Most books that have "cookbook" in the title usually are primarily books with recipes. This book is unique. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of recipes in The Prairie Table Cookbook. In fact there are recipes that span many generations, some dating back to early Native Americans like Pxashikana (dried meat) and others prepared by celebrity chefs today.
Bill Kurtis, is perhaps better known by many of us for his award winning TV journalism on CBS as well as A&E. But his heart belongs to the Tallgrass Beef Company and his ranch in Kansas. And this book shares his passions and educates us along the way. It gives us glimpses in to the ways of life of early Native Americans, Prairie settlers, cowboys and soldiers and leads to the new food revolution...which is actually a return to the pure way of raising livestock.
I don't know how many times I've said that growing up in the '50s I never heard terms like "free range" or "organic". I know that my mother bought her chickens from Mr Zinman, who would call up and say "It's the chicken man? Is your mother there?" and he would deliver fresh eggs and chickens from farms that looked nothing like the factory farms of today. And a meal of breaded veal chops (my favorite) meant a portion of three chops. I don't know about you, but when I find veal chops today, they are the size of a huge steak! Only a Sumo wrestler could manage to eat three of them!
In fact, today, with everyone trying to be more health conscious, we read labels and look for what we believe is the better way...choosing products labeled "free range" or "organic", which don't necessarily mean exactly what we THINK they mean. In fact "organic" cattle can be confined to feedlots and fed corn as long as the corn was labeled organic and "natural" could mean that they are not given antibiotics, but still could be housed in a feedlot. Even free range could mean that the cattle (or chickens, etc.) were out of the feedlot for only a short time.
Probably this one quote from the book best expresses why Kurtis started his ranch and wrote the book ....
"....grass-fed and grass-finished beef. It's pretty hard to interpret that as anything but pure. It means beef cattle are raised only in pasture, receive no growth hormones, no antibiotics, and no grain as feed. They eat only grass and natural supplements, such as minerals."
I don't know which I enjoyed more...the stories or the recipes. The stories, photos and journal entries had me living the life of a soldier marching through Kansas in 1862 or the early settlers & cowboys braving the climate with no corner store or fancy food purveyor to help figure out the menu for the day, or week or entire winter season.
I admit it. I'm a social anthropology groupie. I love finding out how other cultures at other times in history lived. And naturally, being a foodie, I love imagining what they ate. So this book with recipes for Hardtack (crackers made in the field by army cooks back in the 1800's), baked salt beef and Indian baked raccoon (which I will not be trying) gave me a wonderful glimpse into the past.
Living in Halifax, I wasn't sure that I'd be able to find grass-fed beef...and in truth, the local grocery chains don't carry it, but Pete's Frootique does, although only frozen. Apparently there's not enough demand for it yet. So I bought two t-bone steaks (not my favorite cut, but the only ones they had) and some ground beef. In fact, there are quite a few grass fed operations here in Nova Scotia and I'll be visiting them as soon as this very long winter is over.
In the meantime, I thought I'd share a couple of recipes that were very tasty indeed...
Next time, I might just try Gene Autry's meatloaf, Dale Evans' Quick Chili-Tex or one of the amazing dishes from some famous chefs who've contributed to the book.