Old-fashioned Coleslaw Recipe

Some foods memories are associated specific events. Others are much more scattered. For me, Coleslaw is one of those food where I have scattered memories – some wonderful; others not so great.

I have rich memories of eating Coleslaw at family reunions, at church potlucks, and at home. Some renditions had a light vinegar dressing; others had rich mayonnaise dressings. Occasionally the coleslaw had a hint of pepper or contained celery seed. And, sometimes there were additional ingredients – chopped onion, apple, or green and red pepper.

But I also associate coleslaw with fast food joints – often with a runny mayonnaise-based dressing.

Suffice it to say that I have mixed feelings about Coleslaw. But, I had a cabbage in the refrigerator so when I saw a hundred-year-old recipe for Coleslaw in a home economics textbook I decided to give it a try. The Coleslaw dressing had a very mild flavor with just a hint of sugar and vinegar, which allowed the flavor of the cabbage itself to shine. That said, I prefer Coleslaw dressings with a more pronounced sweet-sour flavor, so I probably won’t make this recipe again.

recipe for cole slaw
Source: School and Home Cooking by Carlotta C. Greer (1920)

This process for making this recipe is similar to the method used to make custard. I got this recipe from a home economics textbook. The author seeks to build upon skills learned in previous lessons. So she often referred back to previous recipes that used similar processes – in this case to a recipe for soft custard. I previously posted the hundred-year-old soft custard recipe.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:


  • Servings: 5-6
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

3 cups shredded/grated cabbage

1 egg or 2 egg yolks (I used a whole egg.)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

dash cayenne (red) pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoon butter, melted

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Put egg (or egg yolks), salt, mustard, cayenne (red) pepper, and sugar in a small mixing bowl; beat until combined. Set aside.

Put the milk in a heavy sauce pan (use a double boiler if available); then heat using medium heat. Stir constantly until the milk just barely begins to bubble, then remove from the heat.

Place a small amount (approximately 1 – 2 tablespoons) of hot milk into bowl with the egg mixture, stir quickly. Add this mixture to the hot milk and stir. (This helps prevent the egg from coagulating when the egg is introduced to the hot liquid.)  Return to stove and cook, using medium heat while stirring constantly until the mixture just begins to thicken or coat a spoon. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vinegar Strain and then pour over the shredded cabbage. Chill at least 3 hours before serving. Stir before serving.


47 thoughts on “Old-fashioned Coleslaw Recipe

  1. I never would scoop out a spoonful of this coleslaw. It needs a little color! I always add some shredded carrot, and some chopped scallions, or some shredded apple and raisins. Down here, shrimp coleslaw is the thing — there’s nothing better.

      1. It’s delicous. I make mine with just a touch of grated onion, some finely chopped bell pepper, the boiled shrimp, peeled (of course) and a dressing of mayo, lemon, and just a touch of chili or seafood sauce. Yum!

  2. At least this recipe hasn’t got raw onion in, which I loathe as you can taste it on your tongue days later. But yes, a bit of colour wouldn’t come amiss.

    1. This dressing does have a certain amount of creaminess. It’s interesting to know that your grandmother’s recipe is similar to this one.

      1. I just looked up the history of mayonnaise and Hellman’s started selling it around 1907. I don’t know how old my grandmother’s recipe is, but she would have been able to get ready-made mayo to make it.

        1. Thanks for the info. I hadn’t realized how long the commercial product has been available. I don’t remember ever seeing an ad for mayonnaise when browsing through hundred-year-old magazines – but I could have easily seen one and if it wasn’t a very memorable ad, turned the page and quickly forgotten it. Now if I see a mayonnaise ad, I’ll pay more attention.

  3. My history with cole slaw—or “cabbage salad” as it’s called in Northeastern PA—is somewhat like yours. When it’s good, it’s a delight, but when it’s drowning in mayo it’s just awful. I love the PA Dutch “pepper cabbage,” which is sweet and sour and no mayo. Personally, every time I’ve made it I’ve missed the mark.

    1. As another native to northeastern PA, I also love pepper cabbage. Sometimes we called it Pepper Hash or Pickled Cabbage. I actually did a post on this back in the years when I was posting my grandmother’s diary a hundred years to the day after she wrote it. The recipe I posted isn’t a hundred years old, but I’m sure that cooks made similar recipes in the early 1900s in PA.

      Threshing and Old-time Pickled Cabbage (Pepper Hash) Recipe

  4. I really enjoyed reading this old recipe, Sheryl, as always. I always enjoy seeing the “ful” as part of the measurement in these old recipes. Also, we never see anyone referring to butter as “fat” anymore in a recipe, so I found this interesting too. I like calling it butter and not fat. Great retro recipe, thank you.

    1. It’s interesting that in the list of ingredients that the author referred to “butter or substitute,” and then in the directions indicated when to add the “fat.” It’s fascinating how some of the common recipe terminology has changed across the years.

  5. Probably more work than I’m prepared to take on, but it is interesting to read the recipe – cayenne caught my attention – an ingredient I’ve never considered when making slaw – but I can’t say why.

  6. I suppose coleslaw is one of those love it or hate it foods… Not one I will eat. First grade ruined it for me when the teacher insisted I had to “clean my plate” which included a larger portion of coleslaw than I could stomach. She revised her policy as half the room was retching. Still no coleslaw for me…

    1. I think that the “clean your plate” philosophy of some adults back when we were children did more harm than good – though I know that they were trying to do the right thing.

    1. The dressing wasn’t terrible – it just lacked flavor. And, adding carrots or other brightly colored vegetable would have made the coleslaw more interesting.

  7. I printed this out to try later, when cabbage is either in the store or at the Farmers’ Market. This just needs about a tablespoonful of sugar, ha ha. My sister and I have been trying to make “Mom’s” coleslaw (she rarely wrote down recipes, used what she had and adjusted flavors based on who was at her table). This cooked version is a first for me but sounds yummy.

  8. This is an interesting way to make coleslaw – I’m glad you tried it and reported on it! I recently had someone ask me which type did I preferred. I quickly answered that it depended on what I was eating it with at the time. I like vinegar based with fish. Creamy mayonnaise based with anything barbecued, including shredded meat sandwiches. Strangely I don’t like it with hamburgers. A lot of personal preferences for coleslaw!

  9. I’m very picky about my coleslaw. And as someone else said, no onion! Yes, you can taste it on your tongue for days! I also like my cabbage coarsely chopped. Not finely grated. I have never made coleslaw it I have my favorite restaurants that serve it. Or I used too – I am so over eating in…Hope you are staying safe, Sheryl. ~Elle

    1. We’re well and doing okay. I hope that you are also staying safe. Hopefully we’ll be able to once again get coleslaw and other favorite foods at favorite restaurants soon.

  10. Interesting recipe! The mustard, butter and cayenne are ingredients I wouldn’t think of when coleslaw comes to mind. It’s a unique blend of savory ingredients.

    1. There’s so little of each of these ingredients that it doesn’t have much effect on the flavor – though there was a slight peppery/mustard undertone. I’m a bit foggy why the recipe calls for butter – though I actually didn’t notice it in the coleslaw.

  11. So interesting to find this. I found this exact recipe (to the word) hand-written by my great-grandmother in a collection of recipes that my grandma had. Haven’t tried it yet but looking forward to it. I love all of the old recipes I’ve found and treasure them.

    1. Wow, that’s amazing. I wonder if your great- grandmother took a home economics course that used the old textbook that I got the recipe from.

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