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Lucky dip - old English red cabbage

"The longer it stews, the more nutty and succulent it becomes, without losing its character: in fact it seems to taste better with reheating. It is one of the best dishes to come home to, after a long walk on a winter's day; if you are a bit late, no harm can come to it." Jane Grigson

Well actually here we are now eight days into summer, but frankly you wouldn't know it. It's cool - a mere 17 degrees and I'm sitting here in a jumper and warm trousers, and thinking of adding yet another layer - well the heating has been turned off of course. It's summer!

Anyway red cabbage, as Jane Grigson writes in her introduction to the vegetable in her wonderful Vegetable Book, is really best suited to winter and all the darker and gamey meats that seem to be available over there in Europe at that time. In fact it seems to have become a Christmas staple over there in Olde England. The picture at the top of the page is a version by Andy Waters - one of England's trendy cooks. However, I don't know when the Christmas thing happened. After I left the home country anyway. In my day it was Brussels sprouts. Here, if I'm cooking, it's braised ordinary cabbage, some beans and some carrots. Most people these days though seem to be leaning towards seafood, ham and salads. The Australian Christmas is evolving into its own thing. - Another post perhaps.

Nowadays of course, you can get red cabbage all year, and, indeed, it has become something of the darling of the healthy food people and the trendy cooks. I was intrigued to hear Jamie Oliver refer to it as cheap, because here it is relatively expensive - at any time of the year. Here in Australia at this time of year you will find it in salads and slaws rather than braised although I don't actually know why because even if you do braise it you can serve the leftovers as a salad the next day, as Jamie suggests in his video. Sorry - another Jamie video but they are good and simple - and this one is a sort of summary of what people usually do when braising red cabbage - something porky - ham, bacon, sausages, pork itself, plus something tangy - apples, vinegar, citrus - something sweet - prunes, dried fruit, sugar, something spicy - cinnamon, juniper, fennel, or even a herb like rosemary as shown here by Jamie - plus olive oil or butter - or some really tasty fat. Then basically just stew it all together. I really ought to cook it more often because it does taste good. And you can do the same with ordinary cabbage of course as well.

But back to my lucky dip. What we have on the first page of Jane Grigson's chapter on red cabbage are two recipes from a book first published in 1806 by the publishing firm of John Murray - it was their first really successful book going through dozens of new editions in some twenty or thirty years. It was written by a lady called Maria Rundell, who was actually quite old when she submitted it to the publishers, and was compiled from recipes and notes she had collected over her lifetime for her daughters.

It was called A New System of Domestic Cookery. The picture shown here is the frontispiece of a later edition which seems to have had a slight change of title. According to Jane Grigson, Maria Rundell was particularly good with vegetables. Prior to this time red cabbage in England had only been served in its pickled form, which perhaps is more of an acquired taste. Well it's sauerkraut really isn't it? Although I love sauerkraut, there are definitely lots of people who don't.

Maria Rundell's versions were much simpler than Jamie's. In the first you simply put your washed and shredded cabbage in a pot with some butter and salt and pepper and stewed it for a couple of hours. No water other than what was clinging to it after washing. A little before serving you added vinegar and boiled all the liquid away. The second version was a tiny bit more complicated in that you put a slice of ham in with the cabbage and cooked it in beef stock and vinegar before adding a bit of sugar at the end. You'd have to cook it on a pretty low heat thought and very tightly covered or you might burn it.

Simple - possibly a little too simple for modern times. Everyone these days is more inclined to follow the Jamie kind of pattern, with maybe some sausages or ham cooked in with it. Nevertheless I reckon those simple recipes would be pretty much OK and they are absolutely not boiled to death in lots of water, as most people seem to think the British do.

As a closer - two things. The first is this photograph that I came across when looking for pretty pictures of red cabbage. It's red cabbage under the microscope and is rather lovely. There was no explanation - it was a kind of Instagram post so I have no idea what it really shows or why the person took the photograph, or was studying red cabbage - if indeed they were. Still it's pretty striking.

The second is Red Cabbage Gazpacho with Grain Mustard Ice Cream. Yes you guessed it, it's a Heston thing. Just type in your ingredient and Heston in your search field and something weird usually comes up. Weird - and beautiful too.

Not the same thing as braised red cabbage at all - although he does, elsewhere, have a pretty simple recipe for red cabbage. But I saw this and just had to show it. It's a kind of cold soup served on top of chopped cucumber with the mustard ice-cream on top. The writer who presented the picture above and gave the recipe, said it was amazing. But then I found one of those websites where people cook their way through various cookbooks and they tried it themselves. Very complicated even though it is in his Heston at Home cookbook - which is supposed to be relatively simple. Their results looked pretty much the same - although the soup was darker in colour, but they were not impressed:

"Sorry Heston! It was a bit underwhelming to say the least! Separately, they were pretty dreadful, and together, okay, but nothing I’d sell my left breast for. Perhaps a little more vinegar? Salt maybe? And the fuss and fiddle, well, I’d rather eat out….. Or plain old, good old-fashioned gazpacho. Marvellous stuff." Just the Sizzle

It does look pretty though don't you think? Just like this Getty Images arty photograph of red cabbage and red onions. Why do they call it 'red' cabbage? ('Red' foods too). They're purple. A beautiful photograph composed from very ordinary things.


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