Throughout my life no holiday dinner was complete without certain dishes, one of them being my mom’s coleslaw. All though simple and inexpensive to make, it’s been connected to holiday celebrations as far back as my memories will take me.
I never think of Mom’s coleslaw or our holiday dinners without fondly thinking of my Aunt Gerry, mom’s only sister. Although she enjoyed the main meal, Aunt Gerry’s guilty pleasure was her favorite Thanksgiving night snack. She would toast two slices of bread then layer them with sliced leftover roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, and a big dollop of Mom’s coleslaw.
Looking back, I think Mom only made coleslaw for holiday dinners at home because she made it so often throughout the year for other reasons. During the years I was growing up, my mother was active in the Ladies Auxiliary of the local volunteer fire company. The Ladies Auxiliary cooked and served meals for weddings, funerals dinners, and fundraisers in the kitchen of the building that housed the organization. Those dinners almost always included coleslaw as part of the meal and my mother somehow found herself as the designated coleslaw maker, turning it out by the gallons throughout the years.
Mom’s coleslaw was always well received and often requested at these events. One day, out of the blue, one of the other women suggested adding red cabbage to the coleslaw mix. My mother vehemently protested. She had been making the coleslaw the same way for decades, and did not want it changed. After a rather heated discussion, it was decided to leave my mom’s coleslaw just the way it was.
The next morning as the ladies arrived in the kitchen to finish preparations for the rapidly approaching dinner, my mother opened the large container of coleslaw and gasped. The entire mixture had taken on a ghastly pink hue. Unbeknownst to my mom, the woman who had insisted on adding red cabbage took it upon herself to add it anyway after everyone had left the day before.
My mother was horrified. She turned to me and whispered, “I hope no one asks who made the coleslaw because I don’t want to be associated with that mess…it looks like someone scraped their knuckles on the grater and just kept on working.”
Now too late to remedy the situation as diners were arriving, the coleslaw was spoon into individual serving cups and set at the plates for the guests. As the tables were cleared after the meal, cup after cup of uneaten pink coleslaw came back only to find its way into the trash can. Normally one of the most popular items at the dinners, it was quickly decided among the ladies in the kitchen to never mess with Mom’s coleslaw again.
I have been making this coleslaw for decades and it was one of my husband James’s favorite side dishes. He often asked for it and I always saved some cabbage from any other dish I was cooking so I could make him a dish of coleslaw. I haven’t changed a thing in all those years, I make it just like Mom did. And I never, ever, add red cabbage!
A bit about coleslaw
At its most basic, coleslaw is a salad of finely sliced or chopped raw cabbage, moistened with a mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing.
Its origins can be traced to ancient Rome, The Dutch who founded New York state grew cabbage around the Hudson River that they used in a shredded cabbage salad they called koosla (kool means cabbage and sla is salad).
The mayonnaise dressed version of coleslaw versus the vinaigrette is a “recent” phenomena, given that mayonnaise was a mid-eighteenth-century invention.
Cole SlawCourse: Side DishCuisine: GeneralDifficulty: Easy
1 cup mayonnaise (Cains or Kraft Real Mayonnaise brand preferred)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 small carrot, peeled and finely grated
1 can (8 ounce.) crushed pineapple in its own juice, un-drained
8 – 9 cups (about 1 1/2 to 2 pound head) grated (not shredded) green cabbage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, pineapple and celery seed. Add the cabbage and shredded carrots and toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.