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Railroad Coleslaw

Before the 21st century refrigeration was an uncommon thing. Iceboxes could keep things cool, as could store rooms, cellars, and other special food storage areas. But, for many people much of the time food preparation and wise timing were the 2 things usually keeping food fresh, not a side-by-side fridge.

1890s railroad workers
Via: NYPL Digital Collections

To that end a number of pickled foods were once popular and this recipe for railroad coleslaw is said to date back to early railroad workers who needed food that wouldn’t spoil to take with them to work.

There’s no mayonnaise in this dish and it was once said to keep without refrigeration for weeks. As it’s not a properly canned food, if you make this at home you should keep it in the fridge. But, if it sits out at a picnic there’s no needs to worry over the eggs in mayo because this doesn’t have any at all.

Railroad Coleslaw

This simple combination of cabbage, red bell peppers, and onions is pickled in a sweet brine of sugar spiced with mustard seed and apple cider vinegar.

Unlike the creamy coleslaws of today that use mayo, carrots, and sometimes even broccoli, this one bears more resemblance to piccalilli or chow chow than to many coleslaw recipes. However, the combination of onions and peppers in a sweet brine goes perfectly with all the normal picnic foods we love- including sliders, sandwiches, and hot dogs.

Railroad Coleslaw

If you’re looking for a change from boring, creamy coleslaw then give this railroad coleslaw a try. Sometimes coming back to the old ways has its perks- especially when it comes to eating deliciously.

Makes 16 servings

4h 20m prep time

7m cook time

223 calories

Rated 5 out of 5
Rated by 3 reviewers
  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  1. Combine vegetables in a large glass or metal bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.
  2. In a saucepan combine the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Pour mixture over vegetables. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and toss before serving to distribute dressing. Store in refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.

Recipe adapted from My Own Sweet Thyme.

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