Six Generations of Coleslaw Makers
Shared by Jo Betty Sorensen
Recipe Roots: Odessa, Russia > New York, NY > Fair Lawn, NJ
“She called it ‘coleslawridge’ because she didn’t speak English very well,” recalls Jo Betty Sorenson of her grandmother, Marie Immerman, a first-generation American born to Ukranian parents in the Bronx in 1895. Though she may have fumbled a few words, Jo Betty remembers her grandmother as a dynamic woman. “Not just for her generation, but for any generation,” says Jo Betty. Marie was a suffragette, drove a car back in the 1940s, and would roll up her sleeves when she wore a bathing suit, “which was risqué at the time.”
When Jo Betty’s mother and grandmother both lost their husbands, Marie moved into their house in Fairlawn, New Jersey, and helped raise the children while her daughter worked. “We moved in together, five women,” says Jo Betty, who is about to turn 71 and now lives in Newbury Park, California. Marie was the cook in the family, but one recipe that stood out was that “coleslawridge,” or, as Jo Betty dubbed it, 6th Generation Coleslaw. It’s thus called because the crunchy, sour cream-and-mayo dressed slaw was passed down from Jo Betty’s great grandmother Esther Greenbaum all the way to Jo Betty’s granddaughters.
“It’s one of those recipes that’s just a good recipe,” says Jo Betty, who was the chronicler of the family’s dishes, recording her grandmother’s recipes back when she was in college. Like many grandmothers, Marie didn’t use measurements, so one day, Jo Betty stood by her side and watched her make the slaw so she could record the quantities. “I used to write her when I was in college and ask her, give me a recipe for kugel, and she would write back to me,” says Jo Betty. “I still have all the letters.”
The coleslaw recipe is simple but trusty. Jo Betty’s family ate it often, and it was a fixture of the Thanksgiving table. The juices from the creamy-tangy-sweet shredded carrots and cabbage helped moisten the sometimes dry turkey, and the slaw itself was especially good with leftovers. Though all six generations love it, there can be subtle variations in how it gets made. “When my mother came out to visit me, we would cook together, and it was interesting because she would grate onion,” says Jo Betty, who uses onion powder. “With recipes, people make it their own.” Jo Betty hopes that she’ll be around when her youngest granddaughter, of the sixth generation, puts her stamp on the slaw, too.