Little House Cookbook: Review

reading challengeOne 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?

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories

How about The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories?

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.

Little House molasses snow candyThanks 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.

Little House pancake menPancake 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 🙂

Little House Cookbook Graham BreadI 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.

Little House Birds' Nest PuddingBirds’ 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.

Laura Ingalls Wilder little house braceletOh, 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.


7 thoughts on “Little House Cookbook: Review

  1. Bread and dripping or even LARD sandwiches were a staple until te 40s in poor homes. My Dad remembered being the only kid who DIDN’T bring bread and lard for lunch!!! Blech….. I LOVE the bracelet! Where did yo get that?

  2. This brought back memories of watching women in the bush in Africa preparing meals. You rarely saw little girls there playing. Instead, they were helping their mothers either by caring for their younger sibling(s) or helping to prepare the meal. Meal preparation for the African women where I worked was an aerobic exercise. First they had to carry the wood for the fire to their outside kitchen, often carrying it for kilometers from a field. Then it had to be chopped into small enough pieces and a fire started, often requiring the woman to go to a neighbor’s home to get some glolowing embers. Next, she had to go down to the well, and carry 2-3 basins of water back home. The basins were so heavy they were often almost impossible for her to get them on her head unaided, but once she did so, she could carry the weight long distances without help. Then she picked up a pestal, made from the branch of a tree, and pounded the grain in a mortar for many minutes, approximately 20-30. Then she had to clean the rice, prepare the ingredients for the sauce, etc. African families often ate after dark because that’s when the meal was finally ready. No wonder so many of us Americans are overweight. Our physical exertion does not match our caloric intake.

  3. I so enjoyed reading about your experiences! I have the cookbook and enjoyed reading bits of it but have not yet actually tried anything from it. I was struck by reading in the series by just how much time was spent in cooking and baking. It’s no wonder most women were stayed home after they married – there would not have been time to do anything else, and no frozen entrees or drive-thrus for quick meals. I get frustrated by how much time meals take now, but it would seem luxurious to Ma Ingalls.

    One thing I didn’t mention in my Farmer Boy review was how much they ate – Almanzo, at least, had heaps of food and then three slices of pie for dessert. But even as a child he worked hard physically, so I guess he worked it off. Still, you have to wonder how much lard and such contributed to the lower life expectancy then.

    Thanks for participating in the LIW challenge!

  4. First off I remember my mother saying, “How much more time we’d have if we did not have to eat.”
    I remember at the Walnut Street Go Getters’ one Christmas meeting at our home, Penny Jacobus was our guest speaker. She is totally enamored by Little House On the Prairie and did a program on the Wilders. For food, we served a Little House recipe. I think maybe it was heart shaped cookies or a type of bread. We wrapped them individually in blue tissue paper, as the Wilders had done.
    Susan I cannot remember if you attended or had moved on with your life by then. I think that was the year I made each 4-H member little sunbonnet tree ornaments.

  5. Wow! That food looks super duper yummy!! I’ll have to try making the Birds nest pudding sometime:-)

  6. I know I’ve looked at the Little House Cookbook before, but I’m not sure I’ve made anything out of it either (referencing Barbara’s comment). I do know that I made a modified snow candy using butter and brown sugar melted together–it’s basically the syrup used in sticky rolls, and I’ve always favored the buttery sweet flavor over molasses.

    I laughed a little at your comments about health and the difference between modern sensibilities and so on. I’m a dietitian, and I primarily use lard and butter in baking (with canola oil and olive oil as my liquid oils for cooking and salads.) While we (in this modern age) need to limit our fat intake due to our (mostly sedentary) lifestyles; fat was a very efficient way for our forebearers to get the energy they needed to sustain their highly active lives. Additionally, in an earlier day, where the grease was coming from wild or pasture-raised animals, the Omega-3 fatty acid profile of the fat would have been much higher, adding some cardio protection to counterbalance the saturated fat. It’s amazing how even just a century has changed things.

  7. Wow, I admire your fortitude, trying all those recipes! I too was fascinated by the series, and I convinces my mom we should try Laura’s molasses on snow. It just sank through the snow.
    We never tried anything else. I recall being stunned at Laura’s description of butchering time – kind of a strange way to begin a book! I’m surprised anyone read on after that. When I started reading the books with my son, I edited that part out LOL!

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