Cooking through Farmer Boy

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 at 10:58 am

When I first became obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, Farmer Boy and The Long Winter were tied for first place in my affections.

The Long Winter appealed to my love for stories telling of survival in the midst of adversity. Farmer Boy appealed to my love for food.

Whose mouth does not water as they read the description of those stacked pancakes, piled high with butter and maple sugar? Who does not long to be beside Almanzo, silently eating the sizzling ham, the stewed pumpkin, the mashed potatoes and gravy? And the pie, oh that pie!

I dreamed of the pies, of the ice cream, of the pound cake and taffy. I delighted in the descriptions of the familiar and wished to try the unfamiliar – Rye’n’Injun bread, apples’n’onions, wintergreen berries. Oh, how I wanted to try those.

Knowing that Farmer Boy was the next book in my re-reading of the series for Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge, I determined to cook up some of those toothsome meals.

Now, neither Daniel nor I are 19th century farmers and our calorie needs are significantly less than those of the Wilder family. Furthermore, Laura’s descriptions of the meals are often regarded to be hyperbolic, reflecting more food than even a well-off family like the Wilders would have at a typical meal. So I didn’t at all feel bad about paring the meals down to a more manageable size for our purposes.

We had fried ham, stewed squash (in lieu of stewed pumpkin), and mashed parsnips for our first meals – and then I read through chapter 2 again and discovered that it was mashed turnips they had rather than parsnips. Oh well, the parsnips were good – and I was reminded how much I like them.

We made twisted doughnuts (using the recipe in The Little House Cookbook) with lots of powdered sugar on top – and I decided that I liked the twisted technique even if it didn’t flip itself like Mother Wilder’s did. I think I’d like to try the technique again, only with a yeast dough (I prefer raised doughnuts in general.)

With our friend Ruth, we made stacked pancakes (with maple syrup instead of maple sugar), sausage patties in gravy, and apple turnovers.

I used the leftover pastry from the apple turnovers to make a pumpkin-pecan pie, which we ate with more ham and fried potatoes and apples’n’onions. I decided that apples’n’onions are amazing and I should cook them all the time (except that my husband only moderately likes them, so I should just cook them occasionally.)

I made baked beans using Mother Wilder’s technique – take boiled beans (I used Great Northern Beans), add salt pork (I used fatty bits left on the bone I’d boiled the beans with) and onions and green peppers, pour scrolls of molasses over top and bake at a low temperature for a long time. Daniel’s not usually a big fan of baked beans, but he actually liked these fairly well, especially after adding a bit of garlic powder and cayenne pepper. I’ll be using this as a jumping-off point to try to come up with a recipe he’ll really like for everyday use. With the baked beans, I served rye’n’injun bread (made using the recipe in The Little House Cookbook). I really enjoyed the flavor of rye and cornmeal together, but the bread ended up dry and dense (probably because of long cooking time at low temperature and not quite enough steam in my oven.) The next time I make cornbread, I’m going to try using my regular recipe but substituting rye flour for the wheat flour to make a modern-day Rye’n’Injun bread.

Finally, after the month was over, I got around to making roast beef and mashed potatoes with pan gravy, boiled turnips, and boiled carrots. I know I’ve had turnips before, but I was pleasantly surprised at the horseradishy flavor they have, and resolved to find more to do with turnips.

All in all, I ended up making some of the more mundane recipes from the book, holding off on all the pies and cakes and ice cream and taffy. And I discovered just how delicious meat and potatoes can be (and how many vegetables I forget exist.) Mother Wilder didn’t have fresh greens all through the winter, didn’t even have canned green beans or fruits. She had apples, onions, potatoes, turnips, carrots, and squash – but she used them again and again throughout the winter to provide her family with surprisingly fruit and vegetable heavy meals. I’m encouraged that I can do the same, using these root vegetables to round out my usual go-to frozen vegetables or fresh salads.

In addition to cooking from Farmer Boy, I did actually read it – and made some comments on the chapter on Springtime.


Head over to the wrap-up post for Barbara’s challenge to see what others have been reading, and what they’ve said about it.

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Reader Comments (5):

  1. Jeremy Calcara says:

    That sounds really good. I’m currently reading through Farmer Boy with Jonah and James and I do find myself getting pretty hungry as I read.

  2. Barbara H. says:

    Sounds like quite the adventure! I don’t think I’ve ever had parsnips nor turnips. I’ve tried imagining how apples ‘n onions would taste together – they don’t seem like they’d “go” together, but I should probably try them and find out.

  3. Barbara H. says:

    Just wanted to let you know you won my drawing for the LIW reading challenge! I just sent you an email about it to the address I have for you – if you don’t receive it, let me know at barbarah06 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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