Pork Pot Roast

Snow banks were a lot higher when I walked to kindergarten in Hayward than they are today in New Richmond. I remember that they were taller than I was. Of course, I was only about four feet tall, which might help explain my vivid memories of walking down canyons on the way to school.

Winters were colder too, which is probably why I froze my ears on the way to school one morning when I was in first grade. My mother had knitted me a red wool stocking cap that she pulled down carefully over my ears before sending me out the door on that first really cold day, but they still froze. The fact that I didn’t want to look like a sissy on the way to school might have contributed to the ear problem. The note that the teacher sent home contributed to a different problem, but it ensured that I kept the cap pulled down on really cold days.

The cold winters meant that we had a freezer that needed no electricity. Like many of our neighbors we stored meat outside from December through March. If it got too warm, one could always rent space in the locker plant.

The year after we moved to the country my father bought a solid wooden storage building with red siding. Naturally we called it the red shed. He built a tight wooden chest about two by three by six feet that we used in the winter to store frozen meat. Every fall Mom and Dad would buy half a hog and get it cut, wrapped, labeled and frozen. At least once a week before the school bus came I would be sent out with a flashlight to get a pork roast from the red shed. Even on really cold mornings I didn’t mind that chore because I knew we were going to have pot roast for supper.

Mom’s pot roasts always included carrots, onions and potatoes, but I’m not sure that she used beer in cooking. She browned the meat in bacon grease and used homemade chicken broth if there was some in the refrigerator. Then she added salt and spices until it tasted right to her. It may not taste exactly like Mom’s but this simple recipe makes a great dinner.

INGREDIENTS:

2 or 3 lb. pork roast
1 medium onion
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
2 or 3 medium potatoes
4 or 5 carrots
1 T olive oil
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 cup beer
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1 T cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE:

Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Brown the roast on all sides over high heat. When brown, drain off the oil and fat. Turn down the heat. Salt the meat lightly. Slice the onion into quarter-inch slices and mince the garlic. Put the onion and garlic on top of and around the roast. Grind some fresh black pepper over the roast. Add the water, beer and a bouillon cube. Cover and let simmer for about an hour (longer if the roast is larger). Check occasionally and add a little more liquid if necessary.

Peel and quarter the potatoes, clean the carrots and cut in half lengthwise if they are large. Add the vegetables to the pan, sprinkle with dried basil and salt lightly. Cook until vegetables are done, about forty-five to fifty minutes. Remove the vegetables and meat from the pan, add equal quantities of beer and water so you have one to one and one-half cups of stock in the pan. Skim off any excess fat. Dissolve a tablespoon of cornstarch in a quarter cup of cold water. Stir this into the juices, bring to a boil and cook until the gravy has thickened and turned clear. If you want a darker gravy, you can color it with a small amount of brown gravy sauce. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

NOTES:

Pork roasts should always be served with a tart fruit dish. Cranberry relish is good when you can get fresh cranberries. Otherwise, try cranberry sauce or a spiced applesauce. If you prefer wine to beer for cooking and serving with the meal, try a dry white wine such as a chardonnay instead.

Grandma Rang’s Boiled Raisin Cake

My formal education began with all-day kindergarten in Hayward, Wisconsin, and continued through first grade in the same old building. After being shown the way a couple of times by my mother I walked the mile by myself and enjoyed the trip immensely. I cannot remember one bad walk.

When I was seven years old we moved out of the city about four miles to a small house that my father built. Thus I entered second grade at Blair School, the same one-room school that my father had attended. Two facts about this school are pertinent when I consider my love of Grandma Rang’s boiled raisin cake: The school was only a quarter mile north of Grandma and Grandpa’s farm, and Winifred Larson, our school cook, resigned after my third grade year.

Mrs. Larson was a generous person and a great cook. She was also the dietitian and nutritionist. The food she ordered through the federal surplus commodities program turned into roast turkey, fried chicken, creamy macaroni and cheese and the most wonderful breads, cookies and cakes you can imagine. We had dessert with every lunch, but we also ate our vegetables. If we didn’t, Winifred made sure that we took home a note to our parents. I don’t remember the name of her replacement, but the food quality plummeted. The greasy hot dishes and store-bought bread quickly drove me to act.

When I asked my father if I could have lunch at Grandpa and Grandma’s, he told me that I could ask them. I decided to ask Grandma; Grandpa was a rather formidable figure with a big mustache. As I feared, she told me to ask Grandpa. Later I learned that even she asked Grandpa when she wanted to invite someone for lunch. But I was desperate, so I asked. And Grandpa said yes.

When I told my father he said, “He did?” I guess that Grandpas were just the same then as they are today.

Back then students had a full hour for lunch. As I recall Grandma’s lunches were not really very special, but there was fresh bread with homemade butter that Grandma stored in a little cage that hung in the well. We had fried potatoes, sausage and cabbage and soup and a few times there was chicken and ham and baked beans. But almost every day lunch ended with a big piece of Grandma’s boiled raisin cake. With some sweet butter on top it made me feel like the luckiest kid in school.

My mother made it often too, because it was my father’s favorite cake. It has a unique texture and flavor that I think you will enjoy. Here is how to make it.

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (or sour milk)
3 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup raisins boiled in enough water to cover
Sugar to sprinkle on top of cake

PROCEDURE:

Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350º. Put the raisins in a small pan and cover them with water. Bring them to a boil and simmer them for about a minute. Cover the pan and turn off the heat.

In a large bowl, cream the sugar and shortening. Stir the egg into the sugar, then stir in the buttermilk. Put the flour and other dry ingredients in flour sifter and sift by thirds into the milk and sugar mixture, stirring thoroughly after each addition. While they are still hot, pour the raisins with their water into the batter. Mix well and and spread the batter evenly in the pan. Sprinkle about a tablespoon of sugar over the batter. Bake for about 30 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake; if it comes out clean, the cake is done.

NOTE: If you don’t have buttermilk, put a tablespoon of vinegar in a measuring cup and fill it with whole milk. Let it stand for five minutes and use the soured milk to make the batter.