What the Kohlrabi Can Teach Us


Over the years I learned many pearls of wisdom from Rabbi Lionel Blue in the oasis of his Thoughts for the Day, but we can also learn a lesson from a kohlrabi (a ghastly pun that I'm sure Rabbi Blue would have loved). A what? I can hear some of you asking (whilst others look on smugly and nod sagely). In her beautiful hand-drawn and hand-lettered cookbook The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Molly Katzen describes it as "the only vegetable that looks like it was grown on Mars". The Big Boys' Internet Book of Weird Vegetables goes into some detail if you want to know more, but let's just call it a space turnip. I have seen these for sale from time to time, but when I did I never knew what I might do with them. Then recently I was thumbing through Cranks Savouries and Sauces looking for the excellent couscous recipe, when the pages stopped at a recipe that included kohlrabi. The recipe also includes "root vegetables" (of your own choice, including turnips), but specifically lists kohlrabi. Clearly the kohlrabi is key. My curiosity was piqued, and I knew it was time to live dangerously and very much risk being unable to secure a key ingredient on my shopping list. Needless to say, my local Sainsbury's didn't have any, and neither did The Clean Kilo, and so the hunt was on.

My first ports of call were Tom Brown's, the greengrocer in Cotteridge (unlikely, but I did get some superb Seville oranges there this year), and the J&H Ward, the greengrocer opposite Wickes in Stirchley. As I was leaving the house I ran into a friend who is (ahem) a sauce of wisdom when it comes to good food, and even grows her own on the allotment she was heading for. "Any idea where I might get a kohlrabi?". "No idea. Difficult. Maybe the greengrocer opposite Wickes in Stirchley?". So I pedalled off to the greengrocer in Cotteridge, who didn't have any, and then through Cotteridge Park and down the hill to Stirchley (a little planning goes a long way when you provide the power yourself). He told me he might be able to get some later in the week. Later in the week arrived, I was back on my bike, and he hadn't.

One thing I had learned from my reading was that kohlrabi are a "commonly eaten vegetable in German-speaking countries" (Kohl is the German word for cabbage - yes, there was a German chancellor called Mr Cabbage). As far as I know the closest I can get to a German shop in Birmingham is a Polish shop (I can hear what you're thinking; stop it this instant), which meant my next stop was Casper in the city centre. So I needed to get to the Rea Valley Route. The Pershore Road was the stuff of nightmares. Queuing cars, the stench of petrol and diesel fumes, "sports" exhausts, the occasional inappropriate foot-to-the-floor overtake, and people blasting their horns at each other; it should be no surprise that trade goes up when cars are banished from high streets, but we still haven't learned that lesson. So I walked to the pedestrian crossing, pressed the button, and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And eventually it let me cross, bringing occasionally moving cars to a halt for a few seconds and no doubt having a disastrous effect on the smooth flow of traffic.

As I was passing Mayfield Road I noticed it was no longer a cul-de-sac; I could see the Rea Valley Route. It turned out that it is still a cul-de-sac, but filtered permeability has been implemented in the form of bollards between it and the new housing on Iron Way. Hooray! Unfortunately, the obvious connection between Iron Way and the Rea Valley Route (NCN5) has been blocked by a low wooden fence, a death strip, and a wire mesh fence. After all, connecting them might lead to the end of civilisation. Just think of all those scruffy, rebellious people who might walk or cycle instead of driving. Thankfully a desire line is maturing nicely here, the mesh fence has been broken down, and someone has laid some rubber matting to deal with the mud.

Iron Way Viewed from the Rea Valley Route (NCN5) Mayfield Road - Iron Way Filtered Permeability

Whilst the new housing estate in Stirchley on Iron Way has been connected to the high street using filtered permeability, no connection has been made with the Rea Valley Route to allow people to walk and cycle further afield, something people clearly want to do.

So I heaved my bike over the low fence and continued up the Rea Valley Route to Casper on Allison Street. Alas they had no kohlrabi, so it was then on to the fruit and veg market. No joy there either, so my next stop was Day In, where I finally got lucky. Had I not been, my plan was then to head down to Harborne via the Harborne Walkway to call in at Waitrose (on the basis that middle class people must surely create a demand for specialist turnips). It would have been a nice ride out to Harborne, but Harborne itself is a car sewer, so I cycled home on the A38 cycleway (repeat after me, trade goes up when cars are banished from high streets).

A bike is just perfect for this sort of complex multi-stop city journey. As evidenced by Stirchley high street, travelling by car would have been miserable and slow, adding to the pollution and the traffic jams. It would also have necessitated finding somewhere to park at each stop. In the city centre that would probably have meant paying for a car park and then walking between stops, before returning to my car. Making the journey by bus would have required waiting for multiple buses and would have been very tiring and time-consuming. Without a day pass it would have been very expensive, but if I had gotten lucky in Stirchley I would have wasted money on a day pass. The train would have only been useful for the Stirchley to city centre leg, whilst the tram would have not been useful for any part of the journey. And in any case, I didn't need a huge metal box or hundreds of horsepower in order to transport a small vegetable. Walking it would have been dirt cheap and very ecologically sound, but it would have taken all day. My bike allowed me to travel with reasonable speed point-to-point and stop right outside every location. My contribution to pollution and global warming beyond that caused just by my being alive was within a gnat's whisker of zero. The cost of the journey itself was zero, and the cost of ownership of a bike is minimal (especially if you buy second-hand, like I do). Whilst the journey was not at all strenuous, I was getting exercise, so even if I had returned empty-handed, the journey would not have been wasted. A journey by bike is never a wasted journey.

So the overall lesson from the kohlrabi is that cycles are awesome.

Push Bikes wishes you and your family a happy and peaceful Easter. And in case you are wondering, yes, the kohlrabi was worth all the effort.