A red cabbage is not just for Christmas…said the Ghost of Christmas Pissed


Benjamin Franklin mooted that guests are like fish, beginning to smell after three days, which is uncannily similar to my feelings about Christmas fare, thoughts of which arrive like unwanted guests some weeks before, and some days after, the event. I have a regular yearly visitation from the ghost of Christmas past, the past being last year, who gently leads me to the lavatory where he leaves me to get used to the surroundings. The groaning board leaves me bored and groaning. Our traditional English Christmas Dinner menu is hidebound and inflexible,  which two adjectives can very often be applied to the fare itself.  Good Sense goes skiing at Christmas leaving his twin cousins, Quantity and Greed, in charge of the celebrations and they do a remarkably good job. Under their tutelage we quickly learn that we have a much larger capacity, for the carefully prescribed array of highly spiced, desperately bland and extraordinarily sweet food stuffs, than we had ever previously imagined. The religious side to the whole affair is often limited to kneeling, head bowed, over the largest bowl in the building. And so it will continue, even though magazine editors will gather in the coming summer to produce this year’s edition of “Christmas with a Twist” that, despite the new and delicious ideas put forward by food writers, will be a doppelgänger of that which has gone before. If only there were a “Great Escape”.
On a more optimistic note I should mention that I read in the blog, “French Letters”,  of a delicious  Salad of Duck Confit with Red Cabbage, Chestnuts, and Watercress which the author served as Christmas lunch. That does sound wonderful and I shall try it. This brings me to the point of this post which is red cabbage.


Red cabbage is not denied its rightful place in the serried ranks of bulging black bin bags,  but it finds itself in that situation not through dullness but through excess. Like the other components of this glutfest, it is prepared in industrial quantities: which is a shame, as its colour is so apposite for the seasonal celebration as is the sweet, sour and spiced flavour. It does not suffer the slings and arrows that plague Brussels sprouts, turkey, bread sauce et al. It is a dish for all seasons, and one of which I have not yet tired. The recipe below is a favourite of mine and it is to be found in the evergreen “Classic Conran” by Terence and Vicki Conran.red_cabbage

I should make it clear that there are  many individually good things about the traditional Christmas dinner; it is the unhappy combination, allied to the enormous quantity, of the individual parts that transforms a feast into a celebration of waste.  Regiments of bloated black rubbish bags, brimming with sprouts, bones and stuffing, line the streets in the days that follow. They symbolise our distended bowels and pipes whilst acting as a direct insult to the hungry amongst us, although they probably remind food editors to knock up some recipes for ” leftovers with a twist”. Happily, our  consciences are salved by warm and comforting memories of our donations to charity and we remember how moved we were by the sad pictures. I wasn’t sure whether to put inverted commas around “consciences” or “charity”, so I left them out.

Only another twelve months to go.

About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
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69 Responses to A red cabbage is not just for Christmas…said the Ghost of Christmas Pissed

  1. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography) says:

    Yes, I like red cabbage too.

    But what i like more is that stunning little image of the apple & stem. Nice DOF. Did I tell you that you’re now on my Bucket List?………..ie. Fly over to France and arrange for Roger to give me some Food Photography lessons with that amazing light of the French countryside. I daresay you could give me some cooking lessons too. But I’m off Dairy & Wheat for the near future, so it’ll have to be ‘bunny food’ lessons!

    I never would have thought of putting thyme with cabbage – thanks for the tip.

  2. Mmm what a lovely use of the red cabbage 🙂 And btw, the mother of my grand mother (talking about fashion) used to say : “on brûle ce que l’on a adoré et l’on adore ce que l’on a brûlé”… Nothing new under the Xmas sun !

  3. I’ve been fishing around for red cabbage recipes, for once they have been successful on the allotment so I appreciate ideas. having said that I’ve found myself enjoying it in east Asian style salads… who’d have thought it?!

  4. catterel says:

    It looks as if Conran plagiarised that recipe from our German/Alsation grandmother – hers was served with venison (or Sauerbraten), chestnuts, wild mushrooms (she knew which ones to pick) and homemade Spätzli. This was my red cabbage pic in December 2012 http://catterel.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/last-day-thoughts/

  5. I’ve always loved the look of that cabbage.

  6. I love how red cabbage has that deep purple hue. Much more appealing to me that way.

  7. Misky says:

    We eat lots of red cabbage. All year. Danes would bathe in it if they were allowed. I intend to try this recipe soon. I still have half a head sitting in the fridge(red cabbage and roast duck a week back), so a little mathemetosis to reduce the quantities, and Bob’s your uncle. You’ve also reminded me of an old red cabbage slaw recipe that I hope to find in one of my notebooks.

  8. Mad Dog says:

    I wonder if you can cross breed sprouts to make red ones…

  9. suej says:

    Love your images in this post (well, in all your posts for that matter…) Apropos red cabbage, this recipe with the thyme sounds interesting, I usually do a version with cloves but like the idea of the herb instead. I love the mental image of Good Sense off skiing, and Quantity and Greed running the show!

  10. My husband salivated as I read your recipe aloud. I will be off to the grocery store shortly. Happy New Year to you and yours and thanks for all of the delicious offerings you serve in words and images with every post.

  11. THe ghost of Christmas pissed -love that. We often feel completely overwhelmed by food during this season. It is all part of the craziness I say, Love red cabbage and never thought to combine it with thyme so this will be an interesting recipe to try although, at this time of year, simple broth is ofte a good choice,

  12. Thank god it’s all over – luckily not too many leftovers here, Not sure if that’s because I didn’t go too mad or becuase we are hogs. Mmmmm, will not focus too long on that one. Great recipe, love red cabbage but Big Man and (it seems to me) most of his Spanish family think it’s some new fandangled invention and not to be touched 😦

  13. I understand the frustration behind an inflexible, dull menu and in copious amounts. My father does not like change. He’s getting worse by the minute, and he’s only 63. Every year, he demands Christmas dinner include a dish of macaroni and cheese. MACARONI AND CHEESE! For the love of all that’s holy… if I could scrap the whole list, I would.

    That’s not to mention the massive portions. My extended family eats quite a bit. My cousin’s so large that he sounds like a harassing phone caller with all of his heavy breathing, and his wife’s no smaller. They go for two to three platefuls of food then take leftovers home with them.

  14. saucygander says:

    Ah yes, the Christmas menu, we boycotted turkey this year (served duck as a make-believe turkey), which resulted in a much more interesting meal.
    Saving this recipe for the cooler months, sweltering hot today so making green mango salad.

  15. Eha says:

    Oh, I DO hope the headache is all better now 😉 !

  16. We used to braise red cabbage all the time. Why did we stop???

    Thankfully, our No Family Holidays With Family policy does away with the boring holiday fare, but I still ate and ate and ate. I am happy to report that our pears are still firm, and we are going to make them your way over the weekend.

  17. I loathe food waste and would never consider a full Christmas meal!

  18. love love the photo!!! And, as a German, i love red cabbage, of course; this is very similar to our one at home 🙂 Carina

  19. margaret21 says:

    Despite my Polish heritage and having been brought up on the stuff, I’ve never learned to love it. You seeem to be encouraging me to have another go… 😦

  20. The dish looks stunning. The bright purple just calls out. I completely agree with you abouts the scent of guests after three days, particularly if you are related to them. 😉 Best wishes, Shanna

  21. Oh, red cabbage feels so much like home, being a German,( but one who can live without sausages, pork etc.) red cabbage cooked for hours with apple, bay leaves, caramelized onions, red wine, juniper berries, best in taste when it is warmed up for second time……. it goes almost with everything the senses desire…..

    • I always forget to put in juniper berries…such a good flavour. I remember drinking Geneve in Amsterdam, years ago, and finding the juniper flavour so much stronger than in ordinary English gins of the time. I think the current bespoke Gin distilleries in London will have changed that….sadly I don’t drink gin any more:)

  22. Michelle says:

    Beautiful thyme, Roger. And I’m right there with you on Christmas. Glad it’s over. Though, I have to admit, it passed me by almost completely this year. Which is just fine.

  23. Karen says:

    I sounds like we prepare red cabbage the same way except that lately I’ve been adding some balsamic vinegar as well. 🙂

  24. Mouthwatering indeed. If only I weren’t the only one in this family who loved red cabbage!

  25. What I love most about your photography (esp that first photo) is that it tells us a story all on it’s own. The red cabbage looks perfectly modest and frugal standing behind the other ingredients:) You’ll be interested to know, some photographers are in deep trouble.. for laying their turkey carcass and turkey stew all over the highway to attract wolves for photographing. Shameful, actually it disgusts me that someone would do that to the wolves.

  26. Roger, red cabbage is my favourite….One cabbage goes a long way, and it is being offered at a good many meals in the Shrewsday household. We include bacon and fennel. Most exotic 🙂

  27. Sally says:

    The time of excess left me no time to read – how I’ve missed your pithy wit Roger. This is one of your best and a more honest view of this time of over-indulgence than presented by 99.9% of Christmas articles. “the groaning board leaves me bored and groaning.” Fantastic.

  28. Beautiful photos. Red cabbage is so photogenic, isn’t it?

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