OF CABBAGE FIT FOR A KING
The area around Lille, in the far north of France (Nord-Pas-de-Calais), has a way with red cabbage that is particularly good. While variants exist the recipe in purest – and best form, imo – is set out in the book shown, Flandre Cuisine Recettes et Traditions, ed. by Michel Loosen, published in 1990 by the Foyer Culturel de l’Houtland.
The Foyer is based in Steenvoorde and promotes the cultural heritage of French Flanders. The book is amongst many published by this group dealing with a broad range of historical topics, culture or heritage.
Flandre Cuisine Recettes et Traditions is unique in my experience, as it contains not just many valuable recipes of this border region, where a dialect of Flemish is still spoken, but also drawings, proverbs, songs, depictions of costumes, and other elements of folklore.
It is in French except for a few Flemish proverbs and songs, but these are mostly translated into French. Many proverbs have a rueful, quotidian quality: “H’n is gevallen met zyn gat in de butter – Il est tombé assis dans le beurre“. Hence, “He fell into the butter vat right-side up” – he was lucky.
The book gives a real sense of what life was like, and probably still is to a degree, in a part of France little known to foreigners. Here is a source to obtain it.
The recipe for cabbage-and-beer is simple. It calls for red cabbage, onion, butter, beer, brown sugar, salt, and pepper – that’s it. Other recipes in the region might add apple, juniper berry, or nutmeg or a similar spice. Sometimes, vinegar is poured in with the beer, or used on its own. Red currant jelly is sometimes stipulated instead of sugar. Some sweetening is necessary, as by nature this is a sweet and sour dish, a survival of medieval times when such combinations were well-liked.
The flavours of the recipe in Flandre Cuisine Recettes et Traditions emerge pure yet well-melded. It’s a dish that needs long cooking, three hours is recommended. Cabbage is one of those dishes you may cook for a short time or a very long time, but with beer or other alcohol, the long method is best, IMO.
The recipe is so straightforward that almost anyone can follow it, but I can help with any question.
French Flanders has numerous ways with cabbage both red and white. Some involve red or white wine, stock, water or a combination. Beer-and-red cabbage seems particularly associated with Lille, the chief city of the North, hence the name Chou-Rouge A La Lilloise, or Red Cabbage Lille-style.
In this dish I find a flavourful blonde beer works best. Any good, all-malt lager is fine. But in a pinch use any beer you have, it will never be bad!