Apple and rice bake: cheap dish from bad times

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I learned the recipe from my parents, who learned it from their parents. I enjoy the dish regularly when apples are in season. Apples are in season from August to first frosts. In this post I will also tell you how I figured out the bit of context to the dish I was missing as a child, namely its suitedness to country-wide poverty and institutional disfunction that must have been reality for my grandparents and everyone they knew. I will conclude with musings on a 'cheap dish for bad times', an alternate title I was toying with, but first I will tell you how to make the damn thing which I think should be standard convention for food blogs.

Info

Ingredients

  • 500g rice
  • 1kg apples/pears
  • 100g butter
  • 100g raisins
  • 2tbsp cinnamon

Time

  • 20 min to peel apples while you boil rice
  • 40 min bake

Cost

Apples grow on trees and you just need to go to the tree and collect some. Rice is cheap, I use the short-grain Italian brown rice from an ethically-source-everything shop and the kilo still costs like only 2 and a half quid. Butter can be swapped for a cheaper fat. Raisins cost something like 10 quid a kilo and are optional in the dish.

Variations

My friends seem to not know the dish but know rice pudding, the sweet version. American recipe sites describe a "Apple Rice Casserole", present it with a side of ads, and tell you to add apple juice, extra sugar, and to shred the apples, which I suggest you all don't. My mom recently suggested boiling rice in milk, but that increases confusion with the pudding.

Preparation

Boil the rice, possibly adding salt to the water. Peel and slice the apples. Pears are a solid alternative, and no need to peel these. Interleave rice and other ingredients in a casserole, starting with a layer of rice at the bottom:

Make as many layers as you like. Some middle layer should have half the butter in it, and the rest of the butter should go on top which should also be decorated with apples and somewhat artistic.

Put it in the oven, and go write half a blog post or read a book or something. The apples will brown nicely, possibly due to the Maillard reaction:

Serve with a ladle. It's nice with Greek yoghurt and stuff.

Historical context

This is just from my facebook feed, posted by my god-uncle aged around fifty. The caption says "There used to be a Black Friday everyday" as people form a queue outside a state delicatessen outlet:

Getting ingredients for cooking was a challenge in communist Poland because they were rationed, people didn't really have the money, and the shops were frqeuntly empty. I think knowing how to cook dishes such as this one worked pretty well.

Stories from this historical period boggle the contemporary mind. There were queues that spontaneously formed on the street because somebody heard there's gonna be a delivery and people joined the forming queue, taking it as a sign there might be stuff available.

There's also one about a man who was sent by his wife to buy bread. He follows her directions to a bakery, arrives at a shop where there was supposed to be one, and isn't quite sure if this is the bakery because the shelves are empty - nothing to buy in that entire shop. So he asks the lady at the till: is this the shop without bread? The lady looks at him funny, points at her greengrocer outfit, and says, no, this is the shop without vegetables, the one without bread is on the other side of the street.

Modern relevance

I imagine the dish would be rather bitter if I made it while the only few things I had access to were like, a stashed bag of rice, and whatever you could harvest. I like it a lot - it's heartening, warm, and nicely mixes savoury, acidic and sweet elements. It has complex aromas from the cinnamon and whatever gets released during baking all the stuff together. It's definitely more tasty when you can add raisins and top it with yoghurt, and when you have chosen to eat it while also having hundreds of available alternatives. My family is living well, they were always living relatively well and now we also drive fancy cars and stuff.

The possibility of your nearby shop temporarily having nothing on some shelves is still real. Consider a disruption at UK's borders in a hypothetical unstable political climate. News of trucks being turned away in Dover would get people to rush to shops and buy everything out. It would be fine soon after - capitalism is resilient to such shocks, and the stuff you want will find its way to you as long as you can pay for it.

The end-twist

It is more optimistic to consider the role of this dish in the post-scarcity world. We're not quite there as a human collective yet, and you won't ever get there if you rely on availability of goods through economic exchange. It's like using directions from your phone to get around - if you don't know the city, you can still get lost if your phone runs out of battery or something.

You can already briefly transition to post-scarcity in a few aspects of your life by means such as knowledge of excellent recipes, an apple tree planted in front of your house and a well-stocked larder. Even if you have to pay rent and work to be able to live and stuff, the pressure to survive is probably lower than it was for most people in most times historically. A day's worth of any job, if you find one, can be exchanged for more rice than you can carry.

Imagine you have all of the above - the apples are on your lawn about to rot away, your pantry stores a massive bag of rice that you can only keep around for a few more months, and of course you are equipped with a handy printout of this blog post. You're about to start cooking, and then a stranger from the street appears at your door, or even a bunch of strangers. They're hungry for dinner, saw the light in your kitchen, and decided on a whim that they'd like to join you. They'll help with collecting and peeling the fruits, their arrangement into pretty shapes, and stuff. What would you say to that?