“Mom, are you crying?” Tess asked incredulously as I finished the last pages of These Happy Golden Years, the last of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie series. I somehow grew up with the notion that I had read these books, but when Tess and I began reading the first one, I realized my memories were all Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert. The books are amazing–honestly some of the best books I’ve ever read. The woods and prairies, the sheer space and breadth and silence of late 19th century America come alive on these pages. Details of daily life, a sense of being huddled inside a barely-adequate cabin with family on the vast and unending prairie, a fascinating sense of just how incredibly hard it was to get from sunup to sundown, admiration for the gritty determination required to conquer the land and squeeze a living out of it, bending it to human will–all of this is thrown into contrast by the ever-mournful tone of a writer who is conflicted about the loss of these wide-open spaces, who knows by the time she is writing that the buffalo herds and the prairie grasses and the great wide-open empty spaces are gone. As modern readers, we also bring to her stories the knowledge of how all of that farming and pioneer spirit forever changed our land–the topsoil depleted, the prairies covered over by sprawling cities, the native Americans forever gone. The books are also riveting and funny and charming, and are lovely meditations on family and food. One of my favorite scenes takes place in Little Town on the Prairie. At Ben Woodworth’s birthday party,the guests are all served a slice of orange to eat with the birthday cake, and after pages and pages and months and months of corn pone and salt pork, your head practically explodes when you imagine this slice of orange on the flat, featureless prairie, covered over with drifts of snow for month after month, nothing green on your plate, much less orange and juicy and tart and sweet. Can you really imagine? Next time you eat an orange, remove yourself from the “I-can have-anything-anytime” world and really, truly taste it. Read the books–they’ll make you cry too.
Tangerine Sorbet and Chevre Tart
adapted from Lottie + Doof
- Tart Dough (see below)
- 5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 9 ounces soft goat cheese
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan. line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a circle that’s about 10 1/2 inches in diameter. Fit the dough into the springform pan , pressing it against the bottom and up the sides. It will pleat and fold in on itself as it climbs the side—do the best you can to straighten it out, but don’t worry about it, since perfection is impossible here and not really important. Put the springform in the fridge while you make the filling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites with the salt until they start to form soft peaks. Still whipping, gradually add 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and beat until the whites hold firm, but still glosssy peaks. If the whites are in the bowl of your stand mixer, transfer them gingerly to another bowl.
With the mixer—use the paddle attachment now, if you’ve got one—beat the egg yolks, goat cheese, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the cornstarch, and vanilla until very smooth and creamy, about a minute or two. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir one quarter of the whites into the mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the rest of the whites. Scrape the batter into the crust and put the springform on the lined baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350° F. Continue to bake for about 35 minutes more, or until the top, which will have cracked, is dark brown and firm; a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the tourteau rest for 10 minutes.
Carefully remove the sides of the springform. Cool the cake to room temperature before serving. The cake will deflate as it cools.
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon ice water
Put the flour, sugar, and salt int the processor and whir a few times to blend. Scatter bits of butter over the flour and pulse several times to blend. Scatter the bits of butter over the flour and pulse several times, until the butter is coarsely mixed into the flour. Beat the egg with the ice water and pour it into the bowl in 3 small additions, whirring after each one. You’ll have a moist, malleable dough that will hold together when pinched. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball, and flatten it into a disk.
Chill the dough for at least 3 hours.
2 c. tangerine or orange, grapefruit or Meyer lemon juice
1/2 c. sugar
Place sugar in small saucepan and add just enough juice to moisten it. Heat over med-high heat until sugar melts completely. Stir sugar mixture into juice and chill thoroughly. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions.