Saturday, December 13, 2008

Red cabbage

I did a few jars of red cabbage the other day, preparatory to the coming hostilities. My sister finally sold her old house the other day, which is some senses is a shame as it was very productive: we'd get stones of fruit from the redcurrant bush; the apples and cobnuts I planted for her are starting to be promising; and there's a big old pear tree of the "almost a William" variety that you could buy cheap from the newspapers in the seventies. This last is perplexing: there are thousands of fruit but they only have a day's grace between having the texture of parquet and being a liquefied mess. We found, by a process of scientific guesswork, that there's about a week in which you can chop and freeze the fruit so that you've the basis for a tasty pear puree throughout the winter. This recipe takes advantage of these pears and some of the five pounds of redcurrants I found when I was looking for the beefburgers. Red cabbage should either be snap-in-your-fingers crisp or meltingly soft, anything in between disappoints. This is meltingly soft.

You'll need:

  • A red cabbage. All the finely-tuned weights and measures in this recipe are based around your having a lump of cabbage about the size of one of those spherical plum puddings they always had in the comics. Slice it up finely; if you're to be trusted with a mandolin then go for it.
  • Two cloves of garlic, mashed if you can be bothered, otherwise finely chopped.
  • A pickled onion chopped finely.
  • About a litre of fruit juice: what you don't use you can drink. Apple juice is good. Cranberry juice or pomegranate juice are excellent, if extravagant (if you've some dregs of these left in a carton you could usefully add them to the apple juice). Blackcurrant juice doesn't quite work, the flavours become off-note.
  • Some vinegar. Balsamic vinegar's great for colour but red wine or cider vinegar's fine.
  • Fruit: the equivalent of two roughly-chopped pears; three roughly-chopped large, dark plums, the riper the better (or a dozen ripe damsons).
  • Berries: a large handful of redcurrants works best; cranberries are fine; you can think of better things to do with raspberries (but they work nicely if you want to do it). Blackcurrants don't work. Blackberries give a great colour but don't add anything to the flavour.
  • Spices: half a stick of cinnamon; two dozen turns of the black pepper mill; two cloves and half a teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice Powder (or a couple of Szchewan peppercorns).

If you've got a slow cooker, great. If not, use a big pot and the very lowest heat your hob will allow. Chuck the red cabbage, garlic, onion, fruit and spices into the pot. Add a slug of vinegar (you don't need much: the acid in the fruit juice will keep the colour). Now pour in enough fruit juice to just be visible near the top of the cabbage (you don't want to completely cover it - the liquor will expand when heated). Put it on the lowest available heat and leave it for a few hours. Come back, give it a stir, leave it to cool overnight. Next day, put it on a very low light and leave it for a couple of hours. Now it's ready to pack into sterilised jars. You can eat it straight away but it's nicer after a few days.

This goes well with all the usual stews. For the vegetarians, it's nice with pease pudding. It's also good on a butty with fiercely strong cheese.

If you're wanting a white cabbage recipe, Willow had one the other day.

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