My paternal grandmother Ruby died when I was just four and I retain only a few flashes of memory. I remember a family Christmas when she sewed matching polka dot dresses with pretty shirred fronts for my cousin Alexandra & me, and some visits to my grandparents’ cottage in Suffolk.
Yet Ruby is a strongly characterised figure that lives on in our family. Above all, her cooking has kept her memory alive.
Ruby was famous among family, friends and neighbours as being an adventurous and accomplished cook in a time when the word “foodie” hadn’t been invented. She kept meticulous boxes and folders of recipes, either snipped from newspapers or pencilled onto index cards. My grandfather lovingly kept every scrap she left behind when she passed away, and I’m blessed to be able to sift through her collection. Grandma’s words are a window to a different time and reading them connects me to a lady I wish I could have known better.
I often assume my passion for food comes from the Persian side of my family but actually Ruby, a good Lancashire lass, shared the same appetite for preparing and sharing large family feasts.
Ruby’s red cabbage is the best braised cabbage I’ve ever had; I have converted many brassica haters with this and am often asked for the recipe.
The method is very simple, adaptable and forgiving – the dish can be left for ages on a low heat on the hob, which makes life much easier if you are preparing this as part of a big roast.
Ruby’s red cabbage
• Thick slice of butter
• Olive oil
• 1 red or white onion, diced
• a large cooking apple, diced
• 2 garlic cloves, crushed
• 2 inch/ thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
• 1 head red cabbage, shredded finely
• 4 tbsps dark brown sugar
• 4 tbsps red wine vinegar (or balsamic)
• 1 star anise
• 1 stick of cinnamon
• 3-4 cloves
• 1 bay leaf
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large saucepan, melt the butter in a dribble of olive oil. Sweat onion, garlic, and ginger over a med-high heat for a few minutes.
Add the apple and red cabbage to the pot. Stir around and cook for a few minutes until they are glossy and have softened slightly.
Add the sugar and vinegar, tuck in the herbs and bay leaf, put the lid on, turn the heat down low and leave it!
Cook for at least 60-90 mins, longer if possible. Check every now and then to make sure it’s softening nicely and whether it needs a stir – you may need to add a touch of water if it’s too dry. Taste to check the balance of sweet/sour and add more sugar/vinegar if needed.
Season well with salt and pepper.
For me, a Christmas or Boxing Day meal is incomplete without Ruby’s red cabbage – and at other times of year, one of my favourite meals is this with roast pork & crackling and dauphinoise potatoes.