A long time ago I wrote a post for Snapdragons about pioneer food that I had made, inspired by the Little House books. My conclusion was that it wasn’t very tasty, but would probably be more so after mucking out a dozen stables and milking some cows in the middle of the winter.
That, plus our penchant for back-to-the-earth food TV like River Cottage and the Hairy Bikers Food Tour of Britain, has led me to pay more attention to the food in my subsequent readings of the Little House books (and I think there have been two). I began to notice that Farmer Boy is enjoyable largely because of the descriptions of Almanzo’s dinners and breakfasts and snacks… and that Laura’s stories describe a meager and monotonous diet.
The last time I read through the Little House books, my copy of Farmer Boy finally fell apart. I received a boxed set of paperback editions of these books as a birthday present twenty-five years ago and have read them all at least once a year since, so it was no surprise that the books were old and tattered. My darling Sparks, who pays attention to these things, bought me a beautiful hard copy of Farmer Boy for Christmas, and I am happily burying myself in it right now. I have decided that, though Little House in the Big Woods is a competitor (because I like the books that explain how and when things were done), Farmer Boy is my favorite… and that is because, unlike the books about Laura, which are simplified and sanitized re-tellings of her own childhood, Farmer Boy is a fantasy. A fantasy about feather beds and stability and warm clothes and food, food, food, food, food–quantities of it, qualities of it, and many many different kinds of it. Did the Wilder family really have ham, baked beans, bread, butter, cheese, pickles, preserves, potatoes, turnips, carrots, AND three kinds of pie for supper every evening, then promptly settle down to unlimited quantities of popcorn, cider, and apples? Probably no, but it’s so nice to read about.
Sparks, who is a clever boy and knows me well, also bought me a copy of The Little House Cookbook, which attempts to create recipes for the food mentioned in Laura’s books that are achievable in a modern kitchen. That, too, is a great read (and I plowed through it before I started Farmer Boy, which is why I’m writing this post on January 1 instead of December 25). All of my questions about salt-rising bread and saleratus are answered there. In fact, because the Pioneer Food post is consistently the most-read post on Snapdragons every single day, I think my blog traffic would suffer should I mention there that, oh, there’s a book that answers all these questions, mystery solved 😉
In other reading news, I got a WiFi Kindle for Christmas and promptly downloaded everything free I could find by Forster, Burnett, Montgomery, Austen and Graham Greene. There’s a wealth of free stuff out there… it’s fantastic.