German Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage Recipe. Like Oma used to make.

Or Nana or Farmor or Babushka or Bubbie.   Red Cabbage is a classic winter side dish for anyone with even a tiny bit of European heritage.  Shredded and cooked with apples, sugar and vinegar – a sweet and tart European style red cabbage recipe. 

Classic red cabbage recipe

Rotkohl – otherwise known as German red cabbage is THE reason I grow red cabbages. I hand a couple of them over to my sister Fish Pedicure to make for our family’s Thanksgiving dinner and then I turn another one or two into my own red cabbage to eat throughout the year. (it freezes really well)  I have never, however, grown a cabbage I would consider award winning.

It takes a certain kind of someone to want to grow the world’s largest anything.  Potato, Leek, Carrot, Zucchini …   It was in 2016 that the 90 year old record for the World’s Largest Red Cabbage was broken by David Thomas who grew a 51.1 pound red cabbage.

It beat out the long standing record of a comparably pathetic 42 pound cabbage, also grown by a man. As it turns out, most of the people who want to grow absurdly large vegetables are men.  I think we all know why.

If you search the Internet you’ll find a photo of David, a resident of Cornwall, England,  proudly lounging languidly behind his cabbage, his face and left shoulder the only parts of his body that are visible.  

I’m sure this saucy little image is considered quite sexy within the big vegetable crowd.  Need more incentive to spend 4 months growing a big potato?  It’s common knowledge that the only profession searched more often than lawyer on is Competitive Vegetable Grower.

My own father used to search out the biggest of everything in the grocery store.  Instead of coming home with a bag of beets he’d come home with one beet that was so big it needed to be buckled into the back seat like a sleepy, red-faced toddler.

Today’s recipe for classic German Red Cabbage came from my very own homegrown red cabbage.  My own very small, non award winning, Guinness Book of World Record losing, red cabbage.

Classic red cabbage recipe

What is it?

Anyone with a bit of European background has probably had a scoop of red cabbage brighten up their dinner plate during the holidays.

It’s a mixture of fresh red cabbage, sugar, vinegar and apples. The perfect combination of sweet and sour. In Germany it’s Rotkohl, in Denmark Rødkål and in Swedish rödkål.  Same name, same deliciousness.


Freezing cabbage?

Yes, you can freeze cooked cabbage perfectly. Cabbage, cooked or uncooked, freezes very well. It will get softer as anything does once you freeze it, but it doesn’t become watery or gross. 

In fact, when I make cabbage rolls, instead of boiling the cabbages, I stick the whole cabbages in the freezer for several days.  The freezing softens the cabbage leaves enough that they’re as pliable as if you had boiled them.

And in the case of cooked cabbage,  like this shredded side dish – it freezes perfectly too.


Classic red cabbage recipe

All it takes is one or two (normal sized) cabbages, some vinegar and sugar and about 1 hour.  I use a knife to slice the cabbage thinly to shred it. Honestly? It’s easier than dragging out and cleaning a food processor.

But if you want to use a food processor, just fit it with the shredder attachment and shred away.

red cabbage and apples

You can add apples too.  I like apples.  If I have apples from my espalier trees that are damaged or or soft this is where I use them.

red cabbage recipe

Shred the cabbage with a knife, slice the apples, chop an onion and you’re almost done.  Don’t forget the bay leaf. The ingredients are simmered for about 40 minutes (until the cabbage is tender) and that’s all there is to it.

I use red wine vinegar but you can honestly use any vinegar: apple cider vinegar, regular vinegar, rice vinegar …

I make a batch every fall, put it in individual sized containers and stack them in the freezer (because my freezer is perfectly organized and yours can be too.)  Don’t envy my organized-freezer-of-a-life because I have a basement I’m afraid to enter for all manner of reasons.

What to pair it with

Red cabbage goes well with pretty much everything but I especially like it with roast chicken, turkey or anything pork.  Not a giant pork.  Just you know, regular sized pork. I don’t eat a lot of game, but if you do it would be perfect with venison or duck as well.

red cabbage recipe


Quick Red Cabbage Coleslaw recipe

You can reserve some of the red cabbage and turn it into a super-quick coleslaw by shoving some into a jar with a 2:1 solution of sugar to vinegar. Let it steep for at least an hour. I like to add a sprinkling of celery seed as well.   (so use 1/4 cup sugar and 1/8 cup vinegar for example)


German Red Cabbage Recipe

Classic Red Cabbage

Classic Sweet & Tart Red Cabbage recipe. Sugar to taste.
3.93 from 26 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Canning/Preserves
Author: The Art of Doing Stuff


  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 apples
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 regular sized red cabbage shredded (enough to make 8 cups)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup + 2 Tablespoons white sugar less if you want it less sweet
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 bay leaf


  • Prep your ingredients so they're ready to go.
  • In a large saucepan over medium, melt the butter.
  • Add in the sliced apples and onion, cooking until soft.
  • Add remaining ingredients and heat to boiling.
  • Cover and simmer 40 minutes.
  • Discard bay leaf and transfer to serving bowl or individual containers for freezing.


*I often taste the cabbage near the end and decide whether I want to add a couple of more tablespoons of sugar.

I don’t think I’ll be growing a giant, fair worthy vegetable anytime soon, but I do think that if I were to ever join,  before I lied about my height, weight, age or education, I’d lie about being a wildly successful competitive vegetable grower.

German Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage Recipe.  Like Oma used to make.


  1. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Sounds good to me but I can head my son complaining about the smell now! lol

  2. Cooked cabbage is a go-to at my house when I’ve been in the dirt all day and can’t stand the thought of cooking a meal for five people. Add potatoes, smoked sausage, some yummy mustard, rye bread with butter if I’m lucky, and dinner is served.

  3. Phyllis says:

    Oooh, sweet and sour red cabbage is a favourite fall dish of ours, especially when served with some local German sausage. But thanks for the tip about freezing it. Who knew?

    Now how about showing some love for the humble but oh-so-nutritious beet? Sweet and sour beets are a de rigeur offering at our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, and lots of other times
    as well. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

  4. Jody says:

    My cabbages are little too. But, oh so cute. I love slicing into a cabbage and seeing the insides. I am constantly amazed at the patterns in Nature.

  5. Marilyn says:

    Yeah..we know why…I love red cabbage.

  6. Catherine says:

    Karen: this sounds great! I’ll try it if for nothing other than the entertainment value for my family. I love cabbage and it does not return the favor. Also, just a heads up for your web-guru, the text for “Print” on the recipe print button looks like it is set to be white on white or grey on white and or possibly grey. It works out to being a mystery button until you mouse over or press it. They can get all java on it and fix it in nothing flat, I’m sure.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Catherine! Hmm. It’s a plugin and I rooted around a bit in the editor for it and in the 17,000 files couldn’t find the script for the print background colour. I’ll look into it a bit more tonight. :/ Thanks for letting me know! ~ karen!

  7. ronda says:

    Our family recipe comes by way of my Oma. Red cabbage, sugar, vinegar, water, pepper. And garlic, my addition. Add some thickening, and schmekt gut!

  8. linda in illinois says:

    When I helped care for children many moons ago, the kitchen ladies used to make the children cabbage soup, I was appalled by the thought and smell on those days. Then one day tried the soup and by golly gee it was terrific. Now I really like cabbage in most forms, cooked, raw, pickled, etc. Thanks for the recipe Karen, will definitely consider trying.

  9. Teddee Grace says:

    You are too funny. And I needed a laugh this morning. Actually Mr. Thomas is not a bad looking guy, but I really think you could do a further riff on this very manly art of growing….or apparently shopping for…the very large vegetable. When I googled David Thomas and the Very Large Cabbage, which I thought might bring up a children’s book, I noticed lots of violent, manly references to smashing records and the length and size of things. He now seems to have grown a 124.08 pound cabbage. Also, Mr. Thomas, who seems, over the years of competition, to be gathering girth, although it could just be muscle, along with his cabbages, commented, at some length, in response to the male announcer about his very long trip in from Cornwall and told anyone, most likely any man, interested in this competitive sport to just keep trying and enjoy themselves. Not bad advice at all.

  10. Jenny says:

    We’ll have to try this recipe to go with fried pork cutlets and warm German potato salad! I never knew that I liked cabbage like this until my husband brought home a jar of pickled red cabbage last year. Delicious. :)

  11. danni says:

    I’ve never had this, only ever seen it in the movie A Christmas Story…. I need to try it, I love cabbage.
    Best best BEST way to cook is to fry down shredded cabbage in bacon fat tho… mmmmmMMMmmmmm
    And TOTALLY off subject, I was whining that at the beginning of September my louffa vines, although beautiful, insect free, and at least 30 feet long, still hadn’t produced one gourd… BOOM! Bid fat dingle dangles hanging off the trellis! Like they exploded overnight!

  12. Mary W says:

    LOVE this great purple cabbage plant and how easy it would be to pick the small purple bowling balls from a tomato plant’s tiny stems! You have a magical garden, indeed! It surely is your happy place!

  13. Sabina says:

    Oh now I know what I’m making Sunday! I was going to die country ribs and sauerkraut because I love it. But I love sweet and sour cabbage even more! A friend was visiting from out west and making it for her mom who was in hospice care. She asked me for raisins to add but all I had was dried cranberries. It. Was. Fabulous. Try it. You’ll like it 😎

  14. Thandi says:

    So of course the first thing I did was Google “David Thomas world’s largest cabbage”. I was not disappointed.

  15. Marna says:

    Will have to try your recipe. I bet your red cabbage taste better than that man’s, probably old tasting. ;)

  16. Gabriele Butte-Colonna says:

    Instead of sugar I use red Marmelade or jelly, almost better with homemade Orange Marmelade

  17. Constanze says:

    Aside from the apples, my mom also puts in raisins or dried apricots (cut up), and, of course, a bay leaf =D

  18. Dorothy says:

    Braised red cabbage is my favorite winter vegetable dish. It was and is always on the holiday table.

  19. Hazel says:

    I sometimes add a splash of gin. Or juniper berries if I don’t want to waste gin.

  20. MrsChrisSA says:

    Cabbage – even if it is pink and has glitter – no thank you!

    Boarding school cured me of that – they used to cook it until it was grey and the whole hostel reeked of stinky sock cabbage smell.

  21. Ev Wilcox says:

    Your attention to size is interesting (disturbing?)! Copied this recipe but will prob never make it. Cannot think of one person in this family that would eat it but me. Sigh….
    Thanks anyway. As usual the photos are great. (Copied them too)!

  22. Brenda says:

    I like little vegetables but like the sounds of this especially the part about freezing well (and the bit about adding sugar – I just did some other bedtime reading – a Julia Child Mastering recipe for carrots where you add sugar to the water you boil them in and later butter and whipping cream and I closed the book with a smile on my face) … then I read this – BIG SMILE … veggies and sugar! WhoOt

  23. Kathleen Aberley says:

    You freeze cabbage? Really? I really like cabbage, although I am not sold (yet) on freezing it. This I shall have to try.

  24. MaryJo says:

    I think giant vegetables are stupid! But I love all kinds of vegetables, and your cabbage recipe is great!

  25. Lisa says:

    Well you’ve already converted me to Kale (the garlic/oil/lemon recipe) – which I now love (only prepared one way of course); shall have to try your red cabbage recipe. :-)
    PS: You shall never convert me to coriander.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating