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Senior Contributor

'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

heartcakes.jpgI wanted to share the latest entry for my cooking blog on our sister, site, Living the Country Life:

 

Lisa's Kitchen: 'Little House' heart cakes

 

Before Christmas, my middle son, Luke, checked out the first "Little House" book by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I read them a chapter a night. We fell in love with the Ingalls family. We've read two of the books now and plan on reading them all. I actually can't believe I never read them before, as much as I loved the show growing up. 

 

Anyway, Luke came home from the school library the other day with a "Little House" cookbook, which he checked out for me. How sweet is that? Well, the book is fascinating ... it talks about how pioneer women had to cook and preserve food, and has several recipes from the stories, including the heart cakes Laura & Mary got in their stockings one Christmas. We read that chapter on Christmas Eve and wondered what the hear cakes would be like. Now we know!

 

The whole thing has really got me thinking about pioneer living ... it's amazing how blessed we are today with so many modern conveniences. Can you imagine? What do you think would have been the most challenging thing about life in the "old days"?

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Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

Lisa, there is a whole genre' of books about homemaking in earlier eras.  I got on a reading jag of these some years ago, probably when I started taking those historic preservation technology courses.  I ended up with several books that have historical recpies and food preservation either as their sole subject matter, or as interesting additions to the overall cultural accounts. 

One I enjoyed was a freebie that came with our local paper subscription one year...Tobacco Country Cooking or something like that.  It showed me that what we ate in our childhood years was pretty much what our people had eaten since colonial times...and no one was fat then! 

I also like a Civil War cookbook I've had for ages.  A really good book on foods of our nation is Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky.  It is a collection of excerpts from a nationwide project of the WPA, which employed writers in the Great Depression.  You really can see how America's palate had been homogenized since TV and cheap transportation.  I wonder if people would return to eating that way if gas continues to rise so drastically in price...but, I doubt it. 

I can think of maybe twenty different cookbooks on my shelf, right off the top of my head, that are as much history as nutrition.  There are all sorts of good titles for you to explore, and I wish you and the gang good eating on the journey. 

Senior Contributor

Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

I have often wondered how a farm wife got everything done in those days. I would think the water and having hot water for washing dishes and laundry would have been the most challenging. Also having enough food before the next year's garden was ready. Can you imagine how welcome the wild greens would be after a long winter?

My mother told the stories of her family coming home from church on Sunday and killing and dressing and frying chicken for Sunday dinner, many times for company.

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Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

I posted about a book I am enjoying right now: A Revolution Down on the Farm: The Transformation of American Agriculture Since 1929.: The author decided to document changes in rural agriculture and its impacts on our lives in the span of his lifetime.  It is a good read I will recommend to you folks, too. 

This pretty much encompasses the shift from true horsepower to the present technologies...and as he says, ag in 1930 had more in common with 1830 than with 1960.  I would say that observation is spot-on in terms of domestic life inside the farmhouse, too. 

When we bought the wood cookstove two winters ago, I started doing a lot of this retrospective reading, and that was about the time I started taking the historic preservation classses, too.  When you take several weekends to spend time learning how old houses worked, it makes you realize how our ancestors lived...often very hard, brutish lives.  They lacked the pace pressure we experience today, though.  Everything that is an advance comes with a tradeoff, I suppose. 

Preserving food in refrigerators and especially freezers was a huge change...no need to pickle, salt and smoke foods, or dry them in the sun anymore.  I remember drying grapes on old windowscreens with my Grammar.  I use her recipe for baking them into fruitcakes for Christmas...first step: "Wash your raisins." 

Hog killings were scary and primal, and the only lock on the farm in those years was the one on the smokehouse door.  Protein and fat was survival then.  Gathering eggs was a part of every day for me as a little girl, and my children did it, too. 

 

I never had pizza until I was about a high school senior.  Started eating some Chinese and Mexican until in my thirties.  Japanese steakhouse dinners in my forties.  We just did not eat out growing up, and in retrospect, I really do not think our nutritional health improved much when it changed and got more "sophisticated."  If we wanted to eat bread, someone had to bake it first. 

I think it had to be most difficult to have to watch children succumb to diseases we can prevent or control with vaccinations now.  I for one would have died in birthing my first child, as many women did back then.  The survival of women and children is probably the greatest accomplishment of our society's advances, compared to the rest of our history. 

One last observation:  Most households back then were multi-generational, from my own recollections and what family members told me about.  Single women woud have never lived alone, and often a young couple moved in with one set of parents, usually his.  Caring for elderly family members, which is a big focus for a lot of us, was simply a matter of them fading away in the family's home...staying independent was not really a consideration, since everyone was interdependent. 

No one needed daycare, since the whole family was there, and children were more or less expected to exist on the peripheries of daily chores and customs.  No one hauled a child to a different afterschool activity every afternnon, for sure.  You had chores, and maybe mid-week church or choir practice. 

I am sort of looking forward to our society returning to some of these and other standards.  Would love to think that when my grands do arrive, they will hang out here while their moms are busy.  Writing this, I remember playing with spools on Grammar's chenille bedspread, learning the names of flowers in her small, fenced garden...I think that is where I learned to love Bachelor's Button blue.   

Few farmwomen did it all alone...they had extended family and a batch of kids with chores to help them.  Here in the South, there was a whole culture of tenant farmers and their families to help with a lot of chores, too. 

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Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

We are definitely spoiled today. There are many aspects of "pioneer living" that appeal to me, but like you said, Kay, I'm so thankful for the medicine and medical advancements we have today. It's heartbreaking to think about how parents "back in the day" just knew they'd probably have to bury some of their children. I can't imagine.

 

One of the "dream trips" I want to take when our kids are a little older is a wagon-train trip. Of course it won't be completely authentic, and we'll know that at the end of the journey there will be a hotel waiting for us, but I think it would be fun and a great lesson to spend a few days roughing it pioneer-style. We won't have to worry about planting crops or digging a well or anything like that, but I still think it would be fun for the boys.

 

Where I grew up in South Dakota, there are still homesteads standing, and you can really get a feel for what the homesteaders' lives must have been like. I have always loved exploring those areas ... except for the rattlesnakes, of course, LOL.

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Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

I have this title and have read the beginning parts of the book...will get back to it after taxes:

http://www.amazon.com/See-You-Hundred-Years-Discover/dp/0385342683/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1297359772...

It is set in the Shenandoah Valley if I recall right, and your comment about  rattlesnakes struck a familiar note:  The author takes his young family to this rough setting, and the first foreboding sign is a snake he sees coiled  in one barn window. 

The inherent message is that as idyllic as past, simpler times seem, we forget that they carried dangers of their own.  My childhood felt secure, but in retrospect, I was hauled into the middle of nowhere on a schoolbus during the Cuban Missile Crisis, learned to "duck and cover" in case the Ruskies dropped The Bomb, and was lucky enough that polio vaccine was developed before I caught it, as many my age and just slightly older did do. 

I wonder how much people of earlier eras looked back with nostalgia...I think every generation does this, especially so when times are harder than normal for our lifetimes.  We look back more wistfully when the future appears murky, maybe not so promising. 

I can tell you this much:  Your boys will never forget the stories you read them, and those few ingredients in those simple heart cakes will build a priceless memory in recollections of their own childhood experiences.  I feel so sorry for kids whose parents don't get this...and so happy for your boys that you do. 

Senior Contributor

Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

Kay, I think more than one generation is now living together thanks to the housing crisis. Most households had a hired girl to help out with the house chores too. 

I remember how happy my parents were to be able to get a home freezer. It was an IH brand and lasted thirty five years or more. Before that they rented freezer space in town. One of my favorites from that time was canned blackberries. Can you imagine how many wild blackberries needed to be picked to have enought to can?

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Senior Contributor

Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

There were trips like you mentioned in western Nebraska when I was a child. If you go on a wagon ride, you'll be thankful for the suspension system of today's cars. With all the budget cutbacks, many of the yesteryear experience events may be curtailed. Someplace close to Iowa to start would be the Lewis and Clark Centers teaching what was really out here before the homesteading. Plenty of monuments from the trails crossing this state, including gravesites of youth and elderly.

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Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

In the 1940s, my great grandfather died. After that, my DGF wanted to move the two younger girls and his MIL to town and live on that farm. He wanted to work the land. The two ladies and their mother resisted and stayed on that farm until the last one died, nearly 40 years later. Given their treatment, my DGF didn't get to rent the land, went to a neighbor instead. These ladies took care of dairy, chickens, hogs, and sheep, including the males. One bull had foot rot and had to have his foot soaked in medicine twice a day according to the vet. The two gals could get him into a stanchion and put his foot in the pail every day until it healed. They were independent before their time.

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Re: 'Little House' heart cakes & pioneer living

Yes! My boys are FASCINATED with Lewis & Clark. We live in SC Iowa, but about 1/2 hour from my husband's hometown in SW IA (Nebraska City, NE), there's a wonderful Lewis & Clark Center right on the Missouri River. We love going over there and going through all of the exhibits and then hiking through the trails right by the river. It's a great place to visit. 

 

We got to go to my old stomping grounds in NW SD last fall for a wedding, and went to one of my favorite places in the world ... an old homestead on a river where we used to go fishing. My uncle's family owns the land, and the homestead still stands. Can't really go in and explore like we'd like because of rattlesnakes, but just seeing it again was great. Now that we've read the Little House books, I know seeing stuff like that will mean a whole lot more to them.

 

Kay, thanks for the kind words ... I'm trying to keep it simple for my boys and keep them little as long as possible!

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