I’d always assumed that my mom and her sister Sandy learned to make cabbage rolls from their mom. And in turn she, my grandmother, was handed down the recipe for these cabbage rolls from her German ancestors. Grandma Adeline did in fact teach her daughters the art of the cabbage roll, but it was Vi Moffatt, the English neighbour lady, who taught granny. I can’t be certain that Mrs. Moffat’s recipe is steeped in Eastern European tradition, but I can say that it’s the definitive cabbage roll recipe for my tastes.
The cabbage rolls my mom made during my childhood were excellent. I remember the sound of her pained moans when she’d bend over to put the 100 lb, filled-to-the-brim, orange Creuset pot into the oven. And I also remember that my mom designed cabbageless cabbage rolls during a particularly fussy phase of mine that I’d prefer not to discuss at great length. They were essentially beef and rice logs stewed in tomatoes, and they were delicious.
Aunt Sandy’s cabbage rolls are prepared in much the same way, only Sandy uses half ground pork instead of 100% beef, and she doesn’t add bacon strips on top like my mom does. Both ladies add spartan ingredients to the filling: salt, pepper, onions, and garlic powder.
Now, it’s silently acknowledged among those lucky enough to taste them that Aunt Sandy’s cabbage rolls rule. She’s forced out of necessity to makes pots of them because you can’t eat just one or two of these things: you eat more like seven, even eight. I’ve never met someone who’s stopped at two. And quite frankly, I don’t want to. They’d probably be quite dull.
On a perfect October afternoon, the beast and I were invited to Aunt Sandy’s for cabbage rolls. It was the beast’s first time. He’d heard so much about them that for a moment, I worried they wouldn’t meet his, err, beastly expectations. But the heavenly aroma in Sandy’s home and the sight of antiqued metal pots fitted with rickety lids on every burner reassured any lingering doubts.
Our afternoon was outfitted with obscene amounts of the rolls, fresh rye bread, and good conversation. The drive home from Strathroy to Toronto was filled with a number of questions, such as:
Beast: So, what kind of rice do you think Sandy uses?
Foodie: Uh, I’m not sure. Why?
Beast: I think if you used the same brand of rice, your cabbage rolls might taste better.
Foodie: Thanks for the tip asshole. (Note: I was trying to quit smoking, so I might have been slightly on edge.)
Beast: Yours are good, but it’s just your rice. It’s…lacking. And yours are a bit saucy.
Foodie: Maybe you’re a bit saucy.
Beast: [Exhales his cigarette out the car window, and grins.]
My version of cabbage rolls has evolved over the five years of courting the Beast. I’ve made tasteless batches stuffed with hard rice despite being stewed for hours in watery bland gop. And I’ve wasted hours trying to modernize the basic family recipe with gourmet additions of fresh (gasp!) garlic, and herbs, like flat-leaf parsley and basil.
But quite frankly I think my last batch, made about a month before the Beast tried Sandy’s, was pretty good. I used a 50:50 ratio of ground pork and beef, canned plum tomatoes, tomato juice, Ontario cabbage, rice, salt, pepper, onions, and fresh garlic. And I topped the batch off with bacon strips, just like mom.
Here’s the best part. My mom gave me her Creuset pot a couple of months ago. Wait, this gets better. This pot—this iconic, beautiful pot that nourished my childhood with the stews, soups and sauces that filled it—was a wedding gift to my mom some 30 years ago from her mom, grandma Adeline. And my Aunt Sandy was the one who picked it up on Adeline’s behalf. So all these beautiful, cabbage roll-making ladies played a part in getting this pot onto my stove top.
I’d like to believe the Creuset makes everything taste better. The beast agrees, but my cabbage rolls, despite being cooked in it, still don’t top Sandy’s.
Cabbage Rolls by the Foodie
Cabbage Rolls by Aunt Sandy