Shetland Cabbage / Kale: the oldest Scottish local vegetable variety?
Shetland cabbage or Shetland kale, a landrace of unknown origin, has been grown on the Shetland Islands since at least the 17th century (Fenton 2007). First used as a vegetable, it was then widely grown as winter feed for cattle and sheep. The last 30 years however, has seen a steep decline in the use of this landrace
Seed of Shetland cabbage is not sold commercially and the survival of this and other landraces is entirely dependent on saved seed from growers. Community Action plans, such as that for Yell have advocated support for Shetland cabbage.
The life cycle has been well documented (Fenton 1978, Anderson 2001). Traditionally a plantie crub or crö, a small circular stone-walled enclosure, was used for raising cabbage seedlings (Anderson 2001), which were then transplanted into larger kale yards, also often with protective stone walls. These structures can be seen all over the islands though many have now been abandoned or are used for other purposes.
Shetland cabbage seed was collected in the 1980s and deposited at the vegetable genebank at Warwick HRI in Wellesbourne where some accessions were found to show Clubroot (Plasmodiophora brassicae) resistance.
Then in the mid-2000s as the Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme was being set up, further material was obtained and conserved at SASA which now holds around 50 accessions from a wide range of locations in Shetland and Foula.
Characterisation of accessions, collected on the Shetland mainland and the neighbouring islands shows wide morphological variation within and between accessions for traits such as foliage colour, head formation, head density and powdery mildew resistance.
Here’s a reference to the kale and the crö in the first verse* of “Probably still the most famous poem in the Shetland dialect”, "Auld Maunsie's Crö " by Basil R. Anderson:
Oot-ower apon a weel-kent hill,
Whase watters rise ta grinnd a mill,
Auld Maunsie biggit him a crö,
Ta growe him kale for mutton brö –
Fir Maunsie never tocht him hale,
Withoot sheeps’ shanks an cogs o kale.
Anderson, L. F. (2001) The Bressay Plantie Crubs, Bressay: Bressay Local History Group.
Crute, I.R. and Pink, D.A.C. (1989) "The characteristics and inheritance of resistance to clubroot in Brassica oleracea", Aspects of applied biology, 23, 57-60.
Fenton, A. (1978) The Northern isles: Orkney and Shetland, Edinburgh: John Donald.
Fenton, A. (2007) The food of the Scots : Scottish Life and Society : a compendium of Scottish ethnology, Edinburgh: John Donald.
Lever, L. A. (2006) A survey of Landraces on the Sheland Islands, MSc. thesis School of Biosciences,University of Birmingham.
Scholten, M., Maxted, N., Ford-Lloyd, B., and Green, N. (2008) "Hebridean and Shetland Oat(Avena strigosa Schreb.), and Shetland cabbage (Brassica oleracea L.) landraces: occurrence and conservation issues", BIOVERSITY/FAO PGR Newsletter, 154, 1-5, available from: http://www.bioversityinternational.org/fileadmin/PGR/article-issue_154-a....