Monday, October 17, 2011

Fried Potatoes

I'm starting to notice something about this project. Are you?

There's not a lot of color in prairie food. It's mostly shades of brown. Which could go to a gross place, but I'd rather think of it as a commentary on the limited availability of food and storage out on the prairie. It seems that once fall rolled around, people had to hunker down for the winter with a tasty selection of root vegetables and salt pork that would keep in the cellar.

And hey, I'm not against salt pork! Or root vegetables. I had some last night.

But if I'd been eating variations on potatoes, carrots, and salt pork all winter long, I might not have been so enthusiastic about that meal.

Potatoes are a kind of comfort food for me. Maybe it's my Irish background,* but potatoes taste darn good any way you cook them. Baked, boiled, mashed (my sister's favorite), fried, deep-fried....yum.

These are pretty straightforward. Boil whole, unpeeled potatoes until just tender, then peel with a knife while still hot. (The skin comes right off.) Slice into 1/4 - 1/8 inch rounds, and fry until brown in leftover drippings. Eaten with carrots and grilled pork chops, they taste of crisp fall days spent crunching through leaves.

*Nerd note: Did you know that if Columbus had never arrived at the New World and initiated the Columbian Exchange, the Irish potato famine might never have occurred? The potato was introduced to the Old World following Columbus' exploration, and it quickly became so central to the Irish diet that it was only a matter of a few centuries before a potato blight devastated the population in the 19th century. I just (re)learned that for the course I'm teaching this year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Johnny Cake

Back when I was a youthful graduate student, my roommates and I decided to explore the best of Rhode Island. We made it to the Hope Street farmer's market and a harvest festival before papers, reading, and student teaching took over. Then, in May, we emerged from the cave of school. We realized that we only had a few weeks left to explore the best of Rhode Island before graduation.

My roommate had been talking about jonnycake since we read about them in Edible Rhody that past fall. Jonnycakes are a signature Rhode Island dish. They're like pancakes that had a steamy affair with cornbread: you fry a cornbread batter on a griddle, then serve the cakes with maple syrup. Yum. So together with my roommate's science cohort, we arranged a trip to quaint Little Compton, solely so we could try jonnycake at a local restaurant. (But we did visit a lovely beach afterwards.)

The jonnycakes were delicious, and we came away satisfied. It turns out that there's a bit of controversy surrounding how to cook jonnycake, depending on where you live in the Ocean State. But generally, you want a small, pancake-like patty that will travel well (indeed, the name might have come from "journeycake").

The Ingalls family, on the other hand, would beg to differ.

Prairie jonnycake, or johnny cake, as they spelled it, is baked in a flat sheet that you cut into squares. It crumbles easily, so it probably wouldn't travel well. About the only things it has in common with Rhode Island jonnycake are the ingredients: cornmeal, baking soda, some fat and sweetener.

But it does serve as a tasty vehicle for maple syrup! I drizzled my prized syrup on top of several squares of johnny cake, and they were gone in no time. While this prairie version doesn't have quite as many fond memories attached to it as the Rhode Island variety, it serves as an easy weekend breakfast in the fall.