Mama Steph, Laura Ingalls Wilder and red beans and rice
“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Remember those nights in the 1970s and ’80s when you’d come home from school (or your children would come home from school, perhaps) and hurriedly finish supper and homework so you could watch the newest episode of Little House on the Prairie? I remember it well. That show was an entertainment highlight of my childhood. It featured a lovable cast, featuring little girls who got to wear simple prairie dresses (which my mom ultimately made copies of for my sister and me), and who had numerous adventures together. Its themes of family, faith, and community meant families could watch it together and not worry about what worldly vice the children were being exposed to. It really was a great show for its time.
The show ranked so highly with me that it inspired me to read the whole series of Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read through all nine of them numerous times, as did my little sister. I realize as an adult how much knowledge Wilder imparted through her books regarding pioneer life in the nineteenth century in the United States.
Reading about Pa building the little house and making a meat smoker out of a hollow tree, as pictured here from the book's illustration, or about Ma making jelly and storing away pumpkins for the winter, we learn about how the determined settlers in the 1800s lived...how they survived. Up against harsh elements, hungry wolves, and the occasional unscrupulous person, those folks were tough and resourceful.
Most interesting to me, of course, is the culinary education imparted by the books. For instance, the settlers who were lucky enough to have one would allow their hog to remain free to roam and eat and fatten up until just before winter set in, when it would be corralled in a pen to fatten up even more effectively. Then, when winter temperatures came, the hog would be butchered, and the freezing temperatures would allow the meat to freeze and be kept safe to eat.
Another method of preserving meat was intriguing to me, as well, and that was the aforementioned smoker made from a hollow tree. That’s what they used to call “good ol’ American ingenuity,” in my opinion! We’ve progressed far beyond that type of primitive contraption, though I’m not sure the smoked meats produced today could taste much better than what Pa Ingalls would have pulled from his homemade, nature-provided meat smoker.
I recently toured a modern smokehouse, and it was amazing to me how much technology goes into the process now. There was a large, walk-in stainless steel smoker, lined inside with hooks from which to hang sausages, hams, pork loins, or whatever they work on from day to day. There was a very large smokebox, which the worker filled by hand with wood. The rest, however, was programmed in and done automatically. Different meats smoke for different lengths of time, for example, and at different temperatures. It’s amazing technology, and it yields a really delicious smoked meat. I am certain that Charles Ingalls would be astonished to see the thing.
Speaking of smoked meat, here is a recipe that will allow you to use your favorite smoked sausage to make a fantastic-tasting lightened-up red beans and rice. I lightened it up by using a surprisingly delicious smoked turkey sausage, but the choice is yours; use your favorite! I also use olive oil, and just a touch, and trimmed the fat from the ham steak. This recipe is not only light, but comes together quickly for a weeknight supper.
Steph’s lightened-up spicy red beans and rice
1 pound link smoked turkey sausage, sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 slice ham steak (16 ounces or less), fat trimmed off, and cubed
one medium onion, diced
one small-medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon cayenne powder (depending upon how hot you prefer it)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 – 15 ounce cans light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 – 15 ounce can chicken broth or vegetable broth
Cooked rice for serving
In a Dutch oven or deep-sided frying pan, place one tablespoon olive or canola oil, and allow it to warm. Add onion and bell pepper.
After two to three minutes, add the cayenne pepper, garlic, sliced sausage and cubed ham. Saute for 4-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add beans and broth. Simmer while you cook the rice, stirring occasionally. (Don’t allow the broth to evaporate completely; just thicken. You will want to have gravy, which will be deliciously full of flavor!)
Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice.
Tip: In your store’s freezer section, you can now buy frozen bags of rice that steam in four minutes in the microwave. What a great time saver! Also, my dad always ate his red beans and rice with Louisiana hot sauce sprinkled over the top. You might like that, too.
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is “Mama Steph”. She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com, and she’d love to hear about your own favorite recipes via email at Steph@whatsouthernfolkseat.com.