It is 10 o’clock at night and I am about to start making Cabbage Salad. Mrs. A Phelan contributed the recipe to the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. Why this recipe and why so late in the day? Well a friend requested a cabbage recipe as she is rolling in cabbage at the moment. Why this late? Today marks the beginning of my sixth month living with my house in disarray. It was back on April 4 that a burst water valve set my home on a course of tear out and rebuilding that is still in progress. This tearing down and rebuilding was happening on a larger scale in Berlin Ontario in 1906. Factories and homes and churches were all changing rapidly.
I decided to cut this recipe in half to make it more manageable for me. One of the first issues is determining if the recipe refers to an Imperial gallon or an American gallon. Canadians used recipes originating here at home but also ones coming from the United States, Great Britain and other countries too — in this area a recipe could come from Germany. A gallon is between 16 and 19 cups depending on which form of measurement is used. I opted to chop 9 cups of cabbage and 1 cup of onions. I added 1 1/2 tablespoons of dry ground mustard, 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger, 1/2 tablespoon of ground cloves and 1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper. Finally I added 4 1/2 cups of vinegar to a pot and mixed in the other ingredients. I left it to simmer for the suggested 20 minutes. I sampled it while warm and left the rest to cool in much the way Mrs. Phelan would in 1906. Unfortunately I only have a tiny fridge at the moment as my main fridge was left unplugged for days after it was moved from one room to another. I only discovered this last night because it is blocked in by all sorts of furniture.
Mrs. A. Phelan is a mystery woman. I haven’t found her yet.
The cabbage salad is a sort of vinegar based coleslaw and yet because it is cooked it has a different texture. It also uses some different spice combinations. It is possible I misinterpreted the recipe and it is just the spices and vinegar that are heated and then cooled and poured over the raw cabbage and onion. However, this sort of cooked cabbage wasn’t unfamiliar at the time. I haven’t seen it called a salad before but there is a hot potato salad and a hot bean salad common in German Mennonite culture here in Waterloo Region. I’m not a fan of raw onions so cooking them and the cabbage makes this much more pleasant. Some people will find the vinegar strong and might want to add a tiny bit of sugar. This recipe is a good base for modern experimentation but I do suggest trying the original 1906 version first. This is a salad with a kick.
1 gallon cabbage finely chopped, 1 pint onions, 3 tablespoons fine mustard, 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 tablespoon cloves, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 gallon of vinegar. Mix well and boil 20 minutes.