Little House on the Prairie gets all the fame, but if you want to read a great story about eating locally, seasonally, and ecologically, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder is a must-read.
My son and I have been enjoying reading this series (his first chapter books!) together, and I have to tell you: even though I taught Little House in the Big Woods to third graders for two years, I am discovering some parts strike me in a totally new way. Now I understand exactly what Ma is doing when she renders lard, for example.
As we worked through “Big Woods” I was having conversations in my head with all of you each time a traditional food or way of preparation came up. It was such fun to read about how it was really done 150 years ago! Just for kicks, I thought I’d share with you all the food gems you’ll find:
- An entire year’s worth of life, including lots of detailed descriptions of completely seasonal food.
- Seasonal vegetables galore, including preserving the harvest for the winter, an absolute necessity!
- Deer and pig meat in the fall, then “no fresh meat” for the spring and summer (to let the animals fatten up).
- Using the WHOLE pig: rendering lard, head cheese with the brain, making sausage from the scraps, roasting and eating the tail, making a balloon from the bladder.
- Making lots of butter from the cow’s cream…and I just LOVED the way they talked about the yellow cream from the good grass in the summer and how Ma colored the butter with carrot juice in the winter, so it would be pretty. No artificial colorings there!
- Maple syrup and maple sugar in the spring. They ate their fill, then saved it for later to be used sparingly, and as nearly the only sweetener. Pa also found a bee’s nest tree and brought home lots of raw honey! The “store sugar” was the white stuff, and it was very expensive and just for company, as was white flour in Little House on the Prairie.
- Cheese-making in the summer when the milk was plentiful. They skimmed the cream to make butter, but not all of it. Pa told a story about Old Man Grimes, whose wife skimmed all the cream, and he was so thin drinking her whey that he blew away in a strong storm. They understood the value of good fats!
- Their “food to go” when they took their one excursion to town included: bread and butter, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and cookies. I wish we in our culture had some concept of such simple meals. We have no tolerance to eat for subsistence, but it seems every meal must have some extravagance, spice, or tantalizing sweetness.
- Always fried food in a bit of lard, never butter.
- When they harvested the grain in the fall, they had to make very sure that the oats didn’t get wet at all. I couldn’t help but take note of that after this discussion on biblically prepared grains.
- I wish there would have been more talk of the bread baking. I couldn’t tell if they used yeast or sourdough, but Laura often described the bread in a meal as “salt-rising bread.” Anyone know what that was? They also often made corn cakes with cornmeal, water and salt (only?). I have no idea if the corn was treated for that, but…
- The process by which Ma made “hulled corn” at harvest time is one of the more complicated in the entire book:
- Burnt hardwood and saved the ashes.
- Shelled the corn off its cobs.
- Put corn and ashes into a big kettle of water and boiled it for a long time,until the corn began to swell and the skins split open.
- Dipped the corn into cold water, rubbing and scrubbing until the hulls came off and floated on top of the water.
- Changed the water and repeated, over and over, until all the hulls were washed away.
- Stored the “soft, white kernels in a big jar in the pantry.” They ate hulled corn with maple syrup for breakfast, fried in pork drippings or with milk. AND Ma never got a drop of water on her dress. (I would never fit in, thank you very much.)
- What is hulled corn? Did they dry the corn then, or can it? Was it served warm with milk, or was this like the precedent to boxed cereal? I’m fascinated!
I find myself nostalgic for a simplicity I never knew, a time when a pair of homemade mittens and one candy stick were an exciting, filled stocking at Christmas, and getting a new doll was really something extra special, beyond expectation, even for that holiday.
I wish Laura and Mary’s mother and father had written a book called “How we Trained our Children to be so Loving Even Though they had no Other Children to Learn from” and I think daily of a meal the girls are served on the prairie as they take a covered wagon out west: a piece of leftover cornbread with molasses. My kids would say, “That’s IT?! One thing?” And then they would say, “This is yucky,” about the molasses. Laura said there “was nothing more she could want,” she was so happy.
How life has changed in the last 150 years!
And in the Present…
With those X thousand processed food items on the grocery store shelves and all the conflicting research and opinions surrounding food, eating has become more complicated than ever, from farm to table.
We have such gadgetry.
For example: Verizon let me test out their Droid, one of those incredibly cool phones that lets you do everything with the touch of a finger on a screen.
While my children have enjoyed “Poke-a-Mole”, a “Whack-a-Mole” game in miniature, I searched the apps for kitchen and food shortcuts. I could organize my recipes in countless different ways, download and sort coupons, and count everything from fat to calories and beyond. However. I find over and over that as a Real Food practitioner, much of what the world offers in the field of food and nutrition just isn’t a good fit for me. (Side note: I had a conversation about fat with the nutritionist for the Grand Rapids Public Schools last night. I felt totally inadequate, but at least she’s recently gotten rid of the margarine!)
I found one really fitting app called “What Additives?” that could coach me right in the store how to decipher the long words on the sides of packaged foods. I brainstormed a few other helpful “real food” apps for food shopping that don’t exist yet. We’re an untapped niche!
- The Dirty Dozen – find which produce you should buy organic
- Safe fish list – I have a pocket guide in my purse, but it failed me today when ocean perch and Norwegian haddock weren’t on any list
- Farmer’s Market Organizer – compare prices per pound at various farmers’ stands; use GPS to remember where your favorites are and the best deals. Compare with grocery store choices.
- Fermented foods calendar – what do you need to feed when?
What “Real Food” apps do you think the Droid or iPhone should develop to support real shopping and eating?
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And a fun note: one of the first carnivals I remember writing a specific post for that fit perfectly was Heavenly Homemakers Little Green Project. I shared how I save green buying green with reduced produce section tips. Laura is running it again – link up anything about saving green, eating greens, going green, your green thumb, or green crafts. This year I chose to highlight an old, old post, but one of the pillars of Kitchen Stewardship: God’s call to us to take care of the environment. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Disclosure: I was not expected to write about the Droid, even though Verizon let me test drive it for a while. They had no strings attached; I am just fascinated by it!