When I first decided to create a site devoted to vintage recipes it was important to me to present them as our parents and grandparents would have prepared them. The internet is already saturated with modernized versions of comfort food classics, adding premium ingredients or projecting twenty-first century food trends onto modern dishes. But if I’m going to make a tuna casserole I’m not going to add a layer of seared rare ahi or squid ink noodles like some Food Network wannabe. I’ll occasionally substitute fresh vegetables for canned, but I try to capture the essence of the recipe as it existed in its original time and place. I’d rather a recipe take me back in time than to the Whole Foods deli counter. Occasionally I’ll seek out bizarre recipes, like California Cup or weird Jell-O salads, but I’m generally seeking out the diamonds in the rough. Forgotten favorites of yesteryear that will bring something unique to the modern dinner table.
But preserving the past also means preserving its failures, and some old recipes are just plain bad. Vinegar Peppers and Pork is a recipe that I’ll never, ever make again. I was drawn to the recipe for its use of jarred banana peppers and pork shoulder, which had me thinking initially about comfort food like Mississippi pot roast. The recipe itself had all the hallmarks of a hidden gem: a unique set of ingredients, a generally reliable community cookbook, and association with treasured family memories. The recipe includes an anecdote of large Sunday dinners centered around Vinegar Peppers and Pork, all cooked in a large outdoor oven. Bonus: the recipe was submitted by a physician.
Vinegar Peppers and Pork came to me by way of Preserving Our Italian Heritage, a 1991 cookbook compiled by the Sons of Italy Florida Foundation, now simply the Florida Foundation. The Florida Foundation is affiliated with the Sons of Italy Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America. Preserving Our Italian Heritage compiles recipes passed down from “the hearts and minds of our forefathers”, with an eclectic and varied recipe selection. I don’t know enough about Italian food to know whether the collection more resembles niche Italian-American cuisine or little-known regional dishes, but very little in this cookbook matches my expectations of traditional Italian food. There are a lot of fascinating recipes I look forward to making: all manner of seafood, offal in sticky sweet and sour sauces, and plenty of dishes with heroic amounts of anchovies. But Vinegar Peppers and Pork was the first recipe I tried from Preserving Our Italian Heritage, and I’m hoping its not a precursor of things to come.
Because as much as it pains me to speak ill of someone’s cherished tradition, this recipe just isn’t very good. Vinegar Peppers and Pork tastes like the sum of its ingredients. No more. No less. Pork, onions, potatoes, peppers. The flavors don’t blend or meld or whatever: it just tastes like you threw everything together and hoped for the best. To be fair, the pork on its own is utterly delicious. Pork shoulder is cubed and trimmed, seasoned, and roasted in an oven for an hour or so. The house smelled heavenly and the pork was tender, tasty, and nicely browned. The remaining ingredients, though, seem like an afterthought. The oven isn’t quite hot enough to do anything but soften the potatoes and onions. No browning. No additional seasoning besides the reserved vinegar. It’s not inedible, but it’s not something I’d ever consider making again.
Now it’s possible that something was lost in translation in adjusting from an outdoor brick oven to a home oven. From the author’s description I had envisioned a crispy brown mix of pork, peppers, and potatoes instead of the flaccid casserole that came out of my oven. And maybe cherry peppers or pepperoncinis would be a better fit than banana peppers. But I’ve searched high and low on the internet and can’t find the “real” recipe: plenty of pork chops smothered in sauteed peppers, but nothing that resembles the dish the author describes. And while I’m glad that this recipe brings joy to the author, it’s not one that will bring joy to yours.
- Preheat the oven to 350º F.
- Remove bones from the pork shoulder, and cut into 1" cubes. Trim excess fat. Season liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Roast 60-90 minutes in a 13x9 baking dish until nicely browned, then drain excess fat.
- Wash and peel potatoes. Slice ¼" thick.
- Peel and slice onion.
- Drain banana peppers, reserving juices. If there is less than 1 cup of reserved juices, add a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water to make up the difference.
- Add the potatoes and onions to the baking dish and toss lightly with the pork. Top with banana peppers and pour 1 cup of reserved juices over top.
- Cover with foil and cook 30-40 minutes. Remove foil, stir, and cook another 30 minutes until potatoes are tender.