Juniper berries add a woodsy note to sweet raisins in these stuffed pork chops. They can be grilled, pan-fried, or cooked over a campfire for smoky flavor. (Skip to recipe.)
For me it’s not really summer until I get to spend a few days at the cabin. Here, where we’re far from malls and crowds and traffic, where there’s no television, computer, or cell phone reception, and where nature feels bigger and bolder and more real than any other place I know . . . here I feel recharged.
We hike up the mountain (really just a hill) to get a good view of the lake.
We love to fish, catching fresh trout that take just a blink of time from the lake to the frying pan.
We play cards, take daily saunas, and use potatoes as entertainment.
There’s lots of natural beauty to look at.
In this little paradise, on Francois Lake in northern BC, time slows down and our normal problems disappear for a while. For instance:
Rush hour means ‘the fish are jumping, rush out to the lake’.’
Heavy traffic means ‘there is more than just our boat fishing this side of the bay.’
Working overtime means ‘you let the fire in the sauna go out, so now you have to add another log and sit by the campfire with another beer while we wait for it to heat up again.’
Roughing it means ‘deciding which magazine to read while you sit in the outhouse with the door open, looking out at the sun sparkling on the lake.’
Working your way to the top means ‘a long steep hike to the top of the mountain for a spectacular view of the lake with the sunlight gilding the tree-studded islands in the distance and the breeze blowing every last worry from your brain.’
Tough decisions means ‘should we sauna first and then eat, or eat first, have a glass of wine, and then sauna?’
When we’re at the cabin, even cooking for a hungry crowd becomes fun – it’s a duty shared and feels more like a social event than a chore. There are always a few of us to lend a hand, and a glass of mom’s homemade wine to sip on as we chop and chat and stir makes the dinner prep feel like party time. It seems like we’re never cooking for less than a dozen people so there’s lots of cooking to do, but the German saying Viele Hände, schnelles Ende, (many hands, a quick end) really fits – the work flies by. We eat well, and the food tastes even better when our appetites are sharpened by fresh air and outdoor activities.
Eating outside with a view of the lake, the sound of the wind in the spruce trees, and the smell of fresh mountain air provides an ambience and atmosphere no fancy restaurant can beat.
Up at the top of the mountain behind the cabin, we picked our yearly supply of fresh juniper berries – they were milder and sweeter this year than they’ve ever been (must be all that sunshine this year) and you could actually chew on them and taste the wonderful sweetness, almost like actual berries. Juniper berries aren’t really berries, they just look like them. They are the seed cone of the low growing, prickly juniper bushes, and are usually quite piney and resinous tasting. They make a wonderful flavouring for gamey stews, meat dishes, and sauerkraut.
I used fresh juniper berries to flavour a sweet stuffing for pork chops, a bit of a riff on my herb-stuffed pork chops. When we cooked the stuffed chops over the fire, they took on a wonderful smokiness that complimented the resinous flavour of the juniper. Nature provides the best seasoning of all.
Kitchen Frau Notes: As noted in the recipe below, make sure to crush the seeds completely if using dried juniper berries.
- 4 thick-cut boneless pork loin chops, at least one inch (2.5cm) thick
- 2 oz/50gms smoked sausage (ham sausage, kielbasa, pepperoni, etc), about a 3inch/8cm piece of regular sausage, or a 12 inch/30 cm piece of thin pepperoni
- ½ cup (120ml) raisins
- 1 large clove garlic
- 4 teaspoons oil, divided
- ½ tablespoon juniper berries (about 20), usually dried, but if you have fresh ones – wonderful
- salt and pepper to taste
Cut a pocket into each pork chop by inserting the tip of a sharp knife into the side of the chop and cutting a horizontal slit about 2 inches (5cm) wide. Work the knife back and forth to make the pocket wider than the opening, but don’t cut all the way through the chop. Try to leave about a ½ inch (1cm) strip of uncut meat all the way around the edge.
Finely mince the sausage, raisins and garlic (or chop them in a mini food chopper, if you have one).
Crush the fresh juniper berries with the flat side of the blade of a large knife, then mince them finely, too. Fresh juniper berries (and the seeds inside) are soft, and easy to crush with a knife blade.
*If using dried juniper berries, make sure the seeds inside the berries are crushed, or they will be too hard to bite. You can place the dried berries inside a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin if you find they roll around too much, or use a mortar and pestle to crush them finely, again making sure the seeds are completely crushed.
Combine the minced sausage, raisins, garlic, juniper berries, and 2 teaspoons of the oil.
Stuff a quarter of this mixture into each of the pockets in the pork chops, spreading it out so it’s even.
Sprinkle the outsides of the pork chops with salt and pepper, then rub or brush them with the remaining 2 teaspoons oil.
Grill the stuffed pork chops on a grate over coals on a campfire, on a barbecue grill, or pan fry them in a skillet on each side until the meat is just cooked, but not dry. Pork can even still have a slight tinge of pink inside, and it will be nice and juicy.
You might also like these other posts about life at the Francois Lake cabin: