Cabbage-Cheese Chowder (Oklahoma, 1970s)

Cabbage-Cheese Chowder is a strange little recipe from that encapsulates everything I love about community cookbooks.  As with any church cookbook, most of the recipes in Adventures in Food feel as though they are meant to establish one’s place in a hierarchy.  People are prone to share recipes that they might prepare for fancy company, or recipes for which they are well-known, such as a special cookie that they always bring to church potlucks.   Not so with Cabbage-Cheese Chowder.  This is a recipe from one harried homemaker to another; a quick weeknight meal cobbled together from what’s on hand, with some vegetables thrown in to make it ‘healthy’.   A can of soup, a cup of milk, a few cups of cabbage, and some finely diced baloney.  Mix it together and heat it up and that’s about it.

The baloney is what makes this recipe lovable.  Like a lot of people my age, I grew up on a steady diet of baloney and mayonnaise sandwiches.  It was an inexpensive and plentiful source of protein.  In the intervening years baloney has been relegated to mystery meat status, with my children’s generation transitioning to sliced, formed deli meats or higher quality products.  In the twenty-first century grocery store an inexpensive deli ham is both cheaper and better for you than old school B-O-L-O-G-N-A.  My own children made it well into their teenage years before they ever saw a slice of baloney in the house.   As I write this baloney is having a nostalgia-fueled resurgence – my local butcher makes an excellent all-beef bologna in house that sells for nearly $10 per pound.  I’ll pick up a few slices here and there to scratch the itch for a baloney sandwich, but my kids even think the “good stuff” is foul.

But Cabbage-Cheese Chowder isn’t a baloney sandwich – it’s soup with diced baloney bits, playing the part of a downmarket ham hock.  It is, um, a less than elegant substitution and not the sort of thing I would publicly admit to if submitting a recipe for my church friends.  As I started to write this up I worried bit that this recipe might reflect the financial status or cooking skills of the woman who submitted it.  It is one thing to poke fun at the sensibilities and culinary choices of prior generations; it’s another altogether to make fun of someone who is genuinely struggling, or even just lacks sophistication.  I’m happy to report that this doesn’t appear to be the case.  In the same cookbook this recipe’s author also submitted an excellent recipe for Spanish Steak as well as a whole suite of recipes based around a Master Cookie Mix.   She certainly knows her way around the kitchen.  I suspect that baloney for this recipe was simply a practical choice.  Who doesn’t appreciate a frugal, thirty-minute meal?

And it’s actually not half bad.  The end result is more like a pasta and cheese dish than a chowder.  The cheddar cheese soup is thick to begin with, and there’s more cabbage than liquid.  It’s like a less ridiculous version of “cheesy zoodles”.   The baloney is still pretty weird, but it’s kind of like cutting up hot dogs into your macaroni and cheese, a time-honored comfort food flavor profile.  I even went out of my way to buy the cheapest baloney they had, and I’m convinced it’s still a better choice than bacon or ham.  It’s not haute cuisine, but it will warm your bones on a cold night and still give you a proper serving of vegetables.

And while it’s unlikely I’ll ever serve this to the crew for dinner, I’m pleasantly surprised by how well the cheddar soup pairs with the cabbage.  Not quite inspired to the level of cheddar and broccoli, but still an effective way to trick the uninitiated into eating their cabbage.  Leave out the baloney and add a little more cabbage and you’ve got a quick and easy side dish for a bratwurst or gooey topping for an all-beef hot dog.

Can I recommend this in good faith?  Not at all.  But I wouldn’t judge you for liking it either.  Enjoy!


Cabbage-Cheese Chowder (Oklahoma, 1970s)

  • Preparation: 5 min
  • Cooking: 10 min
  • Ready in: 15 min
  • For: 4 bowls
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  1. Combine soup, milk, and mustard in a medium saucepan. Stir in cabbage and bologna.
  2. Cook over medium-low heat until cooked through and cabbage is crisp tender, about 10 minutes.


For other baloney recipes, check out Home Cookin’ with Dave’s Mom.

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