Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Purple Sauce?

Today, October 3rd

Sarah Kemble Knight was an independent businesswoman in Boston at the very beginning of the eighteenth century. She was also clearly quite adventurous. In October 1704 she set off on horseback for New Haven on a rather vague business trip. From New Haven she went on to New York, and then re-traced her steps home, the whole journey taking five months. Her journal was not published until over a century later, but it is a marvellous and amusing account of her journey. On her second day she was not impressed with the dinner she was served en route.

Tuesday, October ye third, about 8 in the morning, I with the Post proceeded forward without observing any thing remarkable; And about two, on, Arrived at the Post's second stage, where the western Post mett him and exchanged Letters. Here, having called for something to eat, ye woman bro't in a Twisted thing like a cable, but something whiter; and laying it on the bord, tugg'd for life to bring it into a capacity to spread; wch having wth great pains accomplished, shee serv'd in a dish of Pork and Cabage, I suppose the remains of Dinner. The sause was of a deep Purple, wch I tho't was boil'd in her dye Kettle; the bread was Indian, and every thing on the Table service Agreeable to these. I, being hungry, gott a little down; but my stomach was soon cloy'd, and what cabbage I swallowed serv'd me for a Cudd the whole day after.

I have no idea what might have made the sauce purple, unless indeed the dinner was cooked in the dye-kettle. It could hardly have been red cabbage, or surely Mrs Knight would not have been puzzled by the colour of the sauce. The juice of red cabbage acts like a pH (acidity/alkalinity) indicator; if you want to keep the red colour of your cabbage, the cooking liquid must be acidic (lemon juice or vinegar added) otherwise it tends to turn an unappetising blue if the water is even slightly alkaline.

My mother in law makes fantastic pickled red cabbage – no problem with the colour there, a very bright red due to the vinegar, and it is a delicious crunchy side dish to a whole lot of things. I’ll prevail upon her for the instructions and try to remember to add them to this post. In the meantime, the following recipe sounds interesting – the cook is taking no chances with the colour, it is red-enhanced by the addition of beetroot as well as vinegar.

To pickle Red Cabbages.
Slice them into a sieve, and sprinkle each layer with salt. Let the whole drain three days, then add some sliced beet-root, and place the whole in a jar, over which pour boiling vinegar. The purple red cabbage is the finest. Mace, bruised ginger, whole pepper, and cloves, may be boiled with the vinegar, and will make a great improvement.
[The New England Economical Housekeeper, and Family Receipt Book. Cincinatti: H.W. Derby, 1845.]

If you would rather braise your cabbage, this sounds good:

Belgian Red Cabbage.
Put two or three sticks of cinnamon, salt and pepper, one-half teaspoon cloves, one onion sliced thin, one bay leaf, two cups of water, three tablespoons of drippings in saucepan, then add five or six greening apples, peeled and cut in quarters. Lastly, put in one medium-sized red cabbage, cut in halves and then sliced very thin. Cook three hours and then add two tablespoons each of sugar and vinegar; cook one minute more.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Ace-High Dishes.

Quotation for the Day …

Boiled cabbage a l'Anglaise is something compared with which steamed coarse newsprint bought from bankrupt Finnish salvage dealers and heated over smoky oil stoves is an exquisite delicacy. William Neil Connor a.k.a columnist 'Cassandra' (1909 - 1967)

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