Farmer Boy was never my favorite of the Little House books--something I attribute to having more of an affection for Laura and the Ingalls family than the boyhood of Laura's husband-to-be, Almanzo Wilder. It turns out that there are hidden charms in Farmer Boy, published in 1933 and taking place over a year in Almanzo's life as a young boy, about to turn nine. What isn't hidden is the food, Almanzo is a growing farm boy and loves to eat-A LOT. I'd even go as far as to call him (or his character in his wife's mind) a bit of a foodie with his appreciation of foods and flavors. I enjoyed this reread both for the food and because I appreciated the story more, hearing about life on the farm in upstate New York for the Wilder family. There is plenty of work for Almanzo and his brother and sisters but there is fun mixed in as well and although definitely a children's book, it is a classic bit of Americana that makes a nice escape. I have a feeling I'll be revisiting the other Little House books at some point for the sweet nostalgia.
The book is full of food descriptions and countless dishes like a lunch-pail with bread and butter with sausage, apples and apple turnovers, and pantry shelves stacked with big yellow cheeses, loaves of fresh-baked bread to spread with butter and jam, maple sugar, cakes and pies (pumpkin, vinegar, mince, custard, raisin, berry and especially apple pie with cheese), all manner of preserved goods--jams and jellies (crab apple, plum, strawberry, grape...), pickled cucumbers, beets, green tomatoes and spicy watermelon pickle, apple core vinegar, and dried corn and apples. There are baked beans, lots of meat--turkey, chicken, ham, roast pig and goose, spareribs, roast beef, roast pork with applesauce, sausages and pork-pickle (yikes!). There were baked beans, chicken pot pie, mashed potatoes, creamed carrots, crackling cornbread, mealy boiled potatoes with brown ham-gravy, mashed turnips, stewed yellow pumpkin, Almanzo's favorite apples 'n' onions, oatmeal and stacked pancakes, bird's nest pudding, doughnuts, ice cream, buttermilk and cookies, egg-nog, hot rye 'n' injun bread, baked-potato, fried parsnips, and cranberry jelly. Whew! I don't even know if I got it all!
For my book inspired dish I was first inspired by apples which were featured frequently and especially since I dislike pumpkin--so apple is my favorite fall flavor. I was craving the apple pie with cheese, but I don't bake and certainly didn't need a pie. I thought about making watermelon pickles or trying the vinegar from apple cores, but I didn't leave myself much time for pickling or fermenting. I do love jam and used up the last of my homemade chia jam and a jar of strawberry preserves--but those apples and that pie with cheese kept sticking in my head.
Finally I put my some of my inspirations together and decided to make a recipe for Caramel-Apple Jam that I had pinned from Bon Appetit to try last year & didn't. I thought that taking the apple jam and putting it on thick slices of good fresh bread (in this case sourdough) then pairing it with a good sharp cheddar cheese (Tillamook--I'm an Oregon girl at heart) would give me the illusion of eating apple pie with cheese like Almanzo, but without having to bake. Sometimes I am a genius. ;-)
Caramel Apple Jam
Slightly Adapted from Alison Roman via BonAppetit.com
1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup)
3 lb apples (preferably of mixed variety), peeled, cored, cut into 3/4” chunks (I used HoneyCrisp, Fuji, and Gala apples)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped (optional) (I used 1 heaping tsp vanilla paste)
(I added 2 tsp ground cinnamon)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Bring sugar and 3 tablespoons water to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil, swirling pan occasionally and brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush, until mixture turns a deep amber color, about 4 minutes. Add apples and vanilla bean (if using) and stir to coat. Some of the caramel will seize, but that’s okay because it’s just going to melt down again.
If you are feeling saucy and want to add spices like cinnamon sticks, ground clove, or fresh grated ginger, this would be a good time. Reduce heat to medium and stir occasionally to help the apples cook evenly and dissolve any pieces of caramel.
Continue to cook until apples are translucent and softened (some apples will hold their shape, but should still be softened), and most of the liquid has evaporated, 20–25 minutes. Add lemon juice and stir to combine. I like to break up any stubborn pieces of apple with a wooden spoon, but you can keep yours super chunky if you’re into that sort of thing. Discard vanilla bean and store apple jam in a glass jar or container in the fridge for up to one month.
Notes/Results: So pretty much just scooped out of the jar, or pan if you don't get that far, ;-) this apple jam is really delicious. Put it on soft, fresh sourdough bread with a bit of good butter spread on it, and it is even better. Pair those apple jam-topped bread slices with good, sharp cheddar cheese and it is sublime. Sweet apples and cheesy goodness with that bite from the sourdough bread to round things out--so good. I left the jam pretty chunky because the pieces of soft apple make me happy. I did think about melting thin slices of cheese on top of the bread with jam, but I liked taking bites of the solid cheese alternating with the thick bread and jam and think it wouldn't have been the same if it was melted.
I ended up eating my photo props for dinner (it's pretty much an open-faced sandwich) and I was plenty full--but I think you could have a piece (or two) for a snack or dessert, or even call it breakfast. I stirred some of the jam into yogurt this morning and it was fabulous. I imagine it will go great on a peanut butter (or this homemade pecan-miso butter) sandwich, on top of oatmeal, on pancakes of waffles, or anywhere else you want to put it. I have a feeling I will be making more of this jam soon.
I am slipping in a few days before the deadline on Saturday, September 30th, so if you missed this round and love food, books, and foodie books, join us for October/November when we will be The Patriarch by Martin Walker, a France-set foodie mystery, hosted by Claudia of Honey From Rock. I'll be rounding up the entries for this round on the Cook the Books site, a few days after the deadline.
I am linking this post up as my seventh entry for Foodie Reads 2017. You can check out the September Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.
I'm also linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Finally, since it's on bread as an open-faced sandwich, I am also linking up to Souper Sundays, hosted right here at Kahakai Kitchen. Each Sunday we feature delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches from friends around the blogosphere--please join in if you have any to share. Here's this week's post and linkup.