I read a blog post recently about old family recipes and it reminded me of one of my favorites. My mother’s mother was a plain cook, but a good cook. She made simple things delicious. One of her recipes was published in a cookbook at the senior living community where she and my grandfather lived in the 60s. I laughed when I read it. Fortunately, I watched her make it many times, so I knew the results of the magic she employed. The recipe is “one head of cabbage, butter, milk, soda crackers, salt, pepper, bake 350 for 45 to 60 minutes”. That was the entire recipe called Cabbage Casserole. No quantities, no explanation of process. If I hadn’t observed her, I would be flummoxed by the lack of description and probably would not try it. I served it on many occasions to people who claim to hate cabbage, and all found it delicious.
I am a seat-of-the-pants or whatever’s-in-the-fridge cook. I only use recipes as inspiration to launch my own inventions. That can be really good or sensationally bad. I’ve had my husband say, ‘oh this is so good, I hope you make it again’. The answer is ‘probably not’ because I’m not actually sure how I made it in the first place. Nothing is ever made the same way twice. A little of this, a dash of that, a smidge of whatever. I don’t write it down as I create it. I’ve tried to make notes but have not been successful in the effort. On the other hand, he has looked up from the first bite or two and indicated with facial expressions that my creativity missed its mark, and it would be best to forget that experiment. He needs no words.
I’m crazy enough to serve guests my one-time-only dishes and, so far, have not poisoned anyone or had them refuse a repeat invitation. I truly know no other way to cook. I may start with the best of intentions to follow a recipe but somewhere along the way find I need to add or subtract something, usually add. It’s a compulsion I cannot deny.
Back to grandma’s cabbage. I like it BECAUSE it doesn’t have a lot of information. I know the destination and I know the road by heart. It gives me lots of room to create without feeling I’ve done an injustice to the spirit of the dish. I sometimes add cheese, sometimes ham, sometimes bacon crumbles, sometimes even chopped broccoli or shredded carrot. It all works.
If you are interested, I will give you more information. Use a well-buttered 13 x 9 baking dish. Shred a head of cabbage (or any vegetable you want to add, in whatever quantity you want – I discourage diced tomatoes or squash, however). Crush a sleeve of soda crackers (maybe two sleeves depending on your taste). Layer half of the cabbage, then a few pats of butter spaced across the cabbage, then half of the crushed soda crackers, salt (not much needed and can be eliminated because of the salted crackers), and pepper (again to taste) and repeat for two luscious layers. I have been known to add some of those French fried onions from the can to the top layer of crackers. Pour enough milk (sometimes with cream added) over the entire casserole until the level of milk is a little more than halfway up the side of the dish. Bake in 350° oven for 45 to 60 minutes – yes, that’s a big discrepancy but that’s what I do. It won’t be ruined by baking an hour and sometimes the veggies are a little crunchy at 45 minutes. If you add protein like cheese or ham, that can be a separate layer under the cracker layer. I bake it a little longer with those additions. I’ve thought of cooked chicken as a possibility, but my taste buds say no; but do it YOUR way.
I hope I’ve written all the steps. If it works for you, let me know. If it doesn’t, I must have missed something because it always works.