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Cabbage Rolls? I'll Take One!

During World War I, the YWCA coordinated and sponsored a garden between North Michigan Avenue and Niagara Street.

“Recipes give us living link to the past. When I bake Katharine Brady’s Chocolate Angel Food Cake, simmer Howard Sheltraw’s prize-winning Saturday Night Chili or freeze Mrs. George Morley’s Banana Pudding, I can almost feel them with me in the kitchen, explaining and advising. Even Saginaw’s Rich and famous become more human when food is involved. I like to picture multimillionaire Wellington R. Burt sitting down to his wife’s Salmon Loaf or Actress Marie Dressler putting up her preserves." Jean Rockwell Beach in the introduction to Savoring Saginaw

Esther Mathewson Barris was born in Saginaw and now lives in Shelby Township. Her mother moved to Saginaw from Northern Ireland and her father from Glasgow Scotland. For many years, she worked at Michigan National Bank.

Although she is uncertain exactly how Jean Beach and Pat Shek came to select her recipe for Savoring Saginaw, she knows why and when she makes her stuffed cabbage. She cooks according to the season and the cabbage leaves that form the wrappers for the stuffing are in season in late summer and early fall. In fact, her twin brother, Edward Mathewson, still sends her vegetables from his Saginaw garden.

Esther’s comments about cooking what is in season reminds us that customers could not always go to the grocery store and purchase things that are out of season. The observant food historian can easily detect the period in which a recipe was developed. Post World War II, freezing innovations and the transformation of shipping allow us to create decidedly non-seasonally inspired dishes.

Farmer’s market exhibit at the Castle Museum

When you visit the downtown Saginaw Farmer’s Market to purchase a cabbage for this recipe, stop by the museum to view our exhibit about the history of the market. (Although tempting, we ask you not to sample the plastic apples in the exhibit.)

“Summer is on the wane, and adventures of garden hobbyists are being harvested with heartwarming bounty. They are serving and preserving their home-grown fruits and vegetables with an extra dash of achievement.” From an article by Esther Way in The Saginaw News, August 19, 1956.

Morley Brothers’ Exhibit of Garden Tools and Equipment

Esther Barris’ Cabbage Rolls

12 cabbage leaves

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2 tsp salt 

1/2 tsp pepper

1 cup cooked rice

1 small onion

1 egg

1/2 tsp poultry seasoning 

Parboil leaves. Mix next 7 ingredients and roll into leaves. Cover with the following sauce.


2 (8oz) cans tomato sauce

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp vinegar

1/4 cup water

Bake 1 hour at 350° degrees. 

Cabbage Rolls are one of my family’s favorites. This recipe was easy to follow. The sauce definitely took it up a notch and added such a nice flavor. Let's just say this recipe was very very good, I highly recommend. I served tossed salad as a side dish. 

Deana Coleman, our staff associate, tests out weekly recipes from the cookbook Savoring Saginaw. Vice President/Chief Historian Tom Trombley and Chief Curator Sandy Schwan provided the historical information for this blog.


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