“You know how far Texas stretches here….it ain’t nothing but yonder.”
I loved this rambling book of panhandle history and panhandle characters.
Although the tale is set in Woolybucket in the Texas panhandle, some of this saga meanders into the Oklahoma panhandle. I am sure that Texans (and some Okies) would disagree, but both geographic areas look alike to me.
My mother grew up in the Oklahoma panhandle (well, almost—it was the county due east of the actual handle–Harper County, to be exact), but again, it all looks the same to me. We lived there for a couple of years when I was three- and four-years-old. I still remember the arid dustiness of that time, huge grasshoppers that would rub your legs like sandpaper when you disturbed them, and always being aware and on the lookout for snakes. I also remember the colorful community members.
As I grew older and we would return to Harper County for holidays and other family events, I enjoyed my grandparents’ tales of some of the eccentrics that inhabited Ditch Valley (their community). Proulx’ novel is chock full of oddly named characters, so much so, that some have criticized her for the bizarre names of her colorful creations. In all honesty, however, my mom’s native land boasted surnames of Little, Wolfe, Clapp, and Rainbolt and first names of Houston, Oney, Bunk, and Gimp.
While Proulx’ landscape was dotted with towns like Woolybucket and Cowboy Rose, my ancestors’ landscape was dotted with Buffalo Flats, Cupid, and Moscow Flats (all ghost towns now. In fact, there are only two real towns that still exist in the county.)
To those critics who say that Proulx’ character names and place names are too outlandish or that her plot is too broad and ramshackle, I respond that this land and its people are too large to be contained in a small novel. This is a saga and worthy of the vastness of the barren prairie.
I loved LaVon Fronk, the unofficial historian of Woolybucket County in the novel. She reminded me so much of Oney (pronounced own-ie), a real live character of Harper County, Oklahoma. Oney kept a daily diary for every year of her adult life where she recorded community events, rainfall, and temperatures. I was fortunate enough to see her library of work (which she kept in a closet in her bathroom). She also kept a small slate chalkboard in her utility room where she used hash marks to record the number of critters she had killed. I think the last time I saw this chalkboard myself she had killed six skunks and five possums and one rattler.
She was one tough broad. But I digress….Let’s segue into the food of this novel, the reason for Cook the Books.
Most of the food in the novel can be found at the Old Dog restaurant. Although Cy, the cook and proprietor of the Old Dog, cooks up lots of homespun dishes (with a lot of pineapple), I was particularly drawn to his Onion Pie. Since Cy is cooking for cowboys and country people, he wisely stays away from calling his creation a quiche.
Plenty of onion pie, what they used a call ‘quiche,’ which the guys here would not eat if I called it that, but if I say ‘onion pie’ they like it. It’s the word ‘pie.’
Here is my rendition of Cy’s Onion Pie (not quiche). Appropriately, I adapted it from a good old fashioned pot luck onion casserole (“Onion Surprise,” no less.)
Onion Pie (not quiche)
1 large onion, chopped
2 T. olive oil
3 T. butter, divided
2 T. Dijon mustard
2/3 c. swiss cheese, grated
1/2 c. saltine crackers, divided
3 large farm fresh eggs
1/3 c. half-and-half
1 t. salt
1/8 t. white pepper
1 9-inch pie shell
Sauté the onions in the butter and olive oil.
While onions are sautéing , spread the mustard on the bottom of the pie shell.
Layer half the onions in the pie shell and then sprinkle with about half of the Swiss cheese and 1/4 c. of the cracker crumbs. Continue with one more layer of onions and cheese but save the remaining 1/4 c. of cracker crumbs.
Beat the eggs, half-and-half and salt and pepper until smooth. Pour evenly over the pie. Toss the remaining cracker crumbs in 1 T. of melted butter. Sprinkle the cracker mixture on top of the pie.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until pie is set.
I like the cracker crumb topping because that reminds me of so many pot lucks I remember from my own panhandle days. It makes this pie more homey and less quiche-like. Spreading the mustard on the bottom of the pie shell was a trick learned from another CTB selection. The author of A Lunch in Paris learned this trick from her mother-in-law.
I could continue to ramble about this novel and all the connections I have to it.
How I empathize with Bob Dollar as he drove through the landscape, trying to find an NPR station and waiting until the next courtesy lane would appear so you could pass the rickety old wheat truck. (I smiled at the line “liberal NPR stuff—there’s only about six people in the panhandle wants a listen to that Commie Stuff.”)
How I remember seeing old bison wallows in the fields, fence lines clogged with tumbleweeds, and a lone skyline of a grain elevator.
How I truly wondered why my ancestors settled in this “flat-ass place.”
How I remembered a favorite Uncle who set his stock and livelihood in a corporate hog operation that never materialized. (Thank goodness, because I know he would have hated that existence.)
I could continue to ramble…..
Thank you, Simona, for picking this novel. I am off now to download some more Proulx into my library.
Membership to Cook the Books is open for anyone. Simply grab the featured book, read it, become inspired to cook, and then post your recipe and your thoughts on the book. It’s that simple. We’re pleased to announce the next four books. Check out the announcement post for details.