Monday, October 03, 2005

Thomasina wrote about liking to read recipes.

I do, too. I have a couple of bookshelves of cookbooks in my dining room, and I often pull a cookbook off the shelf to peruse while I'm eating alone. I especially like "historical" books, or books that contain some kind of commentary. One of my favorites is Jane and Micheal Stern's "Square Meals" (which I think is now out of print; my copy was purchased used). I also have a couple of ethnic cookbooks (mostly Mexican and SW Native American) written by people who really know and care about their subject, and they talk a little about the food-history and folkways involved.

I also love the old Farm Journal cookbooks that were published in the 60s. My mother had a number of those - they have these wonderful lurid color pictures of the food in them. There's a whole series - a cookie book, a candy book, a bread book, a meals-for-hurried-cooks book, a vegetable book, and a couple others. My favorite is the County Fair cook book, which contains all sorts of "prize-winning" baked goods recipes. It's one of my minor life goals to collect a complete set of the original versions. (Some have been reprinted by Galahad Press; they are not the same - no pictures, and the more complex recipes have been deleted)

Most recently I've been dipping into my hugacious "Settlement Cookbook." This was one I knew I had to have - my mother has a copy and used it all the time. There are many, many editions of this book, which was published by the "Settlement House" in Milwaukee. The "Settlement House" was sort of what it sounded like - aimed at helping immigrants to settle in to their new communities. (Interesting sidenote - some of my German ancestors settled in the Milwaukee area. I wonder if their wives took classes at the original Settlement House...) The book amuses me with its subtitle of "The Way To A Man's Heart" (considering what society NOW tells women which of the man's organs needs to be pleased in order for him to pledge his lasting devotion, the idea that you could get a chap to fall for you because you cook well is positively quaint). But it's got really good recipes - good basic stuff. And some unusual things as well - some Scandinavian dishes, a lot of German fare and traditional Jewish fare (I think there is a subsection of a chapter on baking using matzo meal). I like it because it reflects the time and the place where it originated.

One of my favorite German recipes - not quite like the version in the Settlement cookbook, but this is how my mom does it:

German sweet-and-sour red cabbage.

Take a head of red cabbage. Take off the bruised up outer leaves and cut out the white core. Chop the cabbage finely. You should have about eight cups when you are done.

Also peel, core, and chop finely four medium-sized tart apples.

Heat four tablespoons of cooking oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add the cabbage and apples. Then add four cups of hot water into which six tablespoons of sugar and one teaspoon of salt have been dissolved. Then add 1 and 1/3 cup of vinegar - cider vinegar is traditional but I prefer red wine vinegar. (Best is if you can get an "artisanal" red wine vinegar, like from a winery).

Simmer the whole thing over low-medium heat, stirring and mashing occasionally, until the cabbage is soft. You could add a finely chopped onion with the apples if you like, but I prefer it without.

This makes A LOT. I made it yesterday and froze about half in single-serving containers for later. It is my favorite vegetable dish ever, and it is one of the most mouthwatering things to smell cooking (because of the apples and vinegar). And it's lovely in the winter when you've come trucking home in 40* weather with horizonatl rain to heat some of this up and have it with dinner.

You can make it with green cabbage if you can't find red - and then, it's sometimes called Beuyrish (sp?) Kraut. But it's not as good.

My mother said that chopping the red cabbage is the most tedious part of the dish. The first time I made it, I believed her, and I tried cutting the cabbage in my food processor. I have since learned that cleaning the food processor after it's been used to cut up cabbage is far more tedious than cutting it the old-fashioned way, with a knife, on a cutting board.

Another sidenote - DO NOT LEAVE OUT THE VINEGAR. The cabbage will turn a totally unappetizing blue-grey color. (One of my colleagues did this - he said he didn't want the vinegar taste. He wound up bringing the stuff in his lunch a couple of days and I just couldn't stand to watch him eat it; it looked like pulped cartoon elephant). There is a chemical in the red cabbage that is a pH indicator; when it is under acid conditions it is a very pretty magenta color, but when the conditions are neutral to basic it turns that sort of dead-Eeyore blue.


Alexandra said...

That sounds a lot like our family recipe for red cabbage, only we also throw in the onion, a couple whole cloves and some bay leaves. Oh, and we use less water, so the cabbage steams rather than boils.

I love reading cookbooks as if they were novels. The Diana Kennedy Mexican books are good for that.

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