Jewish Pork Tenderloin: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 18

Pork tenderloin is not a classic Jewish dish, needless to say.  Last’s week’s recipe – from my grandmother Jessie’s lost files – was certainly more British than Yiddish.  However, this week’s easy yet delightful pork recipe is definitely not kosher.

This treatment of pork tenderloin is the penultimate recipe of the 19 of the series. (I would expect Jessie to say, “Penultimate?  We all know what that word means, but can’t you just say ‘next-to-last’?  Come on!”).  I am amused by Jessie’s pork recipe, following close on the heels of the Yorkshire pudding from last week, which was on the reverse of National Council for Jewish Women stationery.  This pair of recipes reveals a good deal about Jessie and her complex personality.

At my parents wedding, pork tenderloin was probably not on the menu (L-R: Jessie, her daughter, her new son-in-law, her step-father, her mother, and her husband, 1957).

For instance, Jessie was neither very religious nor even very observant.  This would have been a result of her family’s immigration to the US from Europe in the 1880s, when assimilation into American culture was the dominant force.  Jessie’s own mother, Faye, was even known to have fried pork chops on the Sabbath – so much for tradition (think of the song from Fiddler on the Roof here…).  The apple really does not fall far from the tree.

(When I think of Sabbath – or Shabbat, in Hebrew – I think of the time the group Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys played a gig in Texas on a Friday night. Someone from the audience screamed out, “Shabbat Shazzam!” to welcome them, rather than the correct, “Shabbat Shalom”.  My diversion is a bit off-track, but Jessie’s husband, Louie, had lived in McKinney, Texas, as a young boy, and Kinky Friedman was born in Chicago, as was Jessie, so this all comes back round to her.)

In fact, as an adult, she attended synagogue seldom.  Towards the end of her life,  she did find one she liked at Water Tower Place.  Water Tower Place is a vertical urban upscale shopping centre on north Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  It was the first of its kind in the U.S. to put better stores in a mall in a city’s high-rise building.  Jessie could walk to this “big-deal” of an urban shopping mall from her condo on the Gold Coast, and often did, given her propensity for shopping.  I do remember that she was intrigued by the small synagogue, just above the nine-stories of shops.  My theory was she wanted to rest her feet after shopping excursions as much as exploring her new-found faith, in her seventies and eighties.

My mother poses in front of their Xmas tree in 1933 - was pork tenderloin for dinner?

Besides her strudel-rugelach or mandelbrot, most of her recipes were decidedly New World, in origin, and American, in tone, as she was herself.  But she liked all things British and French, as well.

The pork tenderloin is noteworthy, in my view, as it was the only meat dish I found. I remember her having made very good pork as well as roast beef and other dishes, which I would have avoided during the vegetarian years of my adolescence .  Do I  have to tell you that Jessie really did not approve of this phase?

For the review of the pork tenderloin – and the recipe

Having made not-so-great pork tenderloin and chops in the past, I had a bit of trepidation going into this.  To flesh out Jessie’s recipe, I researched other tenderloin in my cookbooks, relying on one from Ruth Reichel’s 2004 opus, The Gourmet Cookbook (it still makes me verklempt: the magazine’s demise, just one year later).  I decided that 325 degrees would be the slow roasting, called for in Jessie’s recipe, and it worked out very well.

As for the pork tenderloin, it turned out to be succulent, delicious, and a super-simple recipe, to boot.  The marinade, as Jessie describes, becomes the basis for a sauce.  I did not use her technique of adding grated potato as a thickener, as I chose to simply reduce it, adding a bit more wine, olive oil, and finishing off with butter (“A little butter won’t kill you,” as Jessie would have said).  The predominant lemon flavour of the sauce, with floral white wine notes, makes for a fine complement to the richness of the tenderloin.

For dinner, I served the pork with its accompanying sauce along side island-grown potatoes, sprouting broccoli from the island’s largest farm just down the road, and tomatoes from our deck-top pots.  The pork was ethically raised over on Vancouver Island, and the garlic was from our island’s garlic-growing co-op and the bay leaves from a friend’s tree.  Hence, it was quite the organic-almost-100-mile feast (the Pinot Auxerrois I used in the marinade was just a bit further a-field, from British Columbia’s Okanagan, while the olive oil and lemon were well beyond the range).

Any leftover tenderloin can make a satisfying sandwich the next day.  I used my home-made curried apple chutney to complement the lemony pork.

I will use this recipe as my standard pork tenderloin in the future and think of Jessie – and her own traditions – whenever I do.

Pork Tenderloin, from my grandmother Jessie’s recipe file

Serves two easily (can be doubled successfully)


  • 1 pork tenderloin, weighing approximately one pound
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, with extra for the sauce, as needed
  • ¾ cup white wine (try a floral Riesling or something pork-friendly), with 1/3 cup or so for the sauce
  • 1 lemon, sliced very thinly
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter to finish the sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Combine oil, wine, lemon, garlic, and bay leaves in a plastic bag (the kind that seals with a “zipper”, to avoid making a plug for any specific brand)
  2. Add tenderloin and marinade for 18-24 hours.
  3. The next day, pre-heat oven to 325, about an hour before you would like to serve the pork.
  4. Spray oven-proof dish with non-stick cooking spray (optional).
  5. Place tenderloin in dish, reserving marinade.
  6. Roast for 35 minutes or until pork registers about 150 degrees on thermometer (it will rise further to the recommended 160 for food safety, though I served it slightly lower than that and have not died of trichinosis).
  7. Let the pork rest for 10 minutes or so, covered with aluminum foil, or the deep lid of a big pot, while you make the sauce.
  8. Place marinade in a (preferably) non-stick skillet or sauce pan over medium-high heat, add additional wine, and bring to a boil.
  9. Reduce the heat to medium and stir sauce until thickened to your desired consistency, adding more olive oil to taste or as necessary.
  10. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
  11. Finish with butter before serving.
  12. Slice pork on the diagonal, about 3/4″ thick.
  13. Serve with sauce drizzled on top.
  14. Enjoy the tradition of this “Jewish” pork tenderloin.  Oy vey.

14 responses to “Jewish Pork Tenderloin: What Would Jessie Dish? Week 18

  1. It is dishes like this that are always the best. Love the photos, just wonderful.

  2. That sounds deeelicious. I love the old fashioned recipes written by hand… You just know they contain loads of love! That’s very interesting with the potato in the sauce. I will have to try..

  3. I love roasting a pork tenderloin in the oven, but I usually don’t plan ahead enough to marinate it. Jessie’s recipe looks wonderful; I’ll have to give it a try. (I’m especially salivating over your leftover pork sandwich. Paired with your chutney and tomatoes – it’s perfect!)

  4. OY-VEY INDEED. This is pretty funny – so Jewish and yet not at all. I speak with some authority here: in my first year of University I lived in a hall of residence which was 95% Jewish. All of my friends were Jewish and as a result I became an “Honorary Jew”. I even cooked a passover meal that year, much to the amusement of my family! We set a spare place at the table, and I remember my mom telling me that somebody was at the door, then gulping down the extra glass of wine and calling me back saying, “LOOK! THE WINE IS GONE! IT’S A MIRACLE!” Slightly wrong terminology, I’m sure, but it was pretty funny. I’ve since learned that this is a trick used on small children.

    Still. I digress. This, as always, makes me smile and feel very happy… and hungry. And as for the vegetarian phase, I have a good story for you. An old school friend who is originally from Serbia told me that she had a vegetarian friend visit her over the holidays once. Now, in Serbia, there is no such thing as ‘vegetarian’. You eat meat. No question about it. So when my friend told her grandmother that her guest was vegetarian her grandmother became convinced that there was something wrong with the girl. So what did she do? Gave her a salad and cut bits of meat up into very small pieces and slipped them into the vegetables, trying to disguise them. When asked what on earth she was doing she said something along the lines of, “WHO DOESN’T EAT MEAT?!”

    Jessie knows best, Dan. Always listen to Jessie!

    Jax x

    • Jax, thanks for your brief response. Seriously, I thought it was very entertaining – and informative. Who knew that Notty U is more Yiddish than British, too?!?

      What I want to know is whether you made Jewish char siu bao (maybe from your grandmother’s cookbook for Passover? Jessie would have liked that!


  5. I just looked for you homemade curried chutney….doesn’t look like you’ve blogged it. I’ve been thinking about using some of my apples for chutney ever since I read your post.

    • Hi, Kath. You have the apple chutney craving going on, do you? I did a post on Mediterranean date chutney this winter, but the curried apple (I produced it before I started my blog) is from the Ball/Bernardin cookbook; I can scan and email you the recipe if you like. Thanks, Dan

  6. the meat looks good and tender !pierre

  7. Hi Dan,

    Thanks so much for that kind offer. I’m guessing, though, that since the recipe is from the Ball/Bernardin cookbook, and you made it a while ago, it must be a canning recipe. I’ve gotten this far in life without canning, and I guess I’m not ready to start now. 😉

    I found a recipe that makes just 2 cups and keeps in the refrigerator, so I’ll be trying that one. Probably next week.

    Thanks again! Kath

  8. Pingback: Applesauce with Attitude – Apple Chutney! « In the kitchen with Kath

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