This letter, written by Donna Langille, appeared in RuralLife.ca on January 29, 2021
Growing (up) on Big Tancook Island
Upon reading the article about Chris Sanford and the Tancook Island cabbage, “Propagating cabbage, preserving heritage,” in the December issue (page 20), I took a journey back in time. After supper on cool, early-spring evenings, Dad – Percy Langille, born and raised on Big Tancook Island – would go behind the house where he selected a couple hundred tiny cabbage transplants. The family followed him down the land to the prepared cabbage bed. Dad went ahead and hand-hoed holes in the still-cold soil, mentally placing each one an equal distance apart, allowing ample room for growth. We youngsters delicately dropped one plant at each hole, while Mom – Evelyn – centred each one in its hole and packed the soil around it. This nightly event continued until thousands of tiny soldiers stood with their leafy arms pointed towards the sky.
Tended to all late spring and summer, fall brought harvest time where beautiful, matured cabbages were cut into highly sought-after Tancook sauerkraut. Of course, some were saved intact for winter use. One particular cabbage, I remember, weighed 22 pounds. Mom and Dad cut in tons of cabbage, packed the kraut in different-sized plastic pails, and sold it to loyal customers on the mainland. To them, it was not only lots of hard work but a sense of accomplishment and a way of sharing their knowledge and heritage of the island.
Before most of the cabbages were harvested, Dad scanned the field and, with the skill passed down from forefathers, selected a few, potentially perfect seed producers. Stored in the cold room all winter, planted in the rich island soil in spring, new life in the form of pods erupted filled with precious, tiny black seeds. Samples of such were highly requested after Mom and Dad were featured on an episode of Land and Sea. Packages of the black jewels were mailed all over the mainland to folks who wanted a part of the best cabbages ever grown.
Even though our land was decorated with huge, leafy green beauties, my parents also planted everything from asparagus to zucchini – savoured during the summer, stored in some manner for winter use, and generously shared with family and friends.
My father is no longer with us, but just the other day, Mom, now 93, and I were talking about all their hard work years ago. She so quietly said, “I wish I was doing it all over again.”
Donna Langille, Amherst, N.S.