young Housekeeper 1892)    History

Kohlrabi are only fit to eat when quite young; later they contain much fibrous matter which is indigestible. Peel them, halve them, cut them into thin slices, parboil in salted water, and drain them. Stew them slowly in some light-colored broth. When they begin to get tender add the heart of the green leaves growing at the top of the kohlrabi, after cutting them into shreds. They are of fine flavor, and will color the dish slightly green. When done, drain the vegetable and use the liquid in which they have cooked for a bechamel sauce, which you pour over your kohlrabi. Let them get right hot in it, and serve. Marie Hansen Taylor, Letters to a Young Housekeeper (New York 1892), pp. 109-110.

Kohl-Rabi, a la Crème (The Book of Entrees 1886)    History

This excellent vegetable is seldom seen on the tables of Americans, as they know but little of its superb qualities. In taste it much resembles the cauliflower. The name is German, and is derived from kohl, meaning cabbage, and rube, meaning rape. The stem just above the surface of the ground swells into a round, fleshy bulb, in form not unlike the turnip. Peel them as turnips, quarter them and then cut them in thin slices, boil in water slightly salted. Dissolve an ounce of butter, add to it a little flour, salt, nutmeg, and white pepper to taste. Beat the yolk of one egg, add to it half a pint of milk, and whisk it into the butter; when thick add the vegetable, and serve. The leaves when tender are boiled and served as spinach. Thomas J. Murrey, The Book of Entrees (New York: White, Stokes, & Allen, 1886), pp. 42-43.

Mashed Kohl Rabi (Cookery & Housekeeping 1884)    History

Cut the kohlrabi in slices; boil in salt and water; drain; mash with a fork, and then pass through a tamis. Season with pepper and salt; stir in cream or butter and milk; arrange in a heaped-up mass; garnish with fried or toasted croCitons, or with balls of sausage-meat, or with egg-balls. Christine J. G. Reeve, Cookery & Housekeeping (London, 1884), p. 328. [This is a British recipe supplied since no American recipe was printed for the dish that was frequently cited in discussions of the uses of Kohl Rabi.]

Kohl-Rabi Salad (Salads & Sauces 1885)    History

The kohl-rabi, or turnip-rooted cabbage, is used in salads. Boil three of the vegetables slowly twenty-five minutes; remove the outer layers and cut the remainder into slices; put it in a salad-bowl with three sliced potatoes and two spring onions; add one minced pickle, and pour over the salad a plain dressing. Many prefer a bacon-dressing with this salad. The stem being the principal place of deposit of the nutriment in the kohl-rabi, it consequently becomes the edible portion of the plant. The stem just above the surface of the ground swells into a round fleshy bulb, in form not unlike the turnip. Thomas J. Murrey, Salads & Sauces (New York: White, Stokes, & Allen, 1885), p. 138.