“For those who wonder why cabbage is way out in front as the American vegetable crop, the answer is a…four-letter word: slaw.”~Irma Rombauer The Joy of Cooking 1985
In the 1600s Dutch colonist settled in the new world on the east coast of what would become the United States. Dutch holdings included part of what is now New York state where industrious immigrates planted cabbage along the Hudson River from seed brought with them to this new land. They also brought along their recipe for “koolsla”, a salad made from finely chopped cabbage, dressed with a vinegar dressing. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Interestingly, New York is still one of the top five cabbage producing states in the U.S. including Florida, California, Texas and Wisconsin. In 2016, these states produced over 1.8 million pounds of cabbage with nearly half of that being processed for slaw. Indeed, Americans have fully embraced coleslaw, often pairing it with another iconic American tradition — barbecue. Our summer picnics, cookouts and barbecues have even elevated coleslaw from a side dish to a condiment. Who doesn’t love a pulled pork sandwich piled high with cool crunchy slaw?
With cabbage having such a long history in America, it doesn’t come as a surprise that twentieth-century cookbooks contain a host of coleslaw or cabbage salad recipes. Recipes from the turn of the century were a simple combination of chopped cabbage tossed with a boiled dressing containing vinegar, a little sugar, salt and pepper, an egg and cream, but by the 1930s, things started to get interesting. Slaw makers began experimenting with the addition of fruit, assorted vegetables, seasonings and a variety of dressings. Some of these additions are still enjoyed today. Others have gone by the wayside, thankfully.
Coleslaw in the Thirties
Irma Rombauer, author of The Joy of Cooking 1931, suggests adding green peppers, apples and celery to shredded cabbage for added flavor and texture. She offers two options for dressing — a French (vinaigrette) dressing or Boiled dressing. Ever practical, Ms. Rombauer offers some advice to home cooks preparing slaw as well, suggesting an improvised tool for chopping cabbage: [Place cabbage in] “a deep bowl and [use] the sharp edge of an [empty] baking powder can” [to chop the cabbage]. This homemade tool is something similar to the hand choppers we use today (EXAMPLE). Her Cole Slaw recipe also advises home cooks to soak the chopped cabbage in ice water for an hour to crisp it. Thankfully, today’s refrigeration makes this step obsolete.
The cookbook, Modern Meal Maker 1939 continues the creativity with several interesting ingredients as well. The first recipe simply titled “Coleslaw” calls for some chopped fresh mint “for an especially nice cooling salad,” to be dressed with Cream Salad Dressing (recipes below):
The second Modern Meal Maker recipe is similar to the Joy of Cooking 1931 coleslaw recipe calling for chopped apple and celery, and is also dressed with Boiled Dressing (recipes below):
The final Modern Meal Maker recipe appears to be a carry-over from the pineapple food fad of the 1920s called “Pineapple Slaw”. The recipe simply consists of a half cup crushed pineapple added to three cups shredded cabbage and is dressed with Golden Dressing, which incorporates the tropical flavors of pineapple, orange and lemon juice (recipe below):
Coleslaw in the Forties
“Cabbage Carrot Salad” appears in The Household Searchlight Recipe Book 1944 calling for an ingredient that is common in coleslaw today — shredded carrots — and a mayonnaise dressing, also common today, with orange sections for garnish (recipe below):
The recipe for “Cabbage Apple Salad” calls for chopped apple, of course, along with celery, green pepper, nuts and tomato to be dressed with Russian Dressing (a combination of mayo, chili sauce and chopped green pickle). With the help of pinking shears, a hollowed out head of cabbage, an unpared red apple and a stalk of celery, this salad makes a stunning presentation to be sure (recipe below):
Once again, pineapple shows up in “Cabbage Pineapple Salad” accompanied by an unusual ingredient — marshmallows. What?! Perhaps they were added to entice the children to eat their vegetables (recipe below):
Coleslaw in the Fifties
A coleslaw recipe appearing in The Modern Family Cook Book 1953 titled “Farm Style Cole Slaw” offers the most minimalistic cabbage salad recipe by comparison, simply calling for three thinly sliced radishes to be added to three cups shredded cabbage, and a mayonnaise dressing.
Another recipe called “Vegetable Slaw” contains shredded cabbage and carrots, sliced celery and minced onion lightly tossed in a dressing made of mayo, mustard and peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter!
The Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959, in the section titled “From Field and Stream” is a recipe with a long name, “Coleslaw to Serve with Fish and Game”. Its not the ingredients that make this recipe interesting, its the recipe immediately preceding the coleslaw recipe that captures ones imagination — Roast Racoon, seriously!
This post would not be a thorough representation of twentieth-century recipes if I did not include a gelatin-enhanced cabbage salad. Again The Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook 1959 provides an interesting example called “Slaw with Mustard Mold”. The slaw is a combination of shredded cabbage, chopped salted peanuts and diced pimientos dressed with a French (vinaigrette) Dressing. The Mustard Mold, meant to crown the top of the cabbage salad, is a cooked mixture of unflavored gelatin, water, sugar, dry mustard, vinegar and eggs. The mixture is cooled and allowed to partially set, at which time whipped cream is folded in and the whole concoction is poured into a mold and chilled until firm. To serve, the slaw is layered on a platter with the mustard gelatin perched on top. A tasty addition to any potluck, I’m sure.
Coleslaw in the Sixties
In The New York Times Cook Book 1961, Craig Claiborne published a recipe titled “Cole Slaw with Caraway”. This understated combination of chopped cabbage and minced onion is tossed with a simple mayonnaise dressing seasoned with lemon juice, caraway seeds and salt and pepper. Claiborne even offers a helpful tip to home cooks, “blend the mixture well with the hands”.
About the same time Claiborne’s cookbook went on sale, McCormick–Schilling, published their recipe for “Caraway Cole Slaw” in a charming booklet titled “Let’s Eat Outdoors”:
Coleslaw in the Seventies
Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook 1971 offers two recipes with an ingredient that has not been mentioned yet — raisins. I like raisins, but the inclusion comes as a surprise as the popularity of these dried gems has declined throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Today raisin producers have had to return to the advertising drawing board to try to generate interest and bolster declining sales.
The first recipe, titled “Cabbage Salad Bowl” calls for raisins soaked in orange juice, cabbage and shredded carrot. To me, this sounds like a recipe worth trying (recipe below):
The second Busy Woman 1971 recipe, one with an intriguing name, “Carolina Autumn Salad” contains what are almost classic coleslaw ingredients at this point — cabbage, apples and celery, along with a half cup seedless raisins. This is another recipe I would be willing to try (recipe below):
Bringing us full circle is a recipe from the Joy of Cooking 1985 edition, calling for yet another unexpected fruit to go with the cabbage — green grapes. However, its the dressing that really gets a makeover. Starting with whipped cream, the following ingredients are folded in — lemon juice, celery seed, sugar, salt and pepper and slivered blanched almonds. I’m not sure about this recipe, but how can anything with whipped cream in it be bad?
I’m tossing my favorite coleslaw recipe into the mix. Its a simple combination of cabbage and apples, but my grandmother’s Poppy Seed Dressing takes this slaw to a whole new level. It is sweet and it is sassy, and it is a crowd pleaser. Mix some up for your next barbecue. You will be glad you did. Enjoy!
Cabbage and Apple Slaw
- 2 (10 oz) bags shredded angel hair slaw
- 2 apples, shredded or julienned (Honeycrisp apples have thin, tender peels)
Poppy Seed Dressing
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp Colman’s dry mustard
- 1 tsp poppy seeds
Using a blender or immersion blender, pulse dressing ingredients until mixture begins to emulsify; set aside.
Shred apples using a box grater or mandolin. Toss apples with shredded cabbage in a large bowl. Drizzle with half the prepared Poppy Seed Dressing; toss to coat. Add more dressing if needed. (Remaining vinaigrette makes a great fruit salad dressing).
Garnish slaw with apple slices and additional poppy seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Recipe Compliments of cookbooklady.com