Polio and the pandemic: Braised Pork Shoulder

One of my favorite ‘50s singers, Patsy Cline.

In the early 1950s Midwest, along with lazy days, ice cream trucks, and DDT spraying, summer brought the ominous threat of polio. The specter of “infantile paralysis” showed up every summer, terrifying parents and health officials, banning birthday parties, closing swimming pools, interrupting my favorite Saturday matinee serial, and isolating children to their own back yards. No one knew for sure how the disease was transmitted—one summer, the prevalent theory blamed cats. The next year it was open windows, unknown water sources, and imported fruit. Ginny remembers getting a polio shot in kindergarten and having her picture taken for the Dakota County Star—“Probably because I had the most terrified look on my face.” Bob also remembers that he and his siblings were on the front page of the local paper in a group shot, receiving their vaccinations.

Middle class parents felt helpless—they had survived the Great Depression, fought and won a war, and they expected buoyancy and good fortune. A crippling disease that targeted children distorted the idealized notion of what family life should be. There were polio epidemics every summer but they tended to be regional not nationwide with an economic impact limited to the surrounding geographical area, and mainly affected children, not wage earners or businesses. In 1955, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was declared safe and effective and the public lined up eagerly for the vaccine; in 1962 polio cases were reduced by 90%; and by the end of the century, polio had become a memory.

2020’s pandemic brought along a year of losses: we lost our freedom to mingle, to hug, to swim, to celebrate in a noisy bar, to sneeze unabashedly in a crowd, to eat popcorn in a darkened theatre, and to jump up and down at a sporting event; but our children, sisters, brothers, and grands are healthy and safe so thank you for that. This year we lost members of our extended family: the Sweetie’s sister—her husband, our long-time friends—their siblings, my sister-in-law—her niece, our daughter-in-law—her dog Lucy, and my daughter—our dog Louie. We remember them all and our other lost brothers, sisters, Moms and Dads—here’s thinking of you.

Here’s a recipe from the Food Network and Anne Burrell adapted so that I could use the leftovers in tacos.

Braised Pork Shoulder

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted
  • One 4-pound boneless pork picnic shoulder, sliced in half along the grain
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle in sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 T. Dijon mustard
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2-3 cups chicken or beef stock
  • 3 to 4 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced or 1 cup diced-in-juice tomatoes
  • 1/2 bag frozen pearl onions (Ginny told me about these and they’re fabulous)
  • Root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips), diced yams or squash, if desired

Toast seeds in a sauté pan over medium heat and grind to a fine powder—using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Sprinkle the divided pork shoulder with the ground spices and salt, then tie each piece so it cooks evenly.

Coat a Dutch oven with olive oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Brown pork on all sides, remove from the pan and reserve.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and season with salt. Cook the onions until soft and aromatic, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, minced chipotle, and 1 more teaspoon of ground coriander/cumin and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Add the wine and reduce by half. Stir in the mustard and add the bay leaves and oregano.

Return the pork to the Dutch oven. Add stock and tomatoes to the pan until the liquid comes halfway up the side of the pork. Add salt if needed. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, and put the Dutch oven in the preheated oven.

After 1 hour, turn the pork over and add more liquid to the pan if the liquid level has gone down. Add pearl onions, cover, and return to the oven for 1 hour.

Remove pork from oven, turn the pork back over, return to the oven without the lid, and cook for 45 more minutes. The liquid should concentrate. Put root vegetables in now, if desired. (I roasted the vegetables separately and added when everything was done.)

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the pork and reserve for 15 minutes, tented with aluminum foil. Skim any excess fat from the pan and reduce the pan juices, if needed. Slice the pork and serve with vegetables and juices.


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2 Responses to Polio and the pandemic: Braised Pork Shoulder

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, sweeties, here’s to all the losses we endure and knowing love does sustain our worlds❤️ Let us do pray that 2021 brings all of us more joy to our heart with those we love. Love Patsy Cline

  2. Beth says:

    I made the braised pork shoulder. Delicious! MacGregor is in carnivore heaven.

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