The Origins of Coleslaw

German immigrant Henrik Kohl arrived in the United States in 1864, settling in southern New Jersey. He and his seven sons were moderately successful farmers expanding their total acreage over the next decade. Mostly they grew cabbage that they shipped to markets in Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore. In the post civil war boom, commodities like vegetables proved quite profitable.

In the economic collapse of 1873, known later as the Panic of 1873, the Kohls along with many other farmers faced personal economic collapse. The Kohls had plenty of cabbage to sell, but few buyers had money to buy food. In an effort to delineate the Kohl family vegetables from the competition, Henrik Kohl had the novel idea of preparing the cabbage for consumption before selling the vegetable; he shredded his cabbages adding vinegar and oil, marketing the mixture as Kohl’s Salad. Due to Henrik’s thick accent, Kohl’s Salad quickly came to be known as Kohl’s Slaw.

As word of Kohl’s Slaw spread, the name was Americanized translating Kohl to the Anglican “Cole.” Cole’s Slaw soon became coleslaw, as regional dialects dropped the apostrophe, and further south, the cabbage salad became simply slaw.

In the northern cities, Italian immigrants began adding Radicchio, a leafy red vegetable developed in 1860, and Dutch immigrants in New York began adding carrot shavings.

For more on the origins of Coleslaw, see this explanation.

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