Hansi Ashton’s Spring Greens


This week’s post isn’t a recipe as such but rather a method for preparing and cooking spring greens favoured by my mother, Hansi.

When my sisters and I were growing up in the ’60s the standard British method for cooking cabbage was pretty much to dump it in boiling salted water and cook it over a medium heat for about a week to ensure that all colour, texture and taste was boiled out of it.  The resulting pap would then be drained (what nutrients left in the cooking water being poured down the sink) and dumped on a plate accompanied, probably, by similarly over-cooked carrots, lumpy mashed potatoes and a piece of grey looking meat in thin gravy.

Fortunately for my sisters and me and our father our mother came from Austria which meant the food that she prepared for us was a balance of British and continental cooking and was always superb.  And when it came to the British side of things, our mother had her own methods which included how to cook spring greens that was tasty and reasonably quick.

I mentioned to my sister Maria that I was going to post this at some stage but the resulting wave of nostalgic texts about mother’s spring greens between Maria and my other sister, Caroline, and my niece Natalie  has meant that it has leap-frogged the post I had planned to publish this weekend.

What did come out of the cyber-chatter was that Maria can’t get spring greens easily, if at all, in Australia and Caroline and Natalie in America aren’t too sure if they can get it either.  But not to worry, this method can be adapted for other long-leafed members of the cabbage family such as Cavolo Nero.  At a pinch you could try kale, but I think the crinkly leaves of kale might be a problem when shredding the leaves.

The ingredients for this are very few, just four!

What you’ll need for two people is:

  • 500gr/1lb Spring Greens.  (Catering for more people? Then simply increase the amount of spring greens by 250gr per person)
  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper

What you ‘ll need to do:

  • Separate the leaves from the main root.  There is no need to wash the leaves beforehand because you’ll be giving them a good wash at the end.
  • With a sharp knife, cut out the central vein of each leaf leaving a V shape cut in each leaf making sure you do not cut the leaf in half.


    • Stack the leaves on top of each other – the largest at the bottom then building up.
    • Roll the leaves tightly as if making a cigar.
  • A119281E-DFB3-4CC4-8AA3-D25F5B262245_1_201_a
    • Using your sharp knife cut the ‘cigar’ into fine ribbons holding the roll firmly in your other hand as you cut – do not let the leaves relax otherwise they will unroll, and you’ll have to start again.
    • Fill your sink with cold water and place the ribbons in a large colander and dunk the lot into the sink.  Swish the greens around to wash.


  • Lift out the colander and let the excess water drain off but do not shake off the residual water from the ribbons – this will be your steaming liquid.
  • Transfer the greens to a large saucepan and place on a high heat until you hear the water begin to hiss and sizzle.  Immediately put the lid on the saucepan and reduce the heat to low to medium and allow the greens to steam for about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how much you have prepared.  Check to see if the greens are tender if not steam a little longer.  Make sure you do not over-cook as the ribbons should be vibrant green and hold their shape.
  • Once cooked add butter and salt and pepper to taste and stir through but do not drain the liquid.  When you are ready to put the greens into a serving dish use kitchen tongs to squeeze out the liquid beforehand.

If you are going to use another type of leaf cabbage, such as Cavalo Nero you may need to reduce the cooking time a little because Cavolo Nero leaves are more tender that spring green leaves and may not require the same amount of time steaming.

STOP PRESS: Since posting this yesterday my sister Maria has written to tell me she made the dish this evening (Sydney time) using Cavolo Nero and cooked it for 10 minutes precisely – the timing being spot-on.

Top Tip: It is very important that you keep your knives sharp – sharpen them at regular intervals.  Hansi detested a blunt knife and if she came across one (never her own naturally) she would declare “Vell, it was so blunt you could ride to Rome on it”

7 thoughts on “Hansi Ashton’s Spring Greens”

  1. This method also works well with young leaves of Swiss chard. Thank you, Julian, for sharing your mother’s cooking tips.


  2. Thank you for posting the method Brother mine. Last night I had the perfect dining experience.


  3.  Noice! Grandma Africa’s white cabbage recipe – cut into quarters, remove the ‘strunk’ (think it’s the stalky bit), Cut into eights, put into cold water, bring to boil. Immediately drain, put in a shit load of butter, pot roast on medium until cabbage browned and THEN!!!!!!! Add Maggi to taste – mwa -delicieuse – as my Dad would say.😂 Bless our Mums! Xxx

    Sent from Manuela’s iPhone



  4. Hi Jules. Good to see you’re posting more recipes for us. This is a really great way to cook spring greens – I’ve always cook them this way. I learnt the method from my mother, who incidentally was English through and through and an excellent cook! 😜 x


    1. Hello Kate – thank you for your note. I’m glad the method is more wide-spread than I initially thought however it certainly wasn’t in the North West when I was growing up!


  5. Fabulous. I’ll cook mine tomorrow night and I’ll post comments on the blog.

    You just gave me a giggle fest over Mum’s saying on blunt knives. I don’t remember that one.

    Sent from my iPad Maria



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