Food Friday: Summer Slaws


After the cool and rainy days earlier this week, you will be happy to know that summer is indeed upon us. It is supposed to be pretty warm this weekend, so we should start relying on the fridge to provide some of our meals. It is my favorite time of the year when I get to walk away from the stove. It’s strictly counter time for me – I will endlessly and cheerfully slice and dice fruits and veg. Except for Sunday biscuits and bacon, I am range-free. It is time to let Mr. Friday take over the cooking tasks – out on the grill and out on the back porch. But more about grilling when we tackle Father’s Day grilling in next week’s column. Today we explore the summer slaw.

My mother was not an enthusiastic or adventurous cook. Everything she cooked was simple, by-the-book, and bland. Things livened up a bit when she started to watch Julia Child on PBS. We were reluctant test subjects for her Boeuf Bourguignon,, French Onion Soup, and Mousse au Chocolat. Instead of being grateful, we were childish wretches and secretly yearned for the old days, of beef stew, Campbell’s tomato soup and My-T-Fine chocolate pudding.

Not used to having fancy French meals, instead we cut out teeth on boring, dull and reliable middle-of-the-road, middle-American, mid-century meals. Everything we ate was unadventurous, devoid of spices, nothing ethnic except pizza, which was always bought at one Italian restaurant in town, until my brother was in high school, and started experimenting with homemade pizza. The Age of Aquarius introduced us to oregano and red pepper flakes, with a soupçon of olive oil.

In the summer, since the kitchen would get blazing hot with the gas stove chugging away, we ate cool, simple meals prepared in the kitchen, or scorched chicken and hamburgers reduced to hockey pucks as incinerated by my father out on the hibachi grill. Lots of tuna salad. Macaroni salads. Bowls of iced radishes. Corn on the cob. Child-churned vanilla ice cream. Cole slaw. The coleslaw that was prepared as the antidote to chargrilled meats was the same slaw we would have with pork roasts in the winter. The acidic cabbage was the perfect accompaniment to the heavy meats.

My mother’s coleslaw was made of four ingredients: shredded cabbage, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Heinz apple cider vinegar, and McCormick’s celery seed. And note the required branding – no Miracle Whip or Duke’s Mayonnaise in her kitchen! She did not taint her mixture with frou-frou shredded carrots, mustard, sour cream or cumin. I have my doubts that our little corner market carried such exotic ingredients, but I do wonder why Mom never tried Julia Child’s Coleslaw:

The other much dog-eared cookbook in my mother’s kitchen arsenal was Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, originally self-published in 1931. Obviously, my mother never ventured into the coleslaw section of the book, which calls for homemade mayonnaise.

Slaw can be any manner of sliced or shredded vegetables. Coleslaw adds the mayonnaise.

And imagine what my mother would say about our friends at Food52 and their take on summer slaw: No-Mayo Coleslaw: No-Mayo Coleslaw: No-Mayo Coleslaw: Heresay!

Even the folks at Bon Appétit have a gussied up coleslaw recipe. Two kinds of cabbage? This is an affront to my mother’s no-nonsense New England approach to life in general, and in the kitchen more specifically:

The Splendid Table team could make slaw from the contents of a sock drawer, so it is no wonder that they have four slaw recipes that are exotic and definitely not made with Hellmann’s:

Alice Waters has a recipe that will be very tasty when you pull that three-pound cabbage out of your garden this weekend. Or perhaps you should stop by one of the many fine local farm stands and bring one home.

Enjoy the beginning of summer, and walking away from your stove. And maybe you should just try to remember how your mother made coleslaw. It will be delicious next to the hockey puck of a burger that comes off the back yard grill this weekend.

“My greatest strength is common sense. I’m really a standard brand – like Campbell’s tomato soup or Baker’s chocolate.”
– Katharine Hepburn

About Jean Sanders

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