As a little girl, I read all of the “Little House on the Prairie” books multiple times. So many times, in fact, that Pa, Ma and the girls almost felt like family. What I loved most about them, though, was the glimpse they provided into the challenges and joys prairie pioneers faced when it came to food.
If you weren’t prepared when the snow and cold winds came knocking on the door in December, you couldn’t just run out to the corner grocery store for a can of chili or a jar of pickles when you were hungry. You just stayed hungry, or worse.
Needless to say, menu planning back then took a lot more forethought than it does today. Reading about how they planned, planted and harvested their food was (and still is) endlessly fascinating to me.
Although I’m quite happy to have the modern conveniences we enjoy in the 21st century, there are still a few steps I like to take this time of year to ensure that my family can enjoy a few bites of summer when the snowflakes are flying and the winds are howling.
Of course, I employ a tool that was definitely not available to the Ingalls family — a reliable freezer. It feels a little like cheating, but I’m sure Ma would have used it if she had had one sitting out in the barn.
If you’ve been to your local farmers market lately, you know the tables are bursting with the bounty of summer. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplants, okra and green beans are plentiful, economical and easy to freeze. Some are best when briefly blanched beforehand, such as zucchini, green beans, corn and eggplant. Others do well after they’ve been roasted, such as tomatoes and peppers, which often need to have their skins removed as well.
One extra step I’m always so glad I took in the months to come is to make large batches of roasted tomato salsa to freeze in small containers. I reach for it whenever I have a craving for the bright flavors of summer, and its uses go way beyond being a dip for tortilla chips. Here are just a few:
Shrimp salsa: Mix in diced avocado and jicama, along with cut-up cooked shrimp, and serve on lettuce for a main course salad or with tortilla chips for an impressive appetizer.
Topping for sautéed seafood or chicken: You could just use it as is, but I like it even better with a little fruit — such as diced mango, pineapple or orange — mixed in.
Spicing up salads or creamy dips: My kids love it mixed into low-fat ranch dressing and drizzled over a taco salad or used as a dip for veggie sticks.
Chilaquiles: Made with crisp tortillas that have been coated and slightly softened with a red or green sauce and served with chicken or a fried egg, this is one of my family’s favorite salsa-based dishes and one that’s made so much easier when your salsa is made and ready to use.
No, Ma Ingalls may not have ever pulled out a can of salsa from the cellar and served it to her family, but if she had, I’d like to think at least Laura would have approved.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at meredith@meredith deeds.com. Follow her on Twitter: @meredithdeeds.