I have a weird relationship to my memory. I think it’s partly because Dad passed away when I was 18. There’s this separation in my head: Life Before and Life After. I feel like a different person. Some of that is probably really common – just a part of leaping head first into adulthood. But, sometimes I’ll see a video of myself at Christmas my senior year of high school, or I’ll look at a photograph of some event I participated in, and I feel connected in the sense that I know it happened – I was there, I was me. But I have this simultaneous belief that it couldn’t possibly be me – that it isn’t who I am or even who I thought I was.
I know this happens to people who go through traumas of any kind. I don’t think there’s anything extraordinary about this phenomenon in my life. I just think it’s colored a lot of my ability to truly remember the specifics of my childhood. It’s all a little fuzzy, a little dreamy. It’s impossible to not filter it through the nostalgic eyes of who I am on the other side of it all.
This all causes me to conflate. I can hold on to the feelings, but I can’t seem to always hold on to the particulates of time and space.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. Why it happens, if it means I have a different relationship to my past than others. If it’s because of my habit of turning moments into stories. I’m not sure. But I thought about it again recently when we spent some time with Mom.
We hadn’t seen her in a year because of the COVID pandemic. And now we were afforded the safe opportunity to spend 10 days with her without worry. So I tried to pack those days with all the recipes I could think of that I wanted to make with her or that meant something to us.
“What about those pork chops?” Mom asked in a video call a couple days before her visit.
“What pork chops?”
What pork chops? WHAT PORK CHOPS, MADDIE?
Only the best, most wonderful, most simple pork chops known to man. Only the incredible pork chops that require three ingredients and should never be eaten with anything other than roasted broccoli and mashed potatoes. Only the pork chops covered in that amazing gravy that is the actual epitome of what your childhood tasted like.
Company Pork Chops.
This recipe was originally published in one of the most amazing (for several reasons) cookbooks I own: FIRST GENTLEMEN’S COOK BOOK written by William D. Orr, the husband of the former governor of Nebraska, Kay Orr. Republican Former Governor Orr served Nebraska from 1987–1991. I was 1-5 years old at the time so I don’t remember anything about her stint as Governor. But, her husband’s cookbook, which is not only a collection of his own recipes, but recipes from “prominent” Nebraskans from Harold W. Anderson’s (then Chairman/CEO of the Omaha World Herald) recipe for (insert GIANT eye roll) “Attitude Adjustment” to Warren Buffet’s “Dusty Sundae” which is a TREAT (for malted milk lovers). Not to mention a plethora of recipes from representatives across every district in Nebraska circa 1987.
This isn’t only a cookbook. It’s this bizarre look into the Nebraska of my childhood. Out in the pan handle recipes for Fire Roasted Beans and Candidate’s Catfish point to the Western plains life of my state’s youth. And the Casseroles and Burgundy Burgers and Monkey Bread of Lincoln and Omaha encompass the midwestern homes of my elementary school friends and the aprons their mother’s wore.
As a fully radicalized and passionate American Leftist, cherishing the cook book of the husband of the former republican governor of my republican state might feel like a bit of an oxy moron. Or double standard? Or strange circumstance. But it paints an accurate picture of the Nebraska I grew up in – faults and all. And it houses some of the most nostalgic recipes of my childhood.
Wait until I tell you pan-fried Saltine Cracker Lake Fish.
Sometimes it can be hard to remember. But food can be this magical catalyst – spellwork. A potion to reignite the list moments of my youth. When I put a bite of these pork chops in my mouth I am fully transported to the kitchen nook of the house I grew up in. I remember the way the old silverware felt in my hands. I remember the sound of the landline ringing. I remember the satisfaction that filled my belly as I skipped away to my playskool kitchen playset.
I think, sometimes, that’s why food means so much to me. It helps me learn to remember.
William Orr’s Company Pork Chops
- 4 to 6 bone in pork chops
- Olive oil and/or butter
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup
- 1/2 can red wine
- Salt & Pepper, to taste
- Large skillet
- Small mixing bowl
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the cream of mushroom soup and wine using a whisk until completely incorporated.
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat with your choice of olive oil and/or butter (I usually do equal parts olive oil/butter to coat the pan)
- Sprinkle the pork chops on both sides with salt and freshly cracked pepper and brown on both sides in the skillet (About 10-15 minutes total, depending on the thickness of the chops)
- Pour the soup mixture over the pork chops, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, turning the chops and stirring as necessary.
The sauce will start out a fun purple color and fade to a really nice brown through the cooking process. It becomes an AMAZING gravy for mashed potatoes, so I highly recommend you serve this with mashed potatoes (instant/homemade, whatever). If you’re really into gravy you can double the sauce proportions – this makes just the right amount for one serving for about six people. We also pair it with roasted broccoli. Oven to 425, toss broccoli in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast until just starting to crisp up.