When Southern Oregon College professor Angus Bowmer first proposed a Shakespeare festival to run over the 1935 Fourth of July weekend, Ashland city officials were concerned it would be a bust. To boost ticket sales they insisted that boxing matches be held during the intermissions.
Twenty-six years later, my mother took a similar tack when she tried to talk my dad, my brother, and me into making the eight hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Ashland (“SHAKE-spear? Yuck!”). After the plays, she promised, we’d spend the rest of our vacation at Diamond Lake.
But on that warm August night in that little town, I sat transfixed as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” gently and oh-so-magically unfolded before my 10-year-old eyes. The stars above the open-air theater glittered as the players cast their golden spell. Titania, Queen of the Fairies, and the mischievous Puck had captured our hearts, and Mom knew that fishing trips would no longer be a necessary lure.
That week we prowled the charming streets of this wonderful little town; poking our noses into dusty little museums and antique shops by day, sipping exotically flavored sodas at 60’s style coffee houses after the evening performances.
In one of the quaint little bistros I sampled a cabbage salad that was like none I had ever had before. Not that my knowledge of such salads was extensive, by any means. Mom made a decent cabbage and pineapple mixture, but that was the sum total of my coleslaw awareness. This offering wasn’t creamy and it wasn’t sweet. And there were toasted sesame seeds in it. How exquisite.
The restaurant where I experienced my cabbage salad awakening is long gone, as are the boxing matches. But I’ve had a hankering for Shakespeare and really fine cabbage salads ever since that pivotal summer. Here — just in time to take advantage of our fresh fall crop of cabbage — are two of my favorites.
Cabbage salad with green peppers
6cups finely shredded green cabbage
1large green sweet pepper, shredded to measure about 1 cup
2carrots, shredded to measure about 1 cup
Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Freshly ground black pepper
Note: This salad is my adaptation of a favorite I used to enjoy in a San Francisco Bay Area Mexican food restaurant called Celia’s. It’s very basic, but very tasty. A simple side dish to spicy Southwest cuisine.
Combine cabbage with pepper and carrots. Toss with some of the vinaigrette, add freshly ground black pepper, toss again and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate salad for at least 30 minutes to develop flavors. May be made up to 24 hours ahead. Yields about 6 cups salad, enough for 12 side servings.
For the vinaigrette, in medium-size bowl, blend together 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 11/4 teaspoon granulated sugar with wire whip. Continue beating as you add 1/3 cup salad oil; adjust seasonings. Yields about 3/4 cup dressing.
6 cups shredded green cabbage
3cups shredded peeled carrots
2/3cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4cup toasted sesame oil
3tablespoons shredded fresh ginger
1tablespoon soy sauce
2tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
This is about as close as I’ve come to the first sesame coleslaw that I fell in love with in Ashland as a little girl. Combine cabbage and carrots in a large bowl; refrigerate until ready to combine with the dressing.
To prepare the dressing: whisk together the rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, ginger and soy sauce. Drizzle most of it over the cabbage mixture, tossing and stirring to evenly coat the cabbage and carrots. Add additional dressing as necessary.
Add the sesame seeds and toss again. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes 8 servings.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks.