Sunday, January 12, 2014

Braised pork shoulder à la Morrison Wood

Morrison Wood used to be a food writer for the Chicago Tribune in the 1940s and '50s, writing a column, syndicated elsewhere, called "For Men Only." If you turn to a handy link from google newspapers you can see exactly the way his column looked, buried on page 19 of the Toledo Blade (and I don't doubt it looked the same in a good many other papers on a good many other days) -- say on March 2, 1948. Letting your eye roam the rest of that page you'll notice -- my, but the news two generations ago was very closely printed. And it was so full of interesting side information. Household help writers still knew what fuller's earth was. They suggested mixing it with sour milk to make a paste to remove ink stains from clothes. Right beside that you will find one Elsie Robinson, à propos of nothing, remembering the San Francisco earthquake and saying it wasn't all bad. "Earthquakes aren't always a bad force -- they level ground but have similar effect on society," her piece's headline announced. And as luck would have it for us foodies, on this very day in the Blade's "Talk of This 'n' That" feature, Kay Quealy reported that "a milling company" was going to introduce to the world the first "completely new-type cake in 100 years, combining the best qualities of butter and angel food cakes." It was to be called "chiffon" cake. Miss or Mrs. Quealy was quite right. A California insurance salesman named (incredibly) Harry Baker had just sold his cake recipe to General Mills, after keeping it a profound secret at smart Los Angeles dinner parties since the 1920s.

What with Mr. Baker and his cake, and Morrison Wood and his "For Men Only" recipes, and my own notes on Lime Pie and Swiss Almond-Carrot Cake from Glenn Quilty's Food for Men (1954) -- we must ask, was this perhaps an era when the cookery-publishing industry particularly liked the theme of cooking for men? Perhaps soA little exploration of Google Books will turn up a neat summary from Jessamyn Neuhaus' Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking (2003), subtitled -- oh dear -- Cookbooks and Gender in Modern America. She says:
From 1946 to 1960 at least thirteen cookbooks intended for men appeared in the United States, including Brick Gordon's 1947 The Groom Boils and Stews, Fletcher Pratt and Robeson Bailey's A Man and His Meals also published in 1947, Glenn Quilty's 1954 Food for Men, and Robert Loeb's Wolf in Chef's Clothing, first published in 1950 .... Morrison Wood collected recipes from his travels in a 1949 cookbook entitled With a Jug of Wine
Thirteen frankly masculine cookbooks in fourteen years of American publishing does not seem an oppressive number. Anyway, our Mr. Wood went on to write two more books, More Recipes with a Jug of Wine (1961) and Through Europe with a Jug of Wine (1962). This is the source we will use today.

Through Europe with a Jug of Wine dates not only from the era of manly cookbooks, but from the era when people, stylish people or wealthy people or old-fashioned people or maybe just people who had saved their money and felt like doing it, traveled to Europe on ocean liners and stayed there for a year and a half. The Woods lived a chunk of life straight out of the novel Dodsworth, except I don't think Mrs. Wood -- and she is always Mrs Wood, "Mrs. Wood enjoyed the cheese platter," "Mrs. Wood stayed at the hotel that rainy morning" -- ran off with impoverished young German barons, nor did Mr. Wood get fed up and move in with the beautiful and quiet expatriate widow Edith in her airy stone house in Naples. Dodsworth is also a great movie, by the way, and one of the few in which you will get to see Mary Astor play someone besides the twitchy villainness of The Maltese Falcon.

My favorite lines in the whole cookbook come right away, on the first page of the Introduction, and they reflect just this era of the very long European vacation. It must have been quite a holiday:
After some time in Paris we motored through France down to the Riviera. The weather in France (and all over the northern hemisphere, according to the newspapers) was cold and stormy, so we rented a lovely apartment in St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, right on the Mediterranean. We remained there three months, making many trips to the interior of Mediterranean Provence. Next we set out for Italy, and quite thoroughly covered that wonderful country ....
We're glad they did. And we don't mean to sound faintly derisive. The handful of readers who take the trouble nowadays to get an account at Amazon so that they can write unheralded cookbook reviews all rave about Morrison Wood. "Best cookbook I own, and I own 400," etc. This is significant because Woods' recipes are, -- not especially fussy, nor especially unfussy -- not especially quick or especially time-consuming -- not especially unusual or especially plain. What they are is somehow grown-up: they seem to breathe an experience of good food of all sorts and of many places. Naturally. The book is the result of travel. Whether you make the almost-street-food Mozzarella in Carrozza (fried cheese sandwiches) as Romans do, or Pan Am airlines' Tournedos Heloise (steak with foie gras, mushrooms, truffle, and artichoke bottoms -- "a masterpiece"), you will be making some very fine things that professionals placed before paying diners a half century ago, and that a sophisticate like Mr. Woods appreciated. That says a lot.

So at last we come to the recipe for today, from the German months of the good couple's long-ago trip. (Not to be derisive, but how did they tear themselves away from St.-Jean-Cap-Ferrat?) "We had a most savory pork chop dish in a little wayside inn on the 'Romantic Road' from Wurzburg to Augsburg," Morrison Wood remembers. "I failed to put down the German name, but it consisted of pork chops, apples, and beer."

When I made it I changed it to pork shoulder (or "Boston butt," if your supermarket calls it that), a fatty, tough cut requiring long stewing, because modern day pork chops are so lean and dry in whatever manner they are cooked. I added cider and garlic, which are perhaps un-German, but which showed up in Gourmet's "Cider-braised pork shoulder with caramelized onions" when I used that for a cross reference. So they seem right.


It's all about the sophisticated detail.

Braised pork shoulder à la Morrison Wood

one 3 to 4 pound pork shoulder, bone in (in my suupermarket, now called a Boston butt)
2 Tablespoons butter or bacon drippings
1 medium onion, diced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and "rather thickly" sliced
1 and 1/2 cups beer
3/4 cup cider
2 cloves garlic, left whole
3 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1 strip lemon rind (please don't omit this. It's the sort of small, sophisticated detail that Wood revels in, and I thought it made a difference.)

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Heat the butter or bacon drippings in a heavy skillet, and when the fat is hot, put in and brown the pork on all sides. Remove it to a platter, and add and sauté the onion, diced, until it is soft and fragrant. Add the apples, and fry briefly until they begin to soften a little.

Return the pork to the pot, and pour on the beer and cider. Add garlic, cloves, bay leaf, and lemon rind. Bring to a boil, cover, and place in oven. Bake for 3 to 4 hours, until the meat is fork tender.

"Serve from the casserole, and of course the perfect accompaniment is tall glasses of chilled beer."

Or a delectable German riesling?


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