Cabbage cookbook author writes big cheque for P.E.I. women's shelter

·3 min read
Ann Thurlow says her love for cabbage is real. (Carolyn Ryan/CBC - image credit)
Ann Thurlow says her love for cabbage is real. (Carolyn Ryan/CBC - image credit)

A cookbook focused on the lowly cabbage may have been "bit of a lark," as author Ann Thurlow describes it, but it has grown into a boon for a women's shelter in Charlottetown.

"I had the idea if I could sell 500 of these cookbooks, it would be incredible," Thurlow told CBC P.E.I. Mainstreet host Matt Rainnie.

"I thought 500 cookbooks would be the ultimate great thing."

For months after the October 2021 publication of My P.E.I. Cabbage Cookbook, there was no sign it would do anything more than that. But then the media started to pay attention.

There was national coverage on CBC Radio and in the Globe and Mail. And then there was the New York Times.

Thurlow, a fan of Times food editor Sam Sifton for many years, noticed a cabbage recipe in one of his columns, and decided to send him a copy of her book. Not long after, she awoke from a nap with her phone buzzing with messages from friends. Sifton had mentioned her book in his column.

Kevin Yarr/CBC
Kevin Yarr/CBC

"I was groggy from my nap and I thought, 'Is this a dream?'" she said.

It wasn't, and orders started coming in from across the United States in addition to a crop of Canadian ones.

"Things started to get a little viral," said John Barrett, director of sales, marketing and development for Veseys Seeds Ltd., the York, P.E.I. company that distributes the book.

"Over this past winter, things really started to take off."

A pandemic project

The book has now sold about 4,000 copies.

"Everybody is really surprised because nobody ever thinks of cabbage as anything special or fun or important," said Thurlow.

Her own love of cabbage is now legendary.

Kevin Yarr/CBC
Kevin Yarr/CBC

The idea arose after news coverage of cabbage farmers just outside of Charlottetown, who saw the bottom drop out of their market when restaurants were shut down in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. That made Thurlow think she had to do something to raise the profile of this underappreciated vegetable.

She started gathering recipes, and was surprised to find how much nostalgia is attached to the cabbage.

"Inevitably it's, 'My grandmother used to make the best cabbage' [or] 'My mom made this cabbage and it was unbelievable,'" said Thurlow.

But in addition to that nostalgia, Thurlow collected a lot of contemporary recipes as well.

Doing more

The book was always intended to be a fundraiser. On Wednesday, Thurlow will close the circle on that, presenting a cheque for $12,000 to Blooming House, a local women's shelter.

"I love what Blooming House does," said Thurlow. "They not only provide shelter, they provide follow-up. They have a lot of clients that they follow and have found homes for, and they follow and support them."

Every quarter we're going to get a little bit of something from this book that's being sold. — Liz Corney, Blooming House

For Blooming House, which has been in operation for only about four years, the donation is special, particularly because the shelter will continue to receive royalties from the book.

"We want to be able to do more and I think that's what the donation from Ann was all about," said Liz Corney, director of development and co-founder. "Something that we can say, 'OK, every quarter we're going to get a little bit of something from this book that's being sold' is huge for us."

What's next

With some relief, Thurlow is passing on responsibility for any reprints of My P.E.I. Cabbage Cookbook to Veseys.

Matt Rainnie/CBC
Matt Rainnie/CBC

That could give her some more time for her next project.

"I'm always a big fan of the underdog and wanting to help the underdog," she said. "There's other vegetables that I feel are grown on P.E.I. but not appreciated,"

She is thinking about pumpkins, which are mostly destined for decorations. We're not eating them and we should, she said.

Don't be surprised to see her tackling eggplants as well.