While walking around Lumbarda with our friends John and Rachel from Korcula Explorer, they asked whether we had ever seen such cabbages. The cabbages in question were lovely looking healthy plants, obviously cabbage but without the usual solid round head.
What we were looking at was a variant of Brassica Oleracea, or wild cabbage, commonly known in the US as collard greens, in England as colewort and in Dalmatia as rašika or raštika. In New Zealand it is called Dalmatian Cabbage! It turns out all the common brassica varieties such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc are all the very same species, just selected for their particular characteristics. Just like a Chihuahua and a St Bernard are just breeds of the one species of dog, so too all the edible brassicas are just different types of wild cabbage. Brassica Oleracea is the great grandaddy of them all.
But what has any of that got to do with the Roman Empire you may ask? We are getting to that. First the divine origins of raštika. Ancient Egyptians wrote that the earth god Geb, coupled each evening with the sky goddess Nut as the sun set. Looking at the slightly pornographic contemporary scroll below, even though very well endowed, it looks like Geb did not quite manage to reach properly. He spilt some of his seed on the ground. Maybe because he was looking the other way, maybe because the athletic Nut was too high above him, maybe because of premature ejaculation, the reasons are not recorded. However from his spilt seed sprouted the divine brassica.
Scroll forward a few thousand years and the Emperor Diocletian has had enough of running the Empire and has abdicated, leaving behind four Caesars to govern as a tetrarchy. The first and only Roman Emperor of antiquity to leave office alive and voluntarily, he quit on May 1, 305.
Now once again common Diocles, he retired to his native Dalmatia where he had had a massive palace built at Spalatum (today’s city of Split), and devoted himself to gardening, in particular cabbages, his beloved brassica oleracea, or olera.
The complex four way power split he engineered did not last and soon he was being begged to return to save the Empire. His answer was a true classic:
“Utinam Salonae possetis visere olera nostris manibus instituta, profecto numquam istud temptandum iudicaretis”
“If you could see at Salonae the cabbages raised by our hands, you surely would never judge that a temptation.”
So as you can see, the divine cabbages from ancient Egypt kept Diocletian in his garden and hastened the fall of the Roman Empire.
Scroll forward another couple thousand years, and today collard greens are still very popular in Dalmatian cuisine, but also in the deep south of the USA, and a few other places. Here is a traditional recipe from Croatia, or simply google “rastika recipe”
Here is a link to the Korcula Explorer blog
Wikipedia article on the Emperor Diocletian
Wikipedia article on collard greens
With thanks to the great Croatian author and chef, Veljko Barbieri.