My mother always told me it’s a no-win situation to try to cook things for your husband “just like his mama used to make.” I agree with her, but I also believe taste is a strong sense that can evoke wonderful memories. This dish was among Garth’s family’s favorites made by his mother, Colleen. I doubt that my version, taken from her handwritten recipe, is as good as hers, but I think it makes Garth smile and remember his mom when I make it. Colleen always said the secret to this dish was the cinnamon!
In a large bowl, mix the beef, rice, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and tomatoes. Set aside.
Wash and core the cabbage. Bring a large stockpot filled with 8 cups of the water, the sugar, lemon juice, vinegar, and bay leaves to a boil. Blanch the cabbage in the boiling mixture for 5 minutes, or just until softened. Drain the cabbage, let it cool, then carefully peel 12 leaves from the cabbage.
Place ¼ cup of the beef and rice mixture onto each leaf. Fold in the sides of the leaf and wrap into a roll, enclosing all the filling. Place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, closely together in a 9 × 13 × 2-inch shallow baking pan.
In a small bowl, combine the tomato juice with the remaining 1 cup water and pour the mixture over the cabbage rolls. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the meat is well done.
I use 2 heads of cabbage to get the 12 biggest leaves possible. If the outside of your cabbage has bright green leaves, discard them. They won’t get as tender in cooking as the brighter leaves underneath.