When Amelia Simmons describes cabbage, her description “requires a page,” she says, “they are so multifarious.” She lists the Low Dutch, Early Yorkshire, Yellow Savoy, and the fine and tender Green Savoy, which is the best of our supermarket varieties today. “All Cabbages should be grown on ‘new unmatured grounds,’ “ she warns, for “if grown in an old town and on old gardens, they have a rankness, which at times, may be perceived by a fresh air traveller.” Since cabbages were a staple of the colonial kitchen garden, fresh air travelers in summertime may not have delighted in cabbages as much as Amelia Simmons did.
Garden cabbages had been brought to Britain by the Romans, and for centuries the cabbage or cole family (sprouts, kale, headed and unheaded cabbage types) supplied those “buttered worts” or green pottages which foreshadowed, Anne Wilson explains, “the more general boiling and buttering of vegetables in years to come.” Hannah Glasse reflects eighteenth-century uses of cabbage, which combined food with medicine: “dressed after the Dutch Way, good for a Cold in the Breast.” The Dutch way was to simmer shredded cabbage in butter and oil, water and vinegar, seasoned with onion, pepper, and salt, to make a sort of hot slaw.
Americans following the Dutch way confused “cold” with “cole” (the Dutch word koolsla means cabbage salad hot or cold), and Fannie Farmer’s 1896 cook book exhibits the confusion in listing both a Cole Slaw and a Hot Slaw. The Cole Slaw calls for cold crisp shredded cabbage in Cream Salad Dressing. The Hot Slaw calls for simmering shredded cabbage in vinegar and butter, thickened with egg. Even if not eaten for a cold in the breast, such Hot Slaws remained popular, possibly because New England weather encouraged hot salads more than cold.