Eat your books: Little House on the Prairie

When I was young I loved the Little House on the Prairie book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Actually, as an adult, I still do. Maybe it’s because I’ve been an urban dweller for too long, but the idea of living off the land with no annoying neighbors is appealing.)

One thing I remember vividly is the kind of food Laura talked about in the books. Foods that sounds old-fashioned, yet exotic, like horehound candy, cracklings and johnnycake.

In honor of National Library Week, I wanted to make a recipe mentioned in the Little House books. The one thing I always wanted to try was a pie described in The Long Winter. If I remember correctly, there’s an early fall frost so Pa is out trying to harvest what he can before the crops are ruined (forgive me if I got that plot line wrong; it’s been a while and I don’t have a copy of the book handy). Ma wanted to make something special but, since the cupboards were kind of bare, she had to think creatively. So she went out into the garden, brought in a green pumpkin and hacked it up to make a pie. A green pumpkin pie. When Pa tasted it, he was pleased and surprised that Ma had gotten her hands on some apples. He was even more surprised (and impressed by Ma’s culinary cleverness) when he learned that the pie was made from an unripe pumpkin.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the hook up to get my hands on a green pumpkin, so I had to make something else. I took a recipe from The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories, by Barbara M. Walker and tried to recreate it. Whoo boy! There’s a lot of interesting things in that cookbook (so much lard!); I decided to make Fried Apples ‘N’ Onions, which was described as one of Almanzo’s favorites in Farmer Boy. No lard required for this recipe, but there is bacon. Mmm, bacon.

Your first step is to fry up a half pound of bacon until it’s nice and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside (sorry I forgot to snap a pic, but I’m pretty sure you know what cooked bacon looks like).

Next, pour all of the bacon fat from the pan into a bowl or a measuring cup. Add about a tablespoon of the fat back to the pan. Layer your sliced onions on the bottom of the pan and let them cook over medium-high heat until they just start to get brown. (I turned them over so you can see how they’ll look).

caramelized onions

Your next step is to layer your sliced apples over the onions. Like so:

apples n onions 1

Then, sprinkle brown sugar over the top and cover.

apples n onions 2

Cook until the apples are tender. After 10 minutes or so (I might have been distracted and forgot to pay attention to the time), you’ll end up with something like this:

apples n onions 3

Serve your creation with bacon. It took a lot of restraint not to eat all the bacon while I was waiting for the rest of the dish to cook, but it was worth the wait.

apples n onions 4

Other than the prep work for the apples (which reminded me I need to buy an apple corer) and onions (onion tears!), this was a simple recipe to make. It was really tasty and, in my opinion, would not be negatively impacted if you wanted to make it vegan friendly and omit the bacon. I ate my creation for breakfast, but it would make a tasty side dish to pork loin.

You probably want the recipe specifics now, right? Here you go:

Fried Apples ‘N’ Onions

Serves 6,  abridged from The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories, by Barbara M. Walker

1/2 pound sliced bacon

2 pounds yellow onion, thinly sliced

2 pounds tart apples (I used Granny Smith), cored and sliced crosswise

2 T. brown sugar

Fry bacon in skillet until crisp; set aside. Drain all bacon fat from skillet, except for 1 T. Layer onion on bottom of skillet. Cook for 3-5 minutes over medium-high heat. Layer apples slices on top and sprinkle 2 T. brown sugar over the apples. Cover and cook until the apples are tender. Serve with bacon on the side or crumbled on top.