These days, I’m all about Laura Ingalls Wilder.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been enjoying Pamela Smith Hill’s online course, which compares Wilder’s Little House books with her soon-to-be published autobiography Pioneer Girl, and I must say all that talk of traveling to and from Walnut Grove in a covered wagon has made me hungry for some down home country food.
That’s why I was especially happy to see Melissa Gilbert’s recently released My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014). I’m a longtime fan of the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series and always picture Melissa whenever Laura’s name is mentioned. Can you believe it’s been exactly 40 years since the series first aired on NBC?
My Prairie Cookbook is a must-have for Little House fans. In this scrapbook-cookbook, Melissa shares nearly 80 recipes and lots of wonderful behind-the-scenes photos, memorabilia, and personal recollections. She answers frequently asked questions from fans, lists her top ten favorite LH episodes, comments on LH bloopers and goofs, and writes so lovingly about Michael Landon, whom she considered to be her second “Pa” ( her own father died when she was just 11).
For those of us who’ve watched the series for many years, that image of a freckle-faced, somewhat fearless minx in pigtails and calico is so firmly entrenched in our minds that we might not realize that in real life Melissa raised four boys and liked nothing better than cooking lots of soul-nourishing comfort food for her family and friends.
In addition to beloved childhood/family favorites (Gilbert Family Meatloaf, Fancy Beef Stew, MG’s Barbecued Ribs, Mikey B’s Favorite Fried Corn, Melissa’s Nutless Carrot Cake), you’ll find many prairie classics typical of what the Ingalls family might have eaten or what may have been served at Nellie’s Restaurant: apple pie, cornbread, peach cobbler, chicken fried steak, biscuits with gravy, chicken and dumplings, molasses cookies.
Melissa’s also thrown in a few modern day faves for good measure (Real-Deal Lasagna and Pasta with Mushroom Cream Sauce, “served often on the frontier in Italy.”) 🙂
Of course there’s a special recipe for fried chicken with pan gravy, which Melissa considers the cornerstone of the cookbook. It’s what her family and friends request most often, and if you think about it, the Little House characters did eat a LOT of fried chicken on the show — Sunday suppers, picnics, pail lunches. Little did we realize, however, that all along they were eating Kentucky Fried Chicken! That’s just the kind of yummy tidbit I live for :).
They also chowed down on Dinty Moore canned stew, Pillsbury biscuits, and pies from a local store. And after filming, young Melissa was only too happy to scarf up the extra food. 🙂
Her writing throughout is warm and candid, and like the TV series, the values and ideals of home, family, faith, love, respect, and community come through loud and clear. I particularly enjoyed Melissa’s funny recipe headnotes and drooled over the color photos of the recipes (yum to homemade sausage with apples, giant popovers and chunky applesauce!).
Time for a taste.
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🌽 SOUP AND PUDDING, PUDDING AND SOUP 🌽
So, the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers decided on two recipes: one for me, one for Mr. Jama.
With the weather turning pleasantly cooler, Melissa’s Very Veggie Soup seemed just the thing. She was always trying to find ways to get her kids to eat their veggies, and hiding tiny cubes of Muenster cheese in the bottom of their bowls, only to have them magically surface, did the trick.
This soup was easy to throw together once all the vegetables were chopped up. But alas, I suspected a bit of trouble on the prairie when I noted the recipe called for only one cup of vegetable stock. So little liquid for an entire pot of soup? Vegetables do give off liquid while cooking, but still . . .
So instead, I added an entire carton (4 cups) of stock and the soup turned out fine. 🙂 I also substituted black beans for kidney beans since that’s what I had on hand.
This soup is yummy, low-fat, chocked with vitamins and definitely comforting. The perfect autumn lunch!
VERY VEGGIE SOUP
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
- 1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup coarsely chopped baking potato
- 1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
- 1 cup coarsely chopped broccoli
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 (15-ounce) can corn, drained
- 1 (16-ounce) package frozen green beans, thawed and drained
- 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil or melt the butter. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to soften, 3 to 5 minutes.
2. Add the potato, carrots, broccoli, broth, oregano, thyme, and bay leaf and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Add the corn, green beans, and kidney beans and bring the soup back to a simmer; cook for 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve hot.
**Add more or less broth according to how “soupy” you like your soup and how generous your “cups” of chopped veggies are.
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Rice pudding is one of Mr. Jama’s very favorite things, so I had to make it. Sometimes when we have leftover rice, he’ll pour some milk and sugar over it and pretend it’s rice pudding (it kind of grosses me out).
It’s all very pitiful and I feel sorry for him so I feel it’s my civic duty to make him real rice pudding whenever possible (such a good wife). 🙂
But alas — I sensed trouble on the prairie yet again when I noted that Melissa’s rice pudding recipe called for an entire quart of milk and only 1/2 cup of white rice (normally to cook 1/2 cup of rice I’d add no more than 1 cup of liquid). It also didn’t say “cooked rice,” which is what most of the baked rice pudding recipes I’d seen elsewhere specified.
Still, I was up for an adventure and decided to follow the recipe to the letter (but omitting the raisins), dutifully opening the oven every 15 minutes during the first hour to stir the mixture (I actually should have stirred more often to prevent the rice from clumping on the bottom).
Honestly, I thought it would be a miracle if this pudding was edible given the proportion of uncooked rice to liquid. It baked for two full hours at 300 degrees until firm and nicely browned on top. After cooling it for about 15 minutes, miracle on the prairie! It looked and tasted like real rice pudding and the extra liquid I had worried about had baked away. Mr. Jama loved it and had two dishes full.
Thanks, Half-Pint! 🙂
GOOD OLD RICE PUDDING
(serves 4 – 6)
- 1 quart milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup white rice
- 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish.
2. Beat together the milk and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, rice, raisins (if using), butter, vanilla, and nutmeg.
3. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake uncovered for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, stirring frequently during the first hour. It’s done when it’s firm throughout and golden brown on top. Let the pudding rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
~ both recipes adapted from My Prairie Cookbook by Melissa Gilbert (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2014).
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MY PRAIRIE COOKBOOK: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours
written by Melissa Gilbert
photographs by Dane Holweger
published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang/Abrams
Nonfiction, 208 pp.
*Perfect gift for Bonnet Heads everywhere
**Also nice to have: Complete LH Series 9-Season DVD box set (55 discs). 🙂
“The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes, and surely it is in the everyday things around us that the beauty of life lies.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder
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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best bib and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.