"She was proud of her cooking, was mother. That was one thing she learned back home, she would often say, that was of use out in this raw land. As long as she could still prepare a proper dinner, she would tell father when things were not going right, she knew she was still civilized and there was hope of getting ahead. Then she would tighten her lips and whisk together her special most delicious biscuits and father would watch her bustling about and eat them to the last little crumb and stand up and wipe his eyes and stretch his big frame and stomp out his always unfinished work like daring anyone to stop him."

—Bob Starrett from Jack Schaefer's Shane

Marian Starrett (Jean Arthur) in  Shane  (1953) in her Wyoming frontier kitchen, circa 1889.

Marian Starrett (Jean Arthur) in Shane (1953) in her Wyoming frontier kitchen, circa 1889.

Marian making apple pie (we think).

We've put together two appetizers to accompany our April 2015 featured movie, Shane. This simply prepared pork tenderloin and time-consuming, yet versatile onion jam calls to mind frontier days and could easily be made in the Starrett kitchen. There the jam could be served alongside the pork for a simple dinner, but we've put it atop toasted focaccia with a pile of microgreens because we have central-refrigeration and not dysentery.

1. See to your blackberry-vodka mixture

If you’ve previously made the blackberry liqueur for this months’ muleskinner recipe, this will be the blackberries you strained out and the vodka that’s still imbibed in them. We suggested freezing this until ready to use for this recipe. You’ll want it thawed to make your onion jam.

Alternatively, combine ½ cup ripe or thawed blackberries with 2 ounces vodka, smash or crush berries with a muddler or back of a spoon. Allow to sit overnight or while onions cook.

You can also make this onion jam and just leave out the blackberry vodka component altogether, in which case we’d suggest replacing the chicken broth with more balsamic vinegar or topping the whole thing with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

2. Make Onion Jam

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 sweet onions, 2 thinly sliced, one roughly chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, half thinly sliced, half roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • teaspoon dried thyme
  • blackberry-vodka mixture (see note above)

Over low to med-low heat place a pot or tall-sided pan (make sure it’s big enough to fit all the raw onion with enough extra space to allow for stirring). Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When pan and oil are hot, add ¾ of all the onion (reserved ¼ will be added later), sliced leeks, minced garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt.

Continue cooking for a long time, stirring occasionally. If onions start to stick or burn, add some of the chicken broth to slow cooking. After about two hours, add the remaining ¼ of the onion. 

I mean a long time. Ours took about 3.5 hours.

When carmelization is nearly complete and onions have begun to turn a nice medium brown, add remaining chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, onion, thyme, and blackberry-vodka mixture. Continue cooking down until chicken stock and vodka have cooked off and reserved onion has reduced considerably.

Remove from heat. When cool enough, taste and add more salt or pepper if desired.

Can be stored in a jar and refrigerated, up to two weeks. You'll certainly have more than you need for this recipe. This stuff is wonderful though. Add it warmed to your morning eggs or serve over baked brie with crackers and french bread.

3. Cook pork loin

  • 1 lb pork tenderloin
  • salt
  • pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously rub pork loin with salt and pepper and place on foil lined baking sheet. Cook for 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before cutting.

4. Assemble

  • 1 sheet focaccia
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup balsamic reduction (optional)
  • 1 cup microgreen blend or baby arugula

Split focaccia down center horizontally. Brush cut side of focaccia with a little olive oil, and toast in 350 degree oven for about five minutes while you’re letting the pork rest. (If your focaccia is on the thin side, you can skip this step.)

Cut into squares to approximately match size of pork. Slice pork tenderloin ¼ inch thick and place one or two slices on each focaccia square. Spoon Onion Blackberry Vodka Jam on top of tenderloin. Drizzle a bit of balsamic reduction over this, if using.

Top with a microgreen blend or baby arugula, something with some bite. Finish with a nice bit of flaky sea salt, such as Maldon’s.