Submitted by Kent Higgins, Highlands Ranch, Colorado
When I was a teenager, my grandmother Margarette (1888–1966) taught me how to prepare a few traditional German meals, which her mother, Caroline (1853–1936), had taught her. These recipes all originated in northern Germany in the Eschersand and Sonderborg, Schleswig-Holstein areas near Flensburg.
Blaukraut, this simple red cabbage recipe, has continued to be one of my favorites. As a colorful side dish, it traditionally appears on our Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter holiday tables.
The recipe is traceable back to my great-grandmother Caroline’s 1880–1900 cookbook. She and her husband, Asmus, immigrated from Germany to Littleton, Colorado, at the end of World War I, to be with their daughter.
I have only found one similar recipe (minus the molasses) in a 1970 Shelby, Iowa, favorite recipes cookbook that has links to my grandmother’s mother-in-law, Anna Thies (1848–1914). The recipe was included in the cookbook by one of her grandchildren.
Until my grandmother’s passing in the ’60s, she always prepared this distinct side dish for every family gathering. The meal was always served on gold-rimmed Haviland Limoges bone china that her mother Caroline brought from Germany.
Her advice was to always cook “richtig” (properly) to get the “reich” (rich), deep “lila farbe” (purple color). This requires blending together, in a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, the bacon drippings, apple cider vinegar, and sugar before adding and braising the thinly sliced “rot kohl” (red cabbage).
As she taught me, I have continued to share this colorful four-generation side-dish tradition at our holiday family gatherings for over 50 years—always served using my great-grandmother’s china.
Blaukraut (German Red Cabbage or ‘Blue Kraut’)
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 large head red cabbage
- 4 to 5 apples
- 4 strips thick-cut bacon
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar (add more for desired tartness)
- 1/4 cup sugar or brown sugar
- 1 to 2 teaspoons molasses
- 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
- 1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
First, prepare the red cabbage and apples. Quarter the red cabbage, cut out the core and tough bottom ribs, and thinly slice the quarters. Core and thinly slice the apples.
In a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven, cook the bacon slices until crisp. Remove the bacon, retaining 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings in the pan.
Over medium heat, add the apple cider vinegar and sugar to the bacon drippings and blend together. Add the sliced cabbage and cook, covered, until the cabbage is reduced and limp. Add the sliced apples and crumbled bacon strips and continue cooking over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes.
Mix in the remaining ingredients, reduce heat to a simmer, and simmer uncovered for 2 or more hours. Stir often and add water to prevent scorching. Adjust with more vinegar if a tarter taste is desired. Flavors will expand when made a day in advance and refrigerated.
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