May 30, 2020

Dish found in ’50s cookbook

A question about lumberjack pie has hung out there for quite a while. I didn’t find anything particularly authoritative about it, except that it is probably related to something called sea pie, a multilayered dish made from a variety of meats and potato with layers of pastry dough between them. More to the point, I couldn’t find anything that I thought most of you would actually like to make for dinner.

Here is something, though, that will work: Lumberjack’s Supper. I ran into this dish while thumbing through a cookbook written by Sidney W. Dean called “Cooking American.” This was published in 1957, and is full of all sorts of nice old-fashioned dishes from many regions, from fried tripe to stuffed tomatoes to fruit-filled jumbles. The recipe is written in a narrative style, a kind of non-recipe recipe, which are my favorite kinds anyway.

About the lumberjack’s supper, Dean says it is served up from Maine to Michigan, “wherever there are hungry men with outdoor appetites,” quite possibly a more numerous population in the 1950s before the era of couch potatoes and video games. However, it might be just the ticket to serve up to the poor half-frozen fellow who has come home from hunting in the cold this fall. This particular recipe apparently came from Squirrel’s Island, Maine.

This is how it supposed to go together:

“In a heavy iron spider brown slowly on both sides at least 1 pork chop apiece. Transfer the pork chops to a covered baking dish, across them lay onion sliced thin, and cover the onion with half as much potato sliced thin. Season well with salt and black pepper, add water to cover potato, and cook with dish covered in hot (400 F.) oven until potato and onion are tender (about 30 minutes). Remove cover to brown lightly. This supper makes it own gravy. It should be served with hot quick biscuits and a tart jelly, such as crab apple.”

Dean doesn’t say so, but you could vary this by changing the kind of meat you use such as an inexpensive beef steak, a piece of venison, boneless chicken breasts or thighs, even sausage. In fact, it sounds like something I do with kielbasa. You could even jazz it with chili, garlic, or some other favorite seasoning. In fact, you might at least want to add Worcestershire sauce, because otherwise it tastes just like what it is, and some people (like my hubby, who dumped quite a bit of teriyaki sauce on it) might think that’s bland.

I tried to codify this a bit for those of you who prefer specifics at least the first time through. It is the onions that make this dish good. Be generous with them.

Lumberjack’s Supper

vegetable oil

1 thick-cut pork chop per person

1 large onion per person, sliced

1 small potato per person, sliced

water or broth

salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy frying pan, drizzle a little oil just enough to make a light coat. At medium heat, fry both sides of the pork chops until lightly browned, about four minutes per side. Top thickly with the sliced onions, and over that lay the sliced potatoes. Sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Add water or broth until it is about a half inch deep. Cover the pan, let it come to a boil, then reduce the temperature to low. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Remove the lid and continue simmering until the gravy is reduced somewhat.

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