There are things I remember about childhood that are clear as day, and there are others that are as muddy as the puddles in the driveway after a good rain. But there’s one thing that I remember and that is watching my great grandmother Nell (or grandma as she was known to me), make fried cabbage and noodles.
My first memories of my grandmother making fried cabbage and noodles was when I was around eight or nine. We lived in this large red house, set on about an acre of land with a large country kitchen. It was there that my brother Jeremy was born, my paternal grandparents lived next door, my sister and I had pet worms (ironically named Hubba and Bubba), mud “painting” the gazebo, and summers were for playing outside from sun up to sun down.
Living out in the country, there was plenty of time to watch my great grandmother cook. She lived with us and was our babysitter while my parents worked during the day. I’m glad for not knowing another babysitter other than her – my only wish was that my children knew a similar life.
The days of living in the red house were before her stroke and before we had to babysit her. The memory was still sharp as was the tongue. It was before she resorted to quick dinners for us like hot dogs and sandwiches. When she still had energy and enjoyment left to take to the kitchen and fill it with the smell and sizzle of cabbage frying in butter. I think that’s why this is one of my favorite recipes, I can hear her humming “I love you a bushel and a peck…” while she cooks.
Over the years I’ve come to know her fried cabbage and noodles as the ultimate comfort food. I don’t remember ever eating it as a child, but I remember watching the process – from chopping the cabbage to tossing everything together at the end and it is a staple recipe in my kitchen, despite Brian’s aversion to cabbage and the smell of it cooking. (Thus why I only make it when he’s not in the house and the house has time to air out before he gets home.)
I don’t think I’ve tweaked this recipe much since I started cooking it myself – mainly because I don’t think that something as simple as this recipe needs tweaking.
For me, it’s about the comfort, memories and senses that it ignites that makes this dish what it is.
Fried Cabbage and Noodles
Total cook time: 45 minutes
1 large head of cabbage (the Amish grow heads of cabbage as big as basketballs so if you love cabbage, shoot for one of those)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 stick to a whole stick of butter
1 bag (12 oz or larger) egg noodles
(insert cabbage and noodle ingredients)
Over medium heat, start by pouring enough vegetable oil in the bottom of a large, heavy bottom frying pan
Add 1-2 TBS of butter to the pan
(insert melt butter and oil pictures)
While the butter and oil are heating in the pan, wash and chop the head of cabbage. I like to chop the cabbage into singular large strips (as shown in the picture below).
(chop head of cabbage picture)
Turn the heat to medium low and add your cabbage to the pan with the butter and oil in it. Cover with a lid if you have one available.
(cabbage in frying pan)
After about 10 minutes your cabbage will start to look like this:
You can see the cabbage has started to change color and soften; you’re on the right track! If you couldn’t put the entire head of chopped cabbage in your frying pan now would be the time to add the rest, just be sure to add more butter when you do.
In another large pot, start the water for the noodles. Once your water has come to a boil, add the entire bag of egg noodles. I like to add a bit of vegetable or olive oil to the pot of water as well. The oil helps prevent the noodles from sticking to one another when you drain them. Boil the noodles according to package directions (about 10 minutes or so).
(boiling pot of noodles)
Add more butter as needed to the cabbage. Stir and flip the cabbage occasionally with a slotted spoon or spatula to be sure that all the cabbage gets fried thoroughly.
Here is where the process slows a bit. By now your cabbage has really started to caramelize in color and maybe even crisp up.
(butter fried cabbage)
Bug prefers his crispy, almost burnt. If you’ve never had fried cabbage before, feel free to taste test as you go. This is the only way to decide how “fried” you like your cabbage. Either way, you will end up with fried cabbage that resembles something close to the picture above.
Here is where you can also add your salt and pepper to taste or wait till the end. I give both the salt and the pepper a shake or three at this point because we’re almost done.
Since we’re in my house though, this is what your fried cabbage looks like (and it’s also when the hungry teenager starts trying to take fork fulls out of the pan before I’m ready):
(fully cooked fried cabbage)
Strain your boiled noodles and add to a large bowl or dish. If your cabbage is fried to your liking, turn off the heat and add the contents of the pan (including any melted butter) to the dish of noodles. Mix thoroughly.
(fried cabbage and noodles)
Take a helping for yourself and then set out bowls and forks for the kids and then back away and let them have at it. In my house only two of my four care for fried cabbage and noodles. I suspect the other two children don’t belong to me and are their father’s children.
My favorite times to cook this dish is in the summer before it gets too hot to turn on the stove and again in the fall when the leaves have started to turn and crisp, the same way as Bug likes his cabbage. My mother’s dad made this for us once and added kielbasa to it. I’d never had it that way before; even though I am a fried cabbage and noodle purist, I won’t kick his version out of the kitchen. If you decide to add kielbasa or smoked sausage (as that works too) dice it up and add it at the beginning when you first start to fry the cabbage so the two can fry up together.