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DINNER AND A MOVIE: the lady eve and graham cracker pork chops with fried apples

What better pairing exists than dinner and a movie? In the first article of this ongoing series we are excited by the challenge of sharing our favorite movies with a beffitingly themed dish. This week we combine the classic screwball comedy The Lady Eve whose deceiving simple story and allusions to the story of Adam and Eve inspired these sweetly breaded pork chops topped with fried apples. También en español.

Leer la receta en español aquí.

I went into territory I haven’t been to in a long time recently. Part guilty pleasure, part dip into nostalgia’s past, I found myself sitting at the dinner table with a thick pork chop and a mountain of fried apples. But before we get into the pleasure, let’s talk about some nostalgia.

This recipe was introduced to me by my Poppa Chuck. There was a summer in between college and real life that I lived with my grandparents. I worked three jobs for seven months, lots of times working 12 hour days, with one day off every other Sunday. It was a torturous and enlightening journey, testing my limits to see how far I’d go to realize a goal. On the evenings that I didn’t have to go from full time day job to my part time night shift I’d be greeted with another job, making dinner. My grandmother wasn’t much of a cook, and my grandfather was quickly getting old. Cooking, the singular action that comes to mind when I think of him, had become uncomfortable. I’d return home most evenings to find a grocery list and some cash on the counter.

I came home one night to a small scribble on his yellow legal pad with just two requests, “1 pound of pork chops, 6 green apples”. I probably used the leftover cash to buy myself a six pack of Modelo, but I digress.

I cooked up the fried apples as he instructed me, no measuring cups, just an ungodly spoonful of Crisco that made my eyes bulge, generous handfuls of brown sugar and gradual sprinkles of cinnamon. On the lazy Susan rested the final supper: fried pork chops, sweet fried apples, a bowl of steamed broccoli (I insisted) and my grandfather’s infallible side dish, perfect white rice. I had never eaten sweet fruit with savory meat before. He served himself a mountain of apples right on top of the pork chop, I placed a small spoonful on the side, both looking at the other like they were a batshit crazy.

As he tore into the apple and pork medieval style I couldn’t help but partake. I politely cut off a piece of pork and stabbed into an apple slice. The combination floored me. The apple was gooey but maintained a delicate crunch. The graham crackers we used to bread the pork added extra complexity to the juicy pork chop. It was simplicity done right, and comfort food at its very finest.

It seems fitting to pair this recipe with Preston Sturges’ classic screwball comedy The Lady Eve. It’s black and white, old-Hollywood styles conjures memories of the movies my grandfather used to sit and watch. It’s spiced with parallels to the story of Adam and Eve and the apple as a symbol of temptation. More importantly, it is a deceptively simple film that presents much more than meets the eye.

the lady eve

The Lady Eve (1941)The Lady Eve stars Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. It is admittedly a very improbable movie. On the surface it doesn’t appear to be about much of anything. Stanwyck plays a skilled grifter that falls for the man she should be trying to cheat, the wealthy young heir to a beer fortune played by Fonda. Stanwyck oozes sex and confidence, Fonda is a feeble virgin. He is recently returned from a yearlong study in the Amazon, or in old-Hollywood speak, really horny. His seduction is hardly an obstacle. So enamored by Stanwyck, he proposes to her on three separate occasions (she’s pretending to be two different women) in a well-acted game of cat eats mouse. But the third time she realizes that she doesn’t want to eat him alive after all, she actually loves the guy. It is, for all intents and purposes, a formulaic romantic comedy that is mostly about Stanwyck being stunning and hilarious and Fonda falling all over himself in typical screwball fashion.

But Sturges was a smarter director than that. He laces his film with parallels to Adam and Eve. Fonda is a young scientist that studies snakes; Stanwyck catches her man’s attention by hurling an apple at his head. On a less literal level, the movies central theme is deception. Stanwyck spends all her time deceiving others that she realizes she is actually deceiving herself.

Just as I nearly betrayed myself into missing out on what has become one of my absolute favorite meals. I was grossed out by the liberal use of Crisco and picky about trying cinnamon and sugar apples with savory pork. But pickiness lost, and now this dish, which graces my dinner table maybe once or twice a year, usually at the start of autumn, is one of the most comforting meals I know.

And not only because it is deliciously fat. Whenever I eat these pork chops I am transported back to that half year spent in my grandfather’s kitchen. I can feel the warmth coming from the wood burning stove in the other room. I can hear the sears and pops of a sizzling pan wrestling with the voices that sound from 60 Minutes. The smell of white rice cooking on the stove fills the entire room and filters into the rest of the house. My busybody grandmother finally sits down to have a glass of wine while my grandfather pops open a Miller, they banter and bicker and giggle back and forth. The dogs lie with their heads in their respective bowls, strategically placed on each side of the china cabinet. The expanse of the dark country night is right outside the window. It is an image that makes me smile.

To make these pork chops you will need the following:

  • 1 package of coco flavored crackers, crushed into crumbs in a food processor or by hand
  • Pork chops (one package will bread up to about 6)
  • Green apples, peeled and roughly sliced (calculate 1 for 2 pork chops)
  • Two tablespoons butter
  • Cinnamon, Brown Sugar
  • A few heaping spoonfuls of crushed red pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bread your meat with the cracker crumbs. Pat crumbs into meat until completely covered. Set aside, loosely covered at room temperature for 30 minutes. My grandfather would fry them in a cast iron skillet with big spoonfuls of Crisco. My arteries prefer baking in the oven in a long casserole dish with just enough vegetable oil to grease the pan – we’ll trick them later with the fried apples anyway. Pick your poison.

the-lady-eve---chops-1

Once you have flipped the chops (they should be golden brown on the bottom, approximately 15 minutes), heat butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add apple slices, cinnamon and brown sugar. I was taught to throw in a handful of sugar and a spoonful of cinnamon, mixing and gradually adding more as needed. My advice would be to be generous with the butter, start with about ¼ cup of brown sugar, a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon, more of each ingredient added gradually if needed. Cook for approximately 15 minutes. You want them to be soft but not mushy. Serve fried apples right on top of the pork chop. Trust me.

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