I have been living in Upstate New York for twenty-nine years. I love this part of the country and feel this is where I belong. I have blossomed into a true up-stater. However, since I was born and raised in Indiana, my roots were solidly formed there.
Without roots, a plant can not live.The fibrous system underneath the ground gives the plant the stability it needs to remain standing and to grow. I suppose philosophically then, I gained the roots that give me my strength to hold on in life from growing up in Indiana, they ground me and make up so much of who I am. I will forever be that young freckled face girl who grew up in a small town in the middle of the heartland.
For the most part, peoples’ lives follow a similar trajectory. Almost everyone has their fond memories of childhood, their struggles through the teen years and then their gradual emergence into adulthood. My life is no different. I can still hear the call of the cicadas on hot summer nights. I see the twinkling of the fireflies. I feel the sway of the giant willow as I lay in its boughs reading my books. I also feel the sting of adolescence and all of its drama. And, on cool sunny fall days my stomach can flip with the remembered anticipation of a football weekend at Purdue University.
Of course, no memory, at least in my family, is complete without recollections of food. My mother was a great cook. Her fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy were to die for. I still replicate her turkey recipe on Thanksgiving, to rave reviews I might add. Mom could take meager leftovers and create a banquet. In the summer, the more green beans, corn and tomatoes the better and the thought of her potato salad causes my taste buds to drool.
One of Mom’s amazing recipes was an Indiana regional favorite, the breaded pork tenderloin. You would be hard pressed to find these sandwiches outside of the state line.
With all of this in mind, recently, I decided to throw an Indiana party. The main menu consisted of fresh corn on the cob, purchased at a local farmer’s stand. Fresh, ripe, picked from the vine tomatoes. And, for a treat to all of my unsuspecting Upstate New York friends, the infamous breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches.
I use my mother’s recipe. It is not written down but rather was passed to me when I helped her in the kitchen. The recipe consists of:
Pork tenderloin sliced into cutlets and pounded thin with a meat mallet. The cutlets are dipped in flour, egg, and then breaded with Kellogg’s cornflake crumbs. There are many variations on the breading, but my Mom always made them this way and I prefer the cornflake crumbs because it adds a hint of sweetness. The cutlets are then deep-fried or pan friend in oil and served on a bun with the fixings of sliced onion, lettuce, tomato, Miracle Whip, catsup and mustard, similar to hamburgers.
On Friday, my daughter, niece and I spent the afternoon getting the pork tenderloins ready. As you can imagine it is quite a lengthy process. Saturday evening our guests arrived in anticipation as to what exactly an Indiana party would be. They gobbled up the appetizers and managed to go through several beers. Just as the guests were beginning to wonder where the main course was, I fired up three skillets with hot oil and plopped a cutlet into each one. Cooking takes about five minutes and feeding this many people it took me a while to complete my task. As each tenderloin was cooked, I put it on paper towels and into a warm oven, until I had enough to begin calling people into eat. A buffet was laid out and the hungry guest filled their plates with the warm buttered corn on the cob. Then each in turn looked at me for directions as to what to do with breaded piece of pork in front of them. Over the course of the long procession of hungry eaters, I gave out my instructions of how to prepare their sandwich.
The trick to a great breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is the fact that is should far outsize the bun in which it is served. I laughed as my friends tried to cut the tenderloins in half or break them in two to fit on the bun. “No,” I instructed, “the point is to have the pork falling out of the sandwich so you can eat the wonderful sweetness of it first, then get to the bun.”
Hearing the sudden quite as everyone began to eat with gusto I came to believe the Indiana delicacy was a huge hit. My thoughts were confirmed when several guests returned for seconds. And, there were calls for making the party an annual tradition.
Each of us is made up of the lessons we learn throughout our lives. Some can be painful, others a distant glowing memory. Growing up in Indiana I knew early on that I would eventually leave. So many other parts of the country called to me. But, my roots were planted in Indiana and I still dream of the sycamores, On The Banks Of The Wabash Far Away. (Paul Dresser)