Lessons from Coleslaw


When I was a little girl, Mom taught me how to make all sorts of things.  One of my favorites was coleslaw.  It’s super easy once you know how, and coleslaw gets better if made the day before, so that way you can take your time making it.  Here’s how you do it.

First I got everything out.  It’s better that way, so I knew I had all the stuff I needed, otherwise, I could get part-way through, and I  missed something, like no Miracle Whip in the refrigerator, or I forgot to put the mustard in.  That made Mom mad, ’cause then it either tasted bad or I waste stuff, ’cause I had to throw the whole shebang out.  Either way, it’s a no good waste of time.  I needed this stuff:

  • A big head of cabbage
  • A big yellow onion
  • Miracle Whip
  • Mustard
  • Cider vinegar
  • Sugar

I cut the big head of cabbage into little pieces about the size of a flat toothpick, but no bigger than a willow leaf with a big super-sharp knife.  Don’t use the outside leaves, those are kind of dirty, ’cause rabbits  or dogs or some other animal things might have peed on them out in the garden, and even if I could wash it all off, I still would not want those leaves in the coleslaw.

Once I cut all four fingers of my right hand with the big knife I used for coleslaw; not while I was making coleslaw, though, while I was drying dishes.  I was corning around with Bonita, pretending to do “Mary had a Little Lamb”, like I was on stage:  “Ma-dre, Ma-dre, Madre had a Little Lamb”, I said as I pulled the knife through the dish towel.  That was a bad idea, ’cause pretty soon I was crying, and there was blood all over the towel, and on the knife, and Bonita was crying, even though it was my fingers that got cut.  The knife was so sharp, I hardly noticed it at first.  All the band-aids got soaked right through, and more band-aids had to go on; I had to have help, ’cause it’s really hard to put band-aids on my own fingers, with a little sister about ready to faint blubbering on the floor by my feet.  Mom might have been a little bit mad; I’m not sure ’cause for once I didn’t care very much.  She just looked ‘green in the gills’, and no smiles or frowns, just a serious face, and little bits of air sucking in through her teeth.  Anyways, be careful with the sharp knife, and no corning around if you know what’s good for you.

Next put all the cabbage in a big bowl. Then cut the onion up in teensy-tiny pieces; the smaller the better.  There’s all kinds of tricks to cut onions up without crying:  under water, don’t breathe, chewing ice; but no tricks worked for me, the onions burned my eyes, every time.  Still, cut the onions about as small as you can, ’cause then the Little Kids don’t even know the onions are there, so no complaining.

Now I got a cereal bowl out; not the plastic kind, a glass cereal bowl, like Dad used.  Dad refused to eat out of the bowls we got by saving up all the Post Toasties box tops.  He said he wouldn’t eat out of those, or jelly jars, or drink out of  plastic cups.  He used a regular glass-glass, the kind he got in a store ages ago, when he and Mom first got married.  Kids had to leave Dad’s glass-glasses alone, so if he was home, there was a glass-glass for him.  I didn’t exactly know what he meant about drinking from a jelly jar, but sometimes Welch’s sold grape jelly in a glass-glass with Tweety Bird or Sylvester, or some other cartoon painted on, and when the jelly was gone, voíla, a new glass-glass.  We didn’t have any of those, but Grandma did.

Okay.  This is why I said that I get everything out I needed, ’cause sometimes things distract me.

Put a big glob of Miracle Whip in the cereal bowl, this is the secret ingredient, if you use mayonnaise, it will be pretty blah tasting, so use Miracle Whip. Squirt in enough mustard for three bologna sandwiches.  Add a slosh of vinegar and a sprinkle of sugar.  Mix this all around; it should have just a tinch of yellow to the color, and be a little bit runny.  I always tasted it here, because now’s the time to adjust; there’s no good way to adjust after adding it to the cabbage.  Just add more of something if it doesn’t look right or taste right.  I liked it a little bit sour, so I kept the sugar to just a little sprinkle.  If nobody likes mustard, you can leave that out, just remember though that a little bit gives it some zing.

Now I mixed everything together ’til the dressing covered all the cabbage, then it went in the refrigerator for a while.  It’s way better if the coleslaw looks a little bit dry at first, like it doesn’t have enough dressing, ’cause it loosens up in the refrigerator.  Teacher told me that every living thing has cells, and all cells have water.   She didn’t tell me about coleslaw, but I’m pretty sure those chopped up cabbage cells leaked some water and that’s why the coleslaw gets slipperier after it’s in the refrigerator a while.  Anyways, if you have to make up more dressing, that’s okay, but it’s really, really hard to take dressing out of the bowl, so I always kept it kind of dry at first and check it after a couple of hours.

This is still a pretty good recipe, although sometimes I add carrots, and some other spices.  I guess making coleslaw is a little bit like making friends:  keep it simple, especially at first; a little bit of zest perks things up; when you must  use sharp words, be careful because  someone could get hurt.   If it’s not quite right,  things can be adjusted to fit your taste, just remember it’s next to impossible to take things out, once they’ve been added.  And best of all, good friends just get better with time.

One thought on “Lessons from Coleslaw

  1. The last paragraph of your stories are always so sweet. It seems every day and everything that you remember of your childhood contained a lesson – even such a simple thing as making coleslaw. Reading your stories reminds me of the way you always did things – slowly with lots of thinking, lots of detail. You were a very complex child.

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