One of the fun things I’ve done this month is participate in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge, hosted by Barbara at Stray Thoughts. I really enjoy Laura’s writings, but my dilemma this year was that I’ve read all the Little House books at least three times, and I think I’ve pretty much read all of her daughter Rose’s books too, as well as many books about Laura. What was left?
This is a cookbook that’s more than a cookbook. The author goes into detail about each recipe, with quotes from the book it was mentioned in, and also relevant information about cooking at the time.
Some notes as I read:
- Even though I feel like I spend a lot of time cooking now, it’s nothing compared to Laura’s days. Caroline Ingalls and her pioneer sisters would have had little time for “finding themselves” or hobbies when one realizes the huge amount of time it took to prepare food and keep their houses clean.
- Hunting their own meat was a stark reminder of how close we all are to the food we eat. There’s a recipe for blackbird pie, calling for “12 starlings, plucked and dressed.” I passed on this one. There’s also a lengthy description of how to roast a suckling pig, with the note “It is still worth doing.” We then read to “draw the head and back feet together with the butcher’s string and tie it… at the table, start carving by cutting off the pig’s head.” Wow. That would certainly change the tone of a meal.
- I learned a few tips I hadn’t known, for instance, “old” potatoes are better for mashing than fresher ones, because they have a more mealy texture.
- Several things kind of, pardon the expression, grossed me out. Drippings (fat from butchering animals) was often used as butter on bread. I’m even pretty repulsed by butter, so that thought of pure animal fat on bread was not appealing to me.
- I made several recipes from the book. I’ll admit that it was a bit of a chore to find some we’d eat, with the pioneer reliance on animal products of all kinds and many ingredients deemed unhealthy today for our modern (and far less active) culture. It got to the point that when I’d announce, “This is from the Little House Cookbook,” my husband would cast a suspicious eye and ask, “Has it got lard in it?” Let’s face it, when we picture the Ingalls family around the table, we usually envision them smiling over dishes of steamed turnips, or perhaps happily chewing on a fried pig’s tail. What tasted good to them is not what might taste good to us.
Thanks to the feet and feet of snow we have gotten this winter, it was easy to bring in a few pans to make Molasses-on-Snow Candy. It was interesting to boil the molasses mixture to the correct temperature, and then pour it onto snow. Then, you just pick up the hardened pieces and eat it. Hmmmm. We each tried a small bit, but I hate to admit most of this ended up in the trash. I suppose you have to be a pioneer to think that a mixture of molasses and brown sugar constitutes candy. We have been spoiled by Hershey’s, I fear.
Pancake Men were much more of a hit. This recipe did taste pretty much indistinguishable from a “regular” pancake recipe. They did contain half whole-wheat flour, but I would do that anyway. Note that Ma did not use chocolate chips in hers 🙂
I cheated a little on Graham Bread, using the ingredients as listed but letting my bread machine do the work. It was okay, but pretty heavy compared to the normal bread I make. Two-thirds of the flour used is wheat. This, plus more of that pioneer favorite, molasses, combine to make this a dark, heavy bread.
Birds’ Nest Pudding isn’t what I’d call pudding at all, but more like an apple crisp. It consisted of making a dish of peeled/chopped apples covered with a custard-type mix of eggs, milk, and spices. Bake it, then flip each serving over so the apples lie in the “nest.” The comments I heard included, “Regular apple crisp is better!” and “Does this have eggs in it?” Nevertheless, I thought this was pretty good.
Will I cook and bake from this cookbook on a regular basis? Probably not. But I enjoyed, and recommend, at least browsing through it for a closer look at the lives of pioneer women and the eating habits of those days, which are quite different from our own.
Oh, and one other thing: check out this bracelet. It features a model of each “Little House” Laura lived in, plus Almanzo’s childhood home in New York. My sister visited Rocky Ridge Farm last year and got it for me. Pretty neat, huh?
Head over to Barbara’s if you’d like to see what others have read about Laura this month.