It’s hard to listen to Melissa Gilbert on the phone and not immediately picture that pigtailed girl with the wise smile from Little House on the Prairie on the other end. It can be disconcerting to discover that she has four grown children of her own. Gilbert has a successful film and television career, and she has also published two books.
She took time away from shooting her new show, an action thrill ride with Ryan Phillippe, to talk about her new cookbook, My Prairie Cookbook, her memories of Oklahoma and her love of food. She’d had a day of heavy stunts the previous day — it had her reaching for the ibuprofen — but she broke her back during the tour of Little House on the Prairie: The Musical and said she feels better now than she ever has. She didn’t even know she had broken her back until she went in to get it checked out after the tour was over. What she thought would be a minor injury turned into an ordeal that took several years to fully repair.
“You know, of all the things that hurt [from stunt work yesterday], my back is not one of them,” she said.
Gilbert admits that no matter what she does with her career, she will always be Laura from Little House on the Prairie, and she’s fine with that. She wrote her first book, an autobiography, Prairie Tale: A Memoir, in 2009. And fans clamored for more.
“Writing a cookbook hadn’t occurred to me, but the fans, [they] are the most loyal, growing population, and they wanted more behind-the scenes information,” she said. “It really grew out of that.”
She had planned to do a Little House on the Prairie scrapbook filled with all the pictures she had taken and collected over the years.
“The content was still a little thin to stand on its own,” she said.
The people helping put the project together knew that cooking was one of Gilbert’s passions, and they asked if she had many recipes that characters from the television show would have made. She updated them for modern kitchens and, in some cases, added measuring instructions. In most, she used a combination of muscle memory that she had learned at her grandmother and mother’s kitchen counter.
“I found that I had about 200 … but the thing about those recipes is they were all in my head,” she said. Only the baked goods had anything like coherent instructions.”
With some experimentation and using her family as her tasters — she has a house of five men, four grown sons — she knows when a recipe is a hit.
“There is nothing more satisfying for me than when they sit back and say, ‘Mom, that was so good.’ That means I’ve done something right,” she said. “I love the way food brings people together and the ritual of food and spending time with people I love.”
Melissa Gilbert book signing
1 p.m. Sunday
Full Circle Bookstore
1900 Northwest Expressway
Gilbert’s memories of Oklahoma City
In 1975, Little House on the Prairie won Best Fictional Television Drama at the Western Heritage Awards, an annual awards ceremony held by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. It was Gilbert’s first visit to Oklahoma. She was 11 years old.
“I remember that Oklahoma greatly resembled parts of California, where we filmed the show, and that the people were so very nice,” she said.
In 1998, Gilbert was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for her work in Little House on the Prairie and Little House on the Prairie: The Musical Tour.
Other inductees include Gene Autry and Oklahomans Reba McEntire and James Garner.
In 2009, while touring with the musical, she visited the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and fell in love with glassblower Dale Chihuly’s work.
“I had never seen anything like Chihuly before, and by the end of the tour, I was in the gift shop, buying every last piece,” she said.
While visiting OKC shortly after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Gilbert befriended Kathy Sanders, an Oklahoma woman who lost her two grandsons that day. Sanders became a vocal activist and advocate for those affected by the bombing. Gilbert and Sanders became lifelong friends, and Gilbert has been working to tell her story. She hopes to portray Sanders in a film about Sanders’ investigation of the bombing but might also direct the biopic.
Print headline: Prairie kitchen; Melissa Gilbert has come a long way from Little House on the Prairie and has even published a new cookbook.