Tuesday, March 10, 2015


The door most often used in our house is the one between the garage and the locker room, just off the entrance to the kitchen.  A surprising number of people know the code to the garage, and I never know who might be here when I hear the electric garage door opener start grinding. There is a thunk of a sound when that white steel door between the garage and the house opens, that signals human presence. I love that sound.  David came in the other day, the door slamming behind him.  Before he entered the kitchen he audibly inhaled, and with his exhale came those vibrating sounds that accompany words like Yummmm and Mmmmmmm. 

“How lucky can a person be to come home to these smells?”  he said, his arms making their way around my waist, or what should be a waist.  A kiss and a squeeze prefaced his head leaning over the stove top, his shirt expanding from the back as he inhaled. “Mmmm, Pork and Peppers!”

My mother learned to make Pork and Peppers from Mamma Jaramillo. She lived next door, when we lived in our old two bedroom house on Elm Street in Shelley, Idaho.  Nine of us squeezed into that tiny space back then. 
I don’t recall much about that time. We moved to Pennsylvania when I was five. But I do recall riding our tricycle around the driveway, Libby’s arms cinched around my chest, and Vicky Jaramillo, Mamma’s granddaughter, chasing after us.  Mamma had an old black cook stove in the corner of her kitchen.  Fired by coal, there was always a pot of beans going, and warm tortillas bubbled all golden and fresh right on the iron stove top.  The aromas or roasting chilies and simmering pintos wafted through the doorway.  Those scents still make me feel happy and safe.

When we moved from Idaho to the City of Steel in southwest PA, our mom carried the recipes of our Mexican immigrant neighbors with us.  They visited our memory whenever mom made Pork and Peppers, or a big pot of pinto beans, ringing in my mother's mind in that broken English:
“Missa Hansen, you haffa always adda cold water to da beans.” 
Mamma Jaramillo roasted large Anaheim peppers on her hot cook stove, tucked into the opening over the coals.  Mom cooked her peppers skin and all, letting their flavors infuse into the golden pieces of pork before she made the gravy. (We inevitably had a small pile of pepper skins in the paper napkins beside our bowls when dinner was over.)

 This recipe, to me, is uniquely my mother.  I am not familiar with anyone else who makes it.  So every time I make it I think of Mom, and I think of that little house on Elm Street, and Mamma Jaramillo. I think of various people, old friends and new ones, sitting at Mom’s counter, leaning over a hot bowl of pork and peppers, their foreheads sweating, a large glass of milk beside their bowls as a creamy chaser. 

Libby’s friend Carrie, who has become my friend as well, still talks about her first time eating Gram’s Pork and Peppers.  They sat around Libby’s kitchen table in Kansas City when our mother visited once.  The peppers were particularly hot in that batch.  They scooped their spoons into the gravy, their eyes watering as they swallowed.  It hurt to breathe, the passage of air increasing the heat in their mouths.  Carrie said it was a love-hate relationship.  The heat made her want to stop.  But the taste made her dip her spoon back in the bowl, over and over until the serving was spent and their hairlines were wet.  You kind of need a good bowl of ice cream after such a meal.

When my kids were little we started defining things we were eating as being physically hot or spiritually hot.  Peppers are items that vary in their “spiritual” heat.  The seeds and little internal veins are where most of the heat is stored.  If you suspect your peppers will be too hot, strip the veins and discard most of the seeds before you add them to the recipe. If you’re a fan of spiritually hot food, keep ‘em in there.

I have taken to roasting my peppers, because I don’t love the skins.  Here’s how I do it:

Roast peppers under broiler till skins are black.
Cover and let steam, releasing their tough skins.
Line sheet with foil or parchment

Use nice crisp, fairly large Anaheim peppers.  I use about 10-12 for a large batch, 6-8 for a smaller one. Wash the peppers and place them on a cookie sheet,  which has been lined with foil or parchment paper.   Put cookie sheet a few inches from the broiler in your oven.  Broil until the skins are black. Turn and brown the other side of the peppers.  When they are mostly black, remove from the oven.  You can then place the peppers in a paper bag to let them steam, but I put another cookie sheet on top so that it creates a metal steam box.  After they are cooled, remove the top and peel the skins off the peppers. Discard the skins. Cut the stems from the peppers, and remove some of the seeds.  Cut into 1” slices.

That's my thumb, for size reference.

Cook pork till it's well browned,
adding the  flavor you want in your broth.
Cut lean pork into 1” chunks.  Mix 1 T salt and ½ T pepper into 1 cup flour.  Toss pork chunks in flour mix, shake off excess four and cook in hot oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot on the stove top.  You can use a large fry pan, or a deep pot.  Oil should be about ¼  – ½ inch deep. Make sure your oil is hot before you add pork. Turn each piece until they are nice and golden.  Remove pork and set aside while you cook more. Repeat until all your pork is cooked.  (Add more oil to pan if you need to.)  Return pork to the pot, and add sliced peppers.  Cover with chicken broth or hot water with chicken boullion to taste.  I’m guessing use roughly 1/4 c bullion for a couple quarts hot water.  Turn flame to low and let simmer for an hour or three.  The flavors should infuse while the pork tenderizes.  (Note – if I use pork chops with bones on them, then I cut the meat from the bones, then boil the bones in water to make the broth for this recipe.  I’ll add boullion for more flavor if needed. Do not over use boullion.  You do not want it too artificial chicken flavored.  The peppers and pork browning's will add flavor. You can always add more flavor later.)

Taste the broth.  You may want to add more salt and pepper, or bullion, or even more broth or water.  If it tastes yummy, you can serve it thin like a soup, or thicken it with a roux ( in recipe below) or with flour which has been stirred into cold water.  If you have roughly a half gallon of liquid in the pot, do this:

Add 1 c. white flour to 2 c COLD water.  Mix well with a whisk, until there are no lumps at all.  Add more water if the mixture is too pasty. Pour this mixture into boiling pepper/pork broth, stirring constantly.  I often use a nice square spatula to stir, so I can constantly scrape the bottom of the pan. My mom used one of those springy whisks I call a “boinger.” When slightly thick, like  a thin gravy, serve over cooked rice, with a nice glass of ice cold milk.

Cheers, Mom!  I sure miss you!

Pork & Peppers

Pork (tenderloin or chop meat, even country ribs if they’re not too fatty) maybe 2 pounds?

Anaheim peppers (light green, long triangular peppers) 6-10 or so,

Salt and pepper

Chicken broth or water and bouillon



Olive oil or any cooking oil

Cut peppers into 1” rings. If the peppers seem to be particularly hot, take the seeds out of the inside and discard them. Cut fresh pork into 1 - 2  inch cubes.Dredge pork with flour, salt and pepper and cook in about ¼ inch of hot olive oil (use a large heavy pan if possible). To get the good flavor the pork should be nice and brown, with brown drippings forming in the pan.  The yummy lies in the browning. Stir in sliced peppers and let them sort of “roast” with the meat, stirring every minute or less.  If necessary add more oil, or even butter, and when the meat is quite brown but not burnt, add about ¾ cup flour and stir it into the fat.  You need enough oil in the pan to absorb the flour…that’s how the gravy is made and not lumpy, if it’s incorporated with the flour. Add a quart or two or three of broth, enough to cover the pork and peppers. Stir over medium heat until it has no flour lumps (the lumps will stir out as heat increases).  If it’s too thick, add broth or water.  If too thin, mix ¼ c. flour with 1 c. COLD water until it’s not lumpy, then add it to the hot gravy in your pan (stir).  Turn heat to low and let simmer for a couple hours (at least an hour).  Meanwhile cook rice (serve it over the cooked rice) or get some yummy soft bread to dip with.  Be sure to taste the broth and make sure you have enough salt. Best when shared. Keeps in fridge for a while, or can be frozen.

1 comment:

  1. i need some...NOW!! Makes me miss her too. Several friends at the temple tonight told me they are loving your blog. So grateful for you and this wonderful gift. I think the power of suggestion will have this on my table this weekend. Love you!!