Filder-spitzkraut is a conical green cabbage variety (Brassica oleracea Capitata) unseen in the U.S., except in cans, but it’s juicy flesh, mild and delicate flavor, and broad and tender leaves would make it welcome in any American kitchen.
In southern Germany, it lends itself well to sauerkraut, cabbage rolls and wraps, salads, soups, and braises. Or it is sometimes simply julienned and blanched, then tossed with butter, salt and pepper for a perfect accompaniment to roasted meats. In the town of Leinfelden-Echterdingen, just south of Stuttgart, an entire mid-October weekend festival, Filderkrautfest, celebrates the uniquely shaped Filder-spitzkraut with cabbage-related competitions, a parade, elected royalty, music, plenty of local beer and wine, and a whole lot of cabbage-centered dishes.
Filder-spitzkraut dates back to as early as 1501, linked to the Denkendorfer monastery in the state of Württemburg in Germany. It is unknown whether the cabbage first grew in its characteristic cone-shape due to a genetic mutation or if perhaps a monk produced it through deliberate botanical manipulation, but old texts show it has been noted as superior to ordinary green cabbage for centuries.
As much as the people of Baden-Württemburg prize its odd shape, its shape has made it less useful in the mechanized world of commercial sauerkraut production. Machinery used to rapidly shred cabbages work more efficiently with uniform, round heads of cabbage than with a varying array of cones. Filder-spitzkraut can grow to be much larger than typical green cabbages. It also requires a special tool to remove its unusually tough stem and its juicier leaves further slow the processing. But the flavor keeps a handful of local producers in business, growing and selling raw Filder-spitzkraut, and canning its prized sauerkraut. For these reasons, as well as due to the exclusivity of the region in which it’s grown, Filder-spitzkraut appears in the Slow Food Ark of Taste, “an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods.”
A quick search of the heritage seed companies Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Kitzawa Seed Company, and The Baker Creek Seed Company turned up no Filder-spitzkraut seeds, though Baker Creek had similar-looking Cour Di Bue and Greyhound or Eersteling cabbages. The website for Slow Food Germany says that the local growers retain complete control of the seed, never selling the seed commercially, and strictly adhere to traditional, natural farming techniques.
In between the fresh Filder-spitzkraut seasons, early spring and autumn, I’ll be keeping an eye out for local canned Filder-spitzkraut sauerkraut, such as Filder Spitzbüble. And if I can find any seeds in my local garden shops, I’ll be trying my hand at growing some in the spring.