Pig For Victory No.19: Preserving Cabbage as Coleslaw

Part of doing the wartime garden at Pig Row is that we have a lot of cabbage. We mean A LOT of cabbage. It seems cabbage became the corner stone of the wartime effort and though Britain went dark during the second world war it may have been for the best after the amount of cabbage the family could consume at one sitting. We came across this recipe, modified after the war to include more sugar - something that wasn't in abundance during Dig for Victory - but as we are now moving away from our cabbage blow outs and leaving the war behind us, we have embraced sugar in our preserving once more. So, here is the deconstructed Coleslaw from a 1949 home cookbook, Preserving Problem Vegetables, which pulls together some of the vegetables coming back to the plot after the war and embracing some modern ones we never use in preserves.

Anyone can use a water bath to preserve food.


1 large cabbage
2 large carrot
2 green peppers
1 small onion
2 tsp. salt


2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
4 cups sugar
2 tsp celery seeds (we use celery salt if we can't get our hand on the seeds)
2 tsp mustard seeds

These ingredients should fill four 1/2 litre jars. We don't mess around anymore and always buy good preserving jars, we prefer Kilner jars as they last years and you can purchase new seals for them but you're welcome to find other preserving jars but we recommend that you do not recycle jars from your fridge for this recipe. Vegetables low in acidity like brassicas can be a problem to preserve and can, if badly preserved, lead to botulism. If you're nervous about preserving, simply preserve and then store in your cold fridge. 

Wash your hands before starting and make sure all your bowls, pans and towels are clean. Make sure all surfaces are clean and your chopping board has only been used to cut vegetables on. It is never a good idea to use a chopping board that has had meat on it. Simple cleanliness in the kitchen when preserving will save you headaches, bellyaches and bad bacteria.

Clean off your carrots with a potato peeler and using a coarse grater, grate your carrots in thick strips. On a chopping board, slice up your onions and peppers, add them to a bowl and set aside.

Cabbage doesn't always mean sauerkraut.

Slice up your cabbage and add to the bowl with the rest of the vegetables. Add the 2 tsp of salt to the mix and combine together with clean hands. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and set aside for one hour.

Cabbage in a simple coleslaw recipe.

In a pan make your preserving syrup. Add 2 cups of vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 4 cups sugar, 2 tsp celery seeds (we use celery salt if we can't get our hand on the seeds but this is a good recipe when your celery has bolted) and 2 tsp mustard seeds to a pan and bring to a boil and simmer for two minutes. Do not burn the syrup at this point. Do not leave the syrup. As soon as the two minutes are over take off the heat and leave to cool. You can speed up the cooling process by decanting the syrup from the pan to a clean glass jug. This is a very tasty syrup and try not to eat it all. This syrup gives you the acidity needed to prevent botulism.

Preserving cabbage.

As the syrup cools you will need to wash your jars in hot soapy water, rinse and sterilise them. We sterilise our jars in a large jam pan, we fill it with water and bring it to the boil, we place the glass jars in the pan but not the lids - the seals will melt! Leave the jars completely covered by boiling water for 5 minutes. We use a set of kitchen tongs to put and pull the jars in and out of the pan. We use the tongs to hold the lids and dip them for around 10 seconds in the boiling water. This sterilises the lids.

Makes sure you sterilise your jars when preserving.

We place the jars and lids on a clean cloth to air dry. Do not touch them again until they are ready for the preserve. 

Deconstructed coleslaw.

After one hour, the vegetables in the bowl will have some access water drawn out by the salt. Pour off this access water and add the now cold syrup. Mix thoroughly.

How to make your own coleslaw without the need for fridges.

Using a jam funnel or steady hands, pack your jars with the vegetables and syrup. The syrup should cover all the vegetables.

Preserving coleslaw.

Place the lids on the jars, tighten them but do not over tighten them. Your best bet is tighten them and then give them a quarter turn each to loosen them off. The reason? You don't want to wreck the seals. You're about to boil the whole jar for 20-30 minutes (anywhere between these two times will mean that the contents will be preserved) and you will need to escape to create a vacuum in your jars.

Water bath preserving

Using those useful kitchen tongues put the jars in boiling water for between 20-30 minutes. Make sure that the entire jar is under the water, there should be around two inches of water above the jars. You can learn more about water bath preserving online. When the pan returns to the boil you will start timing and pull out your jars in 20-30 minutes. 

Preserving takes time but pays dividends.

Allow 12 hours for the bottles to cool. As the jars cool check the seals and tighten the top when needed. On Kilner jars there is a dimple in the centre of the lid and if the dimple is down then you have achieved a good seal, if the dimple is still up, then store in a fridge and eat over the next seven days.

Simple recipes for preserving

Label your jars and store. Your probably thinking, 'Where's the mayonnaise?' You can't preserve mayonnaise, not unless you want to be very ill. When you want to make the jars into coleslaw, add it to mayonnaise with the syrup and your tastebuds will be blown away.

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