Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Meema's Noodles and Cabbage

We all called my mom's mom Meema (pronounced "mee-mah"). I don't remember which of the grandchildren came up with that one, but it was a child's attempt at "grandma" that came out meema, and the name stuck. My mom was so happy when her first grandchild began calling her meema - her eyes just glowed!

Meema was originally from Roumania, and came here at the end of the 19th century. This was way before health food, and the recipes she carried with her had the earthiness of fresh ingredients cooked over a slow fire. She died when I was 4 or 5 years old, so I know her more as a family legend, rather than as a grandmother. From what I can gather, she was a force of nature. I try to reconcile this image of her as a strong-willed immigrant, with the black and white photo of her that always sat on my mom's desk. There stood a woman in a dark dress with small, light colored flowers all over it, wearing a stylish hat with a small black veil that came down over her face.

The stories of meema didn't involve the kitchen, they involved the living room, where she would entertain guests. Her home would always have a piano, and her children were quite accomplished at playing it. Someone was always singing. Music seemed to be her centerpoint, more than food. She loved opera and Broadway, and probably jazz, though I don't know that for sure.

So it's surprising to me that her daughters and their daughters took to the kitchen so readily. And it's also surprising that the one thing which every one of us carries with us as her legacy should be this rather simple dish. Simple, yes. But in my family, this dish carries the family's DNA. This is the dish that unites us - the one none of us can resist, no matter what our cholesterol levels might be. Unfortunately, I have no digital images of my grandmother. Or my mom, for that matter. Meema lived well before the digital age. My mom thought computers were dangerous. So while my 3 siblings and I all have photos, they all reside in frames.

When I read about Ellie's Nostalgia event over at Kitchen Wench, there was no doubt that I would be making noodles and cabbage. In my family, we usually reserve this dish for Thanksgiving. But hey! I'm ready to give thanks today. And tomorrow. The advent of the food processor makes this dish much easier.

1 green cabbage
1 stick of butter
1 package of wide egg noodles - the widest ones you can find.

Melt the butter in a large pot.
Using a food processor, cut the cabbage into small pieces.
Add the cabbage and stir.
You may keep the heat on medium while you're cleaning up the kitchen, but then turn it down to low.

Find something to do. Anything. This cabbage will be cooking for the next 2-4 hours on low. You will need to remember to stir it from time to time so that the cabbage doesn't burn, but other than that, you're free to do what you wish. When it's ready, it will be a lovely, toasty brown color and soft.
When the cabbage is almost done, cook the noodles according to the directions.
Drain the noodles, add the cabbage.

In my family, we add more butter at this point. And salt. See what I mean? This is not health food!

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Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

This is such a simple dish, and yet so rich with family history and tradition.

Unknown said...

Maybe not health food, but it sounds like one of the most delicious ways to eat cabbage!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for participating in my Nostalgia event :) I've got to say, if cabbage was served to me like this when I was a kid, instead of the horrid boiled mess that I did get, I think I would have taken to it with a lot more gusto ;)

Stella said...

Hi Toni,
your story's sweet! Love it!
Your mum's noodles & cabbage sounds yummy, especially with some butter in it!

Freya said...

A great post! And the dish sounds delicious too!

Rachael Narins said...

I gave such a start when I saw this! My brain totally malfunctioned and I thought "WOW! Someone else has a Meema who made Noodles and Cabbage!" Then of course I realized this is MY Meema's recipe too. Duh. LOL. What a space case I am! (FOr outside readers, Toni is my Aunt. Her Meema is my great-grandmother.)

Love your photo and the story. I love learning about our family through your memories!

(Wanna see my version? Hee. Noodles and Cabbage)

Toni said...

Lydia - yes, rich with family history, cholesterol, and oh, so incredibly tasty! (Esp. with salt!)

e - It definitely tops my list of cabbage favorites!

Ellie - Thanks for hosting this event! I would have had to wait till November for this dish! You should definitely try this - it will change your mind about cabbage.

Valentina - Thanks! Butter and salt!

Freya and Paul - thanks!

Rachael - How funny you posted this one! Read your post and loved your writing (of course!) I used to mess with the recipe and make a low fat version of it. Not bad, but nothing like the original.

Anonymous said...

What a great story! And, I learned even more about your family with Rachel's comment.

This sounds delicious....and bring on the butter! Yum! :)Thanks, Toni!

Rachael Narins said...

Chris - More about us from me? What? That we are brilliant, fab and too chic for words? Well, its all true. But if you meant that we are spacy, well, thats - sadly - just me. The rest of the clan just tolerates me.


Anonymous said...

Both of you are magnificent! :) No space what-so-ever!

Toni said...

OK......I'm here to settle the argument....We're ALL a little spacy...sorta...kinda...in our own ways. Rachael, I'm afraid you don't get the crowned title for this. You're speaking to an Aquarian here. The space cadets of the zodiac! ;-)

Anonymous said...

oh man, my grandmother made a dish like this too! after the noodles were cooked and tossed with the cabbage, she'd put it in a large casserole, dot it with more butter and then put a ring of kielbasa, split in half, on top to cook.
the porky spicy goodness would permeate the noodles and cabbage and we'd eat it with cottage cheese. Sooooo unhealthy, but soooooooo good.

Deborah Dowd said...

First of all, I am so jealous that you can buy Pennsylvania Dutch noodles where you are- those are the ones I remember from my childhood. A coworker of mine brings her mom's cabbage an noodles almost everytime we have a potluck and I so look forward to it! Thanks for sharing your version (she won't give up her recipe!) BTW- My kids call my mother MeeMaw (southern version of meema!)