Weekend Cooking: “Little House” Cuisine

There are two types of Little House nerds. I was a book nerd. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my hero growing up. I wished I could live her prairie life, from bonnets and horses to prairie home-cooking. I must confess I never got into the television show, but I know a great deal of people did. NBC’s Little House on the Prairie ran for a 8 years, before resurfacing briefly as Little House: A New Beginning. In prairie dog years, that show lived to be about 100, fed by its adoring fans.

My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food From My Little Kitchen to Yours by Melissa Gilbert is for those fans. Gilbert played Laura in the Little House on the Prairie television series. From age nine to nineteen she spent a significant amount of time pretending to be Laura. So much time in fact that, in many ways, she felt she was Laura. It is fascinating to think that if you spent that much time in your formative years pretending to be another person, you’d probably, well, be that other person. I’m just jealous that Gilbert got to be my hero.

In My Prairie Cookbookyou are treated to a look inside the mind of the Laura-Melissa hybrid that Gilbert became, and get the inside scoop on what life on the set of Little House was like. Fun facts range from on-set relationship details (she and “Nellie” were close friends, not enemies) to what they were really eating (Kentucky Fried Chicken). She also answers a lot of frequently asked questions and recounts her favorite episodes.

As for the recipes, they are a mash-up of prairie-inspired recipes like biscuits and gravy and Gilbert’s favorite recipes from her current life like the Gilbert Family Meatloaf. I will caution that if you do not eat meat, there are vast portions of the book that are not for you (and lil’ ol’ veggie me). Also, diet food this is not. I actually like that part though. Gilbert believes in real food like butter over Stevia.

I was also pleased that there was an entire chapter devoted to casseroles, from Gilbert’s Real Deal Lasagna to a vegetable soufflé. I know that a casserole is the opposite of cool. But – I’m sorry – casseroles are the best. They are so simple, so meal-in-one, so homespun, even if you never had them in your childhood home. I picture Ma at home, whipping up casseroles for Laura and the fam because heck, on a farm, who has time to garnish and deconstruct? Throw it all in a casserole and get on with it, especially if you have to milk a cow and work a churn just to make butter.

I was going to ply you with one of Gilbert’s richer recipes designed to give you enough energy to work the farm from daybreak to dusk. However, in light of last week’s indulgence, I decided to give you another vegetable, albeit an indulgent one, as far as green things go. These zucchini fritters should use up the last of the summer zucchini overload people who garden seem to complain of. They are darned good, by themselves or with a sauce of your choice. Or even with my personal addiction of truffle salt, which you certainly wouldn’t have on the prairie, but what can I say? For all my love of Little House, I am still a city slicker.

Zucchini Fritters adapted from My Prairie Cookbook by Melissa Gilbert

  • 6 Tbsp. corn oil (I used some oil and some butter)
  • 2 onions, finely chopped (I measured about two cups worth)
  • 4 zucchini, ends trimmed (I used large ones, almost two pounds all total)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Heat up 2 tablespoons of the oil (or in my case butter) in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions. Cook and stir until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Set them aside to cool.

Grate the zucchini. Now for the tedious part: one handful at a time squeeze the zucchini in a cheesecloth to remove the excess moisture. It takes a little while because you have to squeeze pretty small portions, but just pretend you are on the prairie and get on with it. Or don’t pretend you are on the prairie and listen to a podcast or to entertain yourself while you squeeze.

Once it is all squeezed, add the onions, egg, flour and some salt and pepper, and mix it up.

Heat the remaining oil (I used slightly less than she calls for) in the same skillet you used for the onions over medium heat. Gilbert calls for shaping the zucchini mixture into 8 patties, 3/4 inch thick. Perhaps my zucchini were extra large because I ended up with about ten patties. Use your judgement. Cook them in batches, frying until they are good and browned, tasty and crisp, on both sides. Move them to paper towels to drain the oil. Add a bit more salt if so inclined. I busted out the sea salt. Then serve and eat immediately.

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