Pick cabbages very clean, and wash them thoroughly; then look them over carefully again; quarter them if they are very large. Put them into a sauce-pan with plenty of boiling water; if any scum rises, take it off; put a large spoonful of salt into the sauce-pan, and boil them till the stalks feel tender. A young cabbage will take about twenty minutes or half an hour; when full grown, near an hour: see that they are well covered with water all the time, and that no smoke or dirt arises from stirring the fire. With careful management, they will look as beautiful when dressed as they did when growing.
Obs.–Some cooks say, that it will much ameliorate the flavor of strong old cabbages to boil them in two waters; i.e., when they are half done, to take them out, and put them directly into another sauce-pan of boiling water, instead of continuing them in the water into which they were first put.
From The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner, MD, New York, 1829
Comment: How hard can it be to cook a cabbage, you ask? The vegetable once described (by Ambrose Bierce, in his Devil’s Dictionary) as being about the same size, and containing as much wisdom, as a man’s head? Alas, you have only to go into a house where cabbage has been cooked badly–sometimes days or even weeks before–or to eat the resulting product, and you will realize the importance of doing it well.
The advice about “cooking in two waters” in the case of older cabbages (as well as related species such as brussels sprouts and broccoli) is good. Note however that both waters should be brought to a boil before the cabbage is put in. Starting it in cold water will result in a soggy mass whose flavor has been released into the cooking water and turned into those unfortunate house-filling odors we mentioned earlier.