Coleslaw the Pennsylvania Dutch Way

Sour, Not Sweet

My sisters and I grew up eating this coleslaw; we didn’t know there was any other kind for years since every family member we visited on my Mom’s side made it the same way. My grandmother Mimi said the recipe originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch; I don’t know that for a fact, but I accept it as our family’s truth. Mimi was big on talking up the Pennsylvania Dutch from whom she said we descended.

Growing up, Thanksgiving wasn’t Thanksgiving if we didn’t have Mom’s coleslaw on the table. My mother made it for many, many years; after she relocated to Arizona, my oldest sister Linda made it each year for the Jersey crew. Once Linda passed away, I took on the challenge of making the sourest coleslaw in New Jersey.

It’s an acquired taste. . .at least that’s what most of the in-laws said when they tasted it for the first time. My husband Mike won’t go near the stuff, while my sister Cindy’s Mike will always eat a spoonful or two. We’ve had assorted boyfriends actually gag over the years after they’ve tasted it. No accounting for taste (theirs), I say.

Ingredients: 1 head cabbage, new small bottle Heinz white vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, 16 oz heavy cream, dollop or two of sour cream.

Note the Heinz vinegar; it's the best vinegar to use in this recipe. Hands down. Buy a fresh bottle.


Cut the cabbage into quarters. Carefully cut out the core in each quarter.


Chop each quarter into chunks and rinse thoroughly.

Plop each quarter segment into a blender filled about 1/3-1/2 way with water.

Chop, using pulse mode (not constant “on” or you’ll have itty bitty cabbage pieces that won’t taste like anything).

Work in batches until all the cabbage is chopped and draining in a colander. Fluff cabbage around every once in a while to help let all the water drain out.

Transfer chopped cabbage into a large bowl, add 4 tablespoons white vinegar and salt and pepper pretty well. Stir and let sit a while.

Add at least half the 16-oz container of heavy cream to the cabbage mixture and a healthy dollop of sour cream. Mix well. Let sit a while for flavors to blend.

Taste and see if the white vinegar is the top note of the dish. If not, add another tablespoon or two of vinegar and more heavy cream. The idea is that the coleslaw should be creamy looking but not totally runny.

You know you have the taste right when your tongue kinda curls back in your mouth and you break into a violent coughing fit if you try to talk. That vinegar is serious stuff.

Refrigerate until serving. Stir well before putting it on the table. Warn your guests before they take their first bite.

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4 Responses to Coleslaw the Pennsylvania Dutch Way

  1. Moriah says:

    God do I love that coleslaw!! My Mom and I never measured the vinegar, we just poured away…. Lol

  2. Melissa says:

    Living in Lancaster County, I have never had this recipe for cole slaw.
    My mother was raised on a Mennonite farm as a girl and she made a similar slaw. I’ve heard it was called pepper slaw by “outsiders” because it contains bits of green pepper. She always chopped the slaw and squeezed by hand the salt into the cabbage before adding the vinegar and a little sugar to taste then adding the chopped pepper and celery seed. I was in my late 20’s before I had a creamed version but that too was sweet.

    • Hi Melissa,
      I can believe that my family’s recipe isn’t a “true” Pennsylvania Dutch recipe as my Mom’s family hasn’t been Mennonite for a few generations. And I’m sure the recipe morphed over that time.
      I appreciate you taking the time to describe your Mom’s pepper slaw recipe. It sounds yummy to me! I love sour. And I love green pepper. Perhaps some of my readers will make it based on your description here. My Mom is coming for a visit very soon and I’m going to show her your comment.

  3. Pingback: Let’s Talk Recipes: Sour Cream Cookies | Adventures of a Middle Age Mom

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