Cabin Pot Roast

This is the story of a pot roast cooked over thirty years ago by two men in a primitive cabin along the English River in Ontario, Canada.

I had persuaded four friends that it would be fun to spend a week catching lots of fish in a remote area that would remind them of their childhood. We would fish lakes with shorelines of trees and grassy meadows instead of cabins and docks. We would be the only boats in sight on lakes filled with fish that had never seen a Rappala and didn’t realize that those curved thingies above those juicy minnows were really nasty hooks.

We could hold the costs down by buying most of the food at our local supermarkets and use the savings to buy a couple of cases of Labatt Blue and some Crown Royal in Fort Frances after we crossed the border from International Falls, Minnesota, into Canada. I would cook breakfast and make sandwiches for lunch, and we would take turns cooking supper. I promised them that they would never forget the trip.

I was right. My fishing predictions proved accurate, but there was another event that left us with an indelible impression. I call it the incident of the broken butcher knife.

We had two boats. Doug, Ed and I shared one while Dick and Bud manned the other. On the second or third day of our adventure, Dick was scheduled to cook a pot roast for supper. I had bought a big roast from the butcher in New Richmond and frozen it to help keep things cold in a cooler on our way north. I checked the roast in the gas refrigerator before we headed out that morning and told Dick it would be thawed for him that afternoon.

About three o’clock, Dick and Bud headed back to the cabin to get supper started. The walleyes were hitting well, and the three of us not on dinner detail relaxed in a breeze over the lake that kept the flies and mosquitoes away from us as we caught and released enough nice fish to make a Wisconsin angler give thanks and go to church three Sundays in a row rather than tempt luck again.

About six o’clock, we motored leisurely back to the cabin, ready for the evening Crown Royal and water. The wonderful fragrance of pot roast greeted us as we came into the cabin. Dick and Bud scowled at us as we came in. We thought it was just because they had to quit fishing when the walleyes were hitting so well, but the problem was worse than that. They were sitting at the table, and the Crown Royal bottle looked less full than it had when we corked it the night before.??“Smells good,” I offered, “everything okay?”

“Well, not really,” answered Bud, who gestured toward the little counter and sink. On the counter in plain sight were two pieces of butcher knife.

“What happened,” I asked.

Dick’s answer didn’t make any sense at first. “Too big,” he said, “too damn big.”

Dave or Ed chimed in, “The knife was too big?”

“The roast,” answered Dick.

“It wouldn’t fit in the pot,” explained Bud, “so I got a rock to pound the knife through the damn bone.”

Once they had broken the knife in half, they used the rock to hammer the stub of the knife through the bone in the roast to make the meat fit in the Dutch oven.

“Why did you chop the bone in half?” I asked.

“It was too big to fit,” said Dick. “What would you have done?”

“Cut the bone out of the meat,” I replied.

“Oh,” said Dick, and had another swallow of Crown Royal.

The roast was delicious, but we were charged twelve dollars for the broken knife.

“I’m not surprised,” said Dick, who as a banker was appointed our treasurer, “they charged us twenty-five cents apiece for the minnows.”

But it was worth it. We caught a lot of fish and had a vacation to remember.

Here is how to make a really simple beef pot roast, the sort of dish you put together in a kitchen that has only the basics.


4 or 5 lb. beef chuck roast
3 – 4 slices bacon
1 – 1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup water + more as needed
1/2 – 3/4 tsp. black pepper
1 large yellow onion
4 – 5 russet potatoes
5 – 6 large carrots
5 T all-purpose flour


Cut the bacon into half inch pieces and cook them in a Dutch oven or stew pot over moderate heat until much of the fat has been rendered from the meat, but the bacon is not crisp. Remove the bacon from the grease and brown the roast on all sides until it is good and dark. If there is much more than four tablespoons of fat in the pan, spoon out and discard the extra.

Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt on a three and a half or four pound roast or a teaspoon and half on a five pounder along with the black pepper. Return the bacon to the pan, pour a cup of beer and a half cup of water around the meat, and bring the pan up to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about two hours. Check occasionally and add more beer or water if necessary.

While the meat is cooking, clean and slice the onion and peel and chop the potatoes into inch and a half pieces. Scrape or peel the carrots and cut them into inch and a half pieces. If they are big carrots, I like to split the thick ends lengthwise before cutting them into pieces.

Arrange the vegetables around the meat after about two hours. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the vegetables and raise the heat to return the pot to boiling. Cover, reduce the heat and cook until the vegetables are tender, thirty to forty-five minutes.

Remove the meat and vegetables. Add more beer or water so there is about three cups of broth in the pan. Use a fork to whisk the flour into a quarter cup of cold water, then stir the mixture into the liquid. Bring the pan back to a boil and cook for about four minutes to make a smooth gravy. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve with bread and beer or water or whatever.

NOTES: You can use water as the cooking liquid, but beer gives a much better flavor. Don’t worry about the alcohol. All of it will have disappeared before the roast is done. The alcohol will help tenderize the meat, but what you really want is the flavor. If you brought any beef bouillon cubes with you to the cabin, adding one would improve the flavor as well.

Pease Porridge Hot: Split Pea Soup

If you are a man lucky enough to have had a childhood like mine, you may remember the joys of slapping hands with the girl next to you as a gaggle of kids played “Pease Porridge Hot” during recess at school. And though I can’t speak from personal experience, many a fortunate woman may have a similar memory of singing the song over and over again and dancing in a circle until everyone broke into laughter when the last line changed to “Spell that in four letters. T-H-A-T!!” Happy times indeed.

Pease porridge or pease pudding, as our British friends call this delicious soup, has been around for a long time. Wild peas are a legume native to areas around the Mediterranean Sea, but wild peas were one of the plants domesticated during the neolithic revolution sometime around 12,000 years ago. Much later, the Greeks and Romans enjoyed peas as a tender fresh vegetable in the spring and as a reliable food that would keep for years when the seeds were mature and dry.

The dry seeds are boiled in water to make pease porridge. While it was probably pretty bland, pease porridge provided fiber, protein, important vitamins and minerals, and enough carbohydrates to give people the energy they needed during the long winters when food was in short supply. And as Reay Tannahill observes in her book, Food in History, “Pease pudding in the pot, nine days old” suggests that the “dish had keeping qualities which endeared it more to the housewife than to her family.”

Today, dietitians recommend that we include peas in our diets. In fact, the Mayo Clinic web site says that legumes, which includes beans and peas, “are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available.” Besides including lots of good vitamins and minerals, peas are low on the Glycemic Index, which makes them especially attractive to people with type 2 diabetes.

Many dietitians also point out that split peas have almost no fat, but you can fix that shortcoming by following this recipe for split pea soup. There’s nothing like a good smoked pork hock or meaty ham bone to add some flavor and fat to a pot of bland legumes. And actually, you won’t be adding a lot of fat per serving, so don’t let the Health Food Police scare you.


1 lb. split green peas
1 smoked pork hock (about 2 lbs.)
Enough water to cover the pork hock
2 beef bouillon cubes or 2 tsp. instant bouillon
2 medium potatoes
4 medium carrots
1 medium onion
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE: If you start with one of those country smoked pork hocks that looks a little dusty, rinse it off. Put it in a soup pot and cover it with water. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer the hock for about three hours. Jerri always says, “You are cooking out all the flavor!” to which I reply, “That’s what I am trying to do.”

Besides extracting the flavor, the long slow simmer helps release gelatin from the bones and skin, which adds to the richness of the soup, so keep it simmering for at least two and a half hours. Add water if necessary to keep the meat covered. When the hock has simmered long enough, take it out of the broth and set it aside to cool on a platter.

Watch for stones as you pick the split peas over carefully and put them in a bowl or saucepan. Rinse them until the water is fairly clear, then drain them in a colander and put the peas in the broth. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the soup for about forty minutes.

While the peas are cooking, peel two medium potatoes and cut them into a quarter to half inch dice. Peel or scrape the carrots and slice them into quarter inch rounds. I like to cut larger carrots in half and slice them into half rounds. Peel and chop the onion fine. You should have about a cup of chopped carrots and onion and a cup and a half of diced potato. Since I like carrots, I sometimes have more than a cup of those sweet veggies.

Put the vegetables into the pot, add the bouillon, the bay leaf and about an eighth of a teaspoon of ground cloves. Grind some black pepper over the top and stir well. Simmer the soup for about thirty minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add water if the soup seems too thick. As the soup thickens, it will stick to the bottom of the pot. Stir it often to prevent scorching.

While the vegetables are cooking, discard the skin, fat and bones of the hock and chop the meat into bite-sized pieces. Stir them into the soup.

Taste the soup when the vegetables are tender. If it needs salt, you can add another bouillon cube or a teaspoon of instant bouillon, stir well for a minute or two, then taste again. You might also want to add more black pepper. Use your judgment, but as Jerri often reminds me, “You can always add more salt and pepper, but you can’t take them out,” so be cautious.

Serve with good bread or rolls and a salad for a nutritious and healthful dinner.

NOTES: You can turn off the heat under the broth when you remove the hock and finish the soup later. If you are going to serve the soup within three hours, just set the pot in a cool place. If it will be longer than that, refrigerate the broth and bring it back to a boil about an hour and a half before you plan to serve the soup. It is easier to remove the meat from the hock while it is still slightly warm. You can put the chopped meat into the broth before you reheat it.

My mother used pork hocks and ham bones interchangeably when she made soups. She often saved the skin from the ham and simmered it with the bone to add flavor to the soup.

This recipe makes enough soup to serve six to eight hungry diners, but it keeps well for two or three days in the refrigerator. If you want to eat it “nine days old,” store it in the freezer.