More than a pretty color: red cabbage goes sweet (brown sugar) and sour (vinegar).
I would say our family Thanksgivings are pretty standard. I mean, we don’t serve Great-Aunt Linda’s rolls and Susan’s Sweet Potatoes every year, but we do generally have the same things and we stick pretty close to the traditional American Thanksgiving fare. (I don’t have a Linda or Susan in my family…in fact, they are the names of Molly’s friends in the Molly American Girl Doll books.)
The one thing that stands out in my mind that newcomers to the family Thanksgiving feast would maybe find slightly out of place is Sweet and Sour Cabbage. This is my grandfather’s pet project each Thanksgiving. He is half Norwegian, and I know it’s something his father used to make. I assume his version is something of a family recipe. On the morning of every fourth Thursday in November, he pulls out a mandoline, some cabbage, a giant pot, and gets to work while others (namely me, my Ma, and my grandmother) prep the turkey and stuffing.
Most northern European countries have a version of this that falls into the category of “traditional cuisine.” I actually wasn’t a huge fan of cooked red cabbage until two years ago when I lived in Germany. Sure, each Thanksgiving I would try some in the spirit of family, but it was not my favorite. While living with a host family (fail), red cabbage was one of the few traditional German foods the family ate. When my host mother asked me if I liked red cabbage, I said that I did (which was not entirely true at the time) and that my grandfather often made the Norwegian version for us. And then I ate her red cabbage. And discovered I liked it. Once I moved into my own apartment, I discovered you could by frozen blocks of Rotkohl mit Äpfeln, and this became one of my dinner standards.
Before I started making this for the other night, I thought to myself that Great-Grandpa’s Sweet and Sour Cabbage recipe was lying in a book somewhere. However, I couldn’t find the book, so I turned to the trusty Joy of Cooking for guidance. Later, I found Great-Grandpa’s recipe and discovered that he used 1 cup of sugar for every 1/2 cup of vinegar. Um. What? That sounds more like candied cabbage than sweet an sour cabbage to me. Oh, well.
Adapted from Joy of Cooking.
- 2 lbs red cabbage, shredded
- 2 T butter
- 1 apple, diced (I wouldn’t use Red or Golden delicious)
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 T brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup red wine
In a large pot, saute onion and apple in butter. When soft, add brown sugar and salt. Stir to combine. Add cabbage, vinegar, and wine. Simmer about 1 1/2 hours on low, checking periodically to make sure there is still liquid in the pot. If there it seems like there is not enough liquid, add hot water and continue simmering until cabbage reaches desired tenderness. When done, the cabbage will be reduced to about half the size.
Serve hot, maybe with some pork chops.