You need sour oranges to make mojo pork, one of the dishes traditionally served in many Hispanic households on Christmas Eve. The Chiaramonte-Suarez family needs more than 100 pieces of the bitter fruit to carry on a tradition that started back in the 1970s.
“When I was a little girl, all the females in the family would gather at my grandmother, and then my aunt’s, house the day before Christmas Eve to begin making mojo pork,” says Westchase resident Debbie Chiaramonte, who now continues the family tradition at her own home. “My Tia Dinora had sour orange trees at her house in Riverside Heights, and we would pick oranges from her trees and use the juice to make the mojo.”
In the ‘90s, Chiaramonte planted some seeds from those original trees. Although her family moved out of the house many years ago, the homeowners who have lived there since have allowed the Chiaramontes to come back each December to pick oranges. Unfortunately, Chiaramonte says that due to citrus greening, the trees do not produce as much fruit anymore. That has since led to a new family tradition.
“Everyone in the family begins the hunt for sour oranges in early December,” she says. “We’ve driven through neighborhoods looking for trees and met a lot of nice people, and we visit every Spanish grocery store we can find.”
On December 23 the family gets together to juice the oranges and prepare the mojo pork for the next day’s feast — with a 21st-century twist.
“My tia used to squeeze all the oranges by hand,” says Chiaramonte. “But we broke down and bought a nice juicer.”
On Christmas Eve, Chiaramonte, her mother and her four brothers’ families gather to enjoy the mojo pork served alongside white rice, black beans, bonitas, Spanish candies and natillas. Chiaramonte foresees the tradition lasting for generations to come; she even saved seeds from last year’s oranges to ensure it does.
1 pound black beans (scan for and remove small rocks or leaves)
1 bay leaf
1/2 green pepper
Sort and rinse the beans, and place in a large pot with the bay leaf and green pepper. Add water, 1 cup at a time, until 2 inches above the beans. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a rolling simmer. Continue to simmer, stirring often to prevent sticking. Add water sparingly (only 1/2 – 1 cup at a time) to keep beans loose. Simmer 2 – 3 hours or until beans are tender.
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp. oregano
In a separate pan, sauté onion, garlic and olive oil. Do not burn garlic. When onions are soft, add oregano. Pour the onion mixture into the simmering beans. Stir and continue to low simmer, uncovered for 1-1 1/2 hours. Look for a film to cover the top of the pot; this means they are done.
2 tbsp. white vinegar
Add white vinegar and salt to taste.
5 lb. Boston butt
1/4 cup dried oregano
About 50 sour oranges, enough for 1/2 gallon of juice
1/3 – 1/4 cup chopped, bottled garlic
Juice the oranges. Salt and pepper the butt. Using a knife, poke holes all over the butt. Stuff garlic into holes. Put into large roaster pan. Sprinkle oregano liberally over the meat. Fill pan so that 1/2 – 3/4 of the pork is covered with sour orange juice. Do not completely cover pork. Refrigerate overnight. The next morning, preheat oven to 290 degrees. Cook for at least 4 hours. May need to increase heat to 300 degrees and cook longer as needed. When meat separates easily with a fork, it is done. Let sit for 30 minutes. Shred it while still hot, adding a little sauce in. Save the rest of the sauce to use as gravy.