David C. Harris • Brooklyn, NY
My father (z”l – may his memory be a blessing) did not eat pork. He did not want to eat pork, he did not like pork, and he most certainly knew that his mother—a farm-girl-convert from Christianity who kept a strictly kosher kitchen—did not want him eating pork. And that was enough for him, so he avoided pork…mostly… he thought.
My father ran large-scale industrial kitchens in his younger days and then operated two successful family-style restaurants in the Midwest. In his hands-on management approach, he definitely tasted recipes with pork in them. But, other than this sacrifice for the sake of hisparnassa (livelihood), he considered himself pork-free.
When I moved to Israel just after graduating from high school, by virtue of being my father’s son and living on a religious kibbutz, I was not in the habit of eating pig. Sure, I would occasionally sneak some bacon at breakfast while traveling outside of Israel and I had a very “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude towards it while ordering; if my order happened to contain pork, I considered it a ma’tziah (a lucky find). But at that point I was not yet one of those most secular of Jews who would indulge in The Three “P”s: pig, in a pita, on Passover.
When I started cooking, first for myself and then professionally, I was still not a full-blown porkaholic. In short-order, however, I discovered the wonders of the pig and its delectable cuts, and saw my father’s refusal to eat pork as unnecessary self-deprivation.
Upon returning to live in America and cooking in its restaurants, I soon discovered that when you eat a really delicious soup, especially potato or leek soup, chances are that pork – in some form or another – is one of the ingredients. I knew this to be a truth and I chided my father with this information regularly, hoping that one day he would just admit that, despite the Jewish prohibition against it, he enjoyed pork, and probably ate it more than he cared to acknowledge.
I still laugh uncontrollably when I recall the incredulous look on my father’s face and the betrayal his eyes revealed when he discovered that a certain brand of cornbread mix that he had used for decades (rhymes with “iffy”) contained lard. How he had failed to ever read the list of ingredients all those years is a testament to the power of the mind to willfully ignore knowledge that we would rather not confront. Still, he would not budge in his anti-pork stand and immediately concocted his own kosher recipe.
Shortly before his death, my father visited me in the Pacific Northwest. We went to the shore and found an older looking restaurant overlooking the bay in one of the small towns along the coast. We ate a seafood chowder that was so delicious it made us cry.
“Now, you know,” I said to him, as we scraped the bottoms of our bowls clean, “that chowder had pig in it.”
He was in denial so I called over the owner. “Can you please settle this once and for all for us?” I asked. “That chowder had a chunk of pork simmering in the stock pot with it, right?”
I will never forget my father’s smile when she divulged that, “actually, we use a hunk of kosher corned beef.”