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This favorite condiment is 'slawed off' where I'm concerned: Column

Ceason Ranson
Ranson Ritings

We talked sauce the last time, but you can’t talk West Virginia hot dogs without talking about the other most favorite condiment: coleslaw. And I can’t stand it.

It's not just slaw though — I don’t care for any cabbage-based dishes. I think it comes from when I was a child. When I was 6, my parents took me and my brand-new brother on a trip to the Northeast United States. And when I say brand-new, I mean brand-new: Colton was only about 6 weeks old, if he was that. But he was an easy baby to travel with, and my parents were in their late 20s and fearless about traveling with children, so off to Maine we went.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped at a small restaurant, and since Colton was sleeping at the time, we pushed him in his car seat under the table and went about getting our lunch. My parents ordered me a small side of sauerkraut and asked me to try it. Now my parents love vinegary things like sauerkraut and pickles, so it would stand to reason that I’d like vinegary things.

But I hated it — I hated the smell, I hated the taste, hated everything about it. I could not get around the slimey-sour taste, and that horrible rotten smell. It's one of my most vivid memories of that trip, coupled with when we left that restaurant, got out to the car and were just about to leave when the waiter came running out to us. He asked us if we left anything inside. We said no, and then he held up a still-sleeping Colton in his car carrier and asked, “How about your baby?” If I hadn’t been so focused on not throwing up sauerkraut, I might have been chagrined.

Can’t do Brussels sprouts, which are basically mini-cabbages, either. Brussels sprouts are getting a better rap nowadays, but that’s because someone finally realized that “boiling” is not the best or only method of cooking vegetables. You know what I’m talking about, boomers and Xennials: We all grew up with our vegetables getting dumped either in a microwavable dish or dumped into a saucepan of water and boiled until someone remembered they were on the stove. Nothing, and I mean nothing, stunk a house up faster than boiled Brussels sprouts, and the results: a mushy, water-logged green lump; didn’t ever seem to be worth the effort to me.

And full disclosure: I actually make a really good Brussels sprout recipe, with bacon and balsamic vinegar, all fried together and caramelized in a pan, and served piping hot in a pretty dish. My family loves it — they asked for it for like five Thanksgivings, and I love them, so I’d just keep that in mind as those little green cabbage leaves littered my kitchen and that sulfur smell permeated my house. Otherwise, I’d have told them they’re getting buttered corn and to shut up about it. And I tried the dish, and it's fine as far as bacon/vegetable dishes go, but on the scale of dishes I want to eat, the ratio of Brussels to bacon would need to be like 1 to 50 before I’d even put it on the list.

Coleslaw though — that’s an absolute no go. And it feels like someone’s going to strip me of my Golden Horseshoe for admitting that, but unless there’s been an accidental cross-contamination, I’ve never eaten it on a hot dog or as a side dish. The food that is coated in that milky cabbage soup shall never pass my lips.

And please don’t try and tempt me with your “You’ve just never had MY coleslaw!” rhetoric. The recipe doesn’t matter. My mom made the easiest of coleslaw for years: a bag of pre-cut coleslaw cabbage mix from the fresh veggie section of Krogers, mixed with a jar of TJ Marzetti’s coleslaw dressing. Foolproof, consistent in taste, and I didn’t eat it, ever. I love institution food (think: anything served in a school cafeteria), and while I love the looks of a scoop of coleslaw, I won’t eat lunch lady coleslaw either. I’d just admire that perfectly round scoop of cabbage sitting on my cafeteria tray, then proceed to eat around it. Like all good art, I don’t have to like it to appreciate it.

If you are one of those people who hand-grates three kinds of cabbage and assembles a dressing of vinegar, mayonnaise (please don’t say you use Miracle Whip — I want to keep respecting you as a person) and your secret blend of spices and sweeteners, then I am sure your family and friends adore you. Seriously, I’ll bet they go on and on about your prowess with coleslaw, how it’s the dish they look forward to at every reunion, cookout and party. I applaud your skill, because I think everyone should have a signature dish. Everyone needs one food item that they make the best, because years from now, that’s one of the things you’ll be remembered for. Don’t we all still remember a dish made by someone who isn’t here, and sigh because we know we’re never going to eat it the same way again?

So if coleslaw is your signature dish, lean into that. Just don’t get your hopes up that in 40 years I’m going to turn to someone in the buffet line and say “Remember Cousin Ethel’s coleslaw? I miss that.” I remember many a lost recipes and their makers fondly: Grandma Kate’s Waldorf salad, my dad’s meatloaf and Uncle Chuck’s salsa. But if Terri Ranson goes tomorrow, her bag o’ slaw/TJ Marzetti combo isn’t going to spring to mind (or her boiled Brussels sprout or canned sauerkraut side dishes — woman loves her vinegary cabbage).

Nope, I’m just going to have to live with the idea that while I may be a consummate Mountaineer in so many respects, loving coleslaw or other cabbage dishes isn’t one of them. And I’m okay with that. Better than okay, because at least I’ll know if there’s a sulfur smell in my house, it's because something has gone horribly wrong with a natural gas line, not because I made bad life choices in the produce aisle of the grocery store.

Better to be gassed out by actual gas than the stench of boiled cabbage. That’s my motto, and I’m sticking to it.