Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book - The Red Cabbage Chapter

As the world looks set to continue with the crazy (America really doing its bit on that front tonight) I'm mostly focused on eating more vegetables and using some of the short dated stuff in my cupboards. It might sound like setting the bar low, but I'll take whatever wins I can at the moment - and what else can you do in a lockdown in January?

There has been a red cabbage kicking around since Christmas. I quite like it, my mother and sister don't. It got left in the garage and mum insisted I bring it home with me yesterday. A whole red cabbage is a daunting prospect for a single person, and whilst I found a few attractive looking salad options in various books it's not salad weather - and I'd have had to buy to many other bits. For times like this though there is always Jane Grigson. 

It's easy to forget how downright brilliant her Fruit and Vegetable books are - I mean, all her books are excellent, but these two are something more. I have talked about this before - I still remember buying them some time in 1999 and reading them like novels on the bus to and from work. They were the perfect thing for exploring Leicester Market with, and for years were the most used cookbooks on my shelf.

Time passes, a book buying habit spirals out of control, there's always some new volume to consult, and then a day like today comes around when I realise anew why a classic is a classic. What to do with a red cabbage apart from my normal fall back of braising it, which would mean eating it until February?

The answer turned out to be a combination of 3 of the recipes in Grigson, who gives Victorian British, French, and German possibilities amongst others. My red cabbage ended up being simmered with a clove studded onion, smoked bacon, chestnuts, apple, cinnamon, and some blackberry vodka (no suitable red wine) and eaten like a stew with some Cumberland sausages sliced into it. 

I've been wondering what to do with the packet chestnuts at the back of the cupboard for a while - a little chestnut goes a long way for me - but had not considered them with red cabbage like this. The combination is excellent, the slow cooked cabbage has a nutty flavour to it anyway, the chestnuts keep their texture which is a nice counterpoint to the cabbage, and the smoked bacon pulls it's weight too. The sausages were very much an optional extra, and the left over cabbage is going to work perfectly either as a side dish with most of the rest of the weeks planned cooking, or just on it's own - maybe some crusty bread on the side.

The long slow simmer also gave me plenty of time to read through Grigson and be reminded of what a treat she is to read. From early and unpleasant memories of pickled red cabbage in the lake district there is a world of information in this book, a surprisingly big world for a book first published in 1978 - or at least it seems so for somebody with childhood memories of an era when avocado's seemed exotic and okra was far beyond my knowledge - as where any squashes beyond a pumpkin.

This book also has one of my all time favourite desserts - Angels Hair Charlotte - which honestly does transform carrots into something sublime. There could not have been a better time to remember Jane Grigson and her books, she is the best possible lock down companion. 


  1. This seems a slightly different red cabbage recipe to one I usually prepare, so will give it a try when my copy of Jane Grigson's book arrives. It will add to my collection of most of her other books. I try to buy the smaller red cabbages, as there are only two of us and they do seem to go a bit, although keep well in the bottom of the fridge.

  2. It's a brilliant book. I borrowed bits from several recipes for this cabbage, and loved the combination of smoked bacon, chestnuts and cabbage. A substantial meal on it's own. It did go a long way though.