Posts Tagged ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge’

Cooking through Farmer Boy

March 5th, 2015

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.

Dreaming of Springtime

February 18th, 2015

I’ve always considered February one of my least favorite months. The days are still short, the winter has dragged on long, and generally February’s a pretty dingy month – if there’s snow on the ground (in Lincoln or in Wichita), it’s covered with a layer of grimy salt and road waste.

So as I’ve been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, I’ve been reveling in Wilder’s description of springtime from chapter 11.

“Bess and Beauty stepped out willingly, not too fast, yet fast enough to harrow well. They liked to work in the springtime, after the long winter of standing in their stalls.”

That’s EXACTLY how I feel when springtime rolls around and I can get out into my garden. I have a hard time remembering to care for my garden regularly in the summer, and hate to tear it all up in the fall – but after a winter of indoor work, I’m more than ready to get out and plant.

“There was no time to lose, no time to waste in rest or play. The life of the earth comes up with a rush in the springtime. All the wild seeds of weed and thistle, the sprouts of vine and bush and tree are trying to take the fields. Farmers must fight them with harrow and plow and hoe; they must plant the good seeds quickly.

Almanzo was a little soldier in this great battle.”

I love the metaphor here, love how true these paragraphs are, love how they remind me of the parable of the sower sowing good seed.

This year, though, this passage reminds me of springtime of our lives and the great trust that parents are given of sowing seed and cultivating little hearts. It’s easy to be complacent, to assume that children will learn what we want them to learn, that they’ll establish good habits, that there’ll be plenty of time to teach them tomorrow. But the best time to plant a seed and kill a weed is springtime. And the best time to communicate the gospel and establish good habits is early in life.

Which is why I am resolving to be a little soldier in this great battle – and to establish my own habits now, while Tirzah Mae is tiny. Now is the perfect time to get into the habit of speaking the gospel to my daughter, the perfect time to steep us both in Scripture songs, the perfect time to live a visibly Christian life around my home.

Because the life of the earth comes up with a rush in the springtime. And I want the life that grows in my daughter to be a good planting.

“Almanzo asked [Alice] if she didn’t want to be a boy. She said yes, she did. Then she said no, she didn’t.

‘Boys aren’t pretty like girls, and they can’t wear ribbons.’

‘I don’t care how pretty I be,’ Almanzo said. ‘And I wouldn’t wear ribbons anyhow.’

‘Well, I like to make butter and I like to patch quilts. And cook, and sew, and spin. Boys can’t do that. But even if I be a girl, I can drop potatoes and sow carrots and drive horses as well as you can.'”

Okay, this one isn’t exactly about springtime – but it’s in the chapter about springtime. I agree with Alice – I’m awfully glad to be a girl!

I’m reading Farmer Boy as part of Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

2015 Reading Challenges

January 2nd, 2015

While I’m not setting grandiose plans for 2015, I do hope to participate once again in some of the book-related challenges and book clubs available in this neck of the internet – and I hope to participate with my church’s in-real-life book club as well.

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge To kick the year off, I’ll be joining with Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading challenge – rereading one of the Anne books (I’m not sure which) and possibly making another Anne outfit for “Black Anne”, my American girl doll (named thus because I happen to own Addy, the original black American girl doll). I also may or may not find and read a book about Lucy Maud from my local library. It’s certainly not too late to participate yourself – check out Carrie’s opening post at Reading to Know.

Reading to Know - Book Club Participation in the L.M. Montgomery challenge happily doubles as participation in the RTK Classics bookclub – a monthly classics book club that participants are welcome to jump into for as many or as few months as they choose. We’re going with relatively short books this year, since most of the participants are busy moms. I hope to participate as often as possible – and will be hosting the November reading of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (I’ve started reading already – but you’ll be welcome to read only a few tales if you want to, so consider joining in at least for my month :-P). To see the complete list of reading selections for 2015, check out this introductory post.

The other challenge I know I’ll be wanting to participate in this year is Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder reading challenge in February. I plan to read Farmer Boy and to make as many Farmer Boy inspired recipes as possible! Learn more about Barbara’s challenge here.

Apart from those, I’m laying low – except, of course, that I continue my ongoing quest to read every book in my local library (except the ones I don’t read.) I haven’t tallied my numbers or blogged progress recently, but I’m definitely still going strong!

Are you participating in some reading challenges this year? I’d love to hear which ones. Are you not participating in any reading challenges this year? Consider joining one of the above.

The Prairie, Revisited

March 4th, 2014

Someday, I’m going to be a pioneer. I’ll travel in a covered wagon, settle on an empty prairie, build a log cabin with timber cut from the creek bed. I’ll cut notches in the logs and carefully set notch upon notch, climbing the corners of the cabin to build it higher and higher.

It’s been a dream of mine since my earliest days, those days when I first read Little House on the Prairie.

But while I’ve been able to accomplish some of the childhood dreams elicited by books, I have not accomplished this particular one-and likely never will.

The closest I’ll get will be building Lincoln log houses with children.

And that’s okay.

I was struck, rereading Little House on the Prairie for the first time in several years, with how much of the book is focused on the mechanics of building a home from scratch–but also much I missed of the rest of the book.

I never caught, on my early readings, just how tenuous the Ingalls’ resettlement was. Pa heard a rumor that Indian territory would be opening for settlement, so he uprooted his family and moved in. Despite there being plenty of non-Indian land around, Pa settled within an Indian reservation–knowing that it was an Indian reservation. He considered it to be just a matter of time before the Indians would be resettled. That’s what happens when white men move forward, he assumed; the Indians move on to make place for them. And of course the US government would back up the white settlers who were squatting on Indian land. Of course.

It’s astonishing to think. How can someone (who isn’t desperate) know that the land they’re living on belongs to someone else but yet still choose to build upon it in hopes that they’ll come out on top in the end?

In some ways, Pa seems so advanced in his views of Indians. He didn’t hate them or fear them, he tended towards the “noble savage” viewpoint (which I definitely had as a child, at least in part obtained from the Little House books). Yet his attitude in settlement was almost like many would treat wild animals. Yes, suburban sprawl will impact the native animal population, but people are more important than animals and the animals will move to other places and adapt.

It’s challenging, revisiting the prairie through these new eyes.

My view of Little House on the Prairie has also changed now that I am married and have moved from being near my family to be with my husband. In the months leading up to our marriage, Daniel and I talked of various directions our life could take-of different educational and professional routes Daniel could take, of different places we might end up living. I blithely told Daniel that I would follow him anywhere.

And it’s true. I will follow him anywhere.

But, having moved once to follow him, my determination to follow him anywhere has much more fear attached.

The move to Wichita has not been easy for me. I battled a depression over this past year that was more severe than any I have battled before. I am now finally, one year out, starting to find my balance. The thought of uprooting again terrifies me.

I can’t help but think of Caroline Ingalls as I read Little House on the Prairie. I imagine how hard it must have been for her, leaving her family and “civilization”, spending months without anyone to talk to but her husband and their children, just starting to establish a home when news comes that you must move again.

I wonder if she felt more sorrow or more relief when it became clear that they must not stay, that they would need to backtrack, that they would return to Wisconsin. Was she sorrowful because of the year lost, the work done and left for others to enjoy? Or was she elated to be returning back to her family, to the little house they once loved? And what was she thinking when Pa’s wanderlust struck again later (when they left for the banks of Plum Creek)?

It’s interesting, revisiting old places and seeing them through older, more mature eyes.

I wondered at the beginning of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge if I wouldn’t try to make something from Little House on the Prairie, like I did with Little House in the Big Woods a couple years ago. I didn’t. The closest I got was creating some log cabin quilt blocks for a quilt for a soon expected nephew and building log cabins with Lincoln logs with the kids of some friends from church.

I don’t regret that I didn’t do more–this year’s challenge was thought provoking enough that I didn’t need the extra activities.

I read this title as a part of Barbara H’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge and the Reading to Know Classics Book Club. You can check out what other people have been reading at Barbara’s challenge wrap up post and the RTK wrap-up post.

Challenges in various stages of completion

February 3rd, 2014

L. M. Montgomery Reading ChallengeNow that it’s February, it’s time to write a wrap up post for this year’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge. This year, I read only one book: The Blue Castle, which was also this month’s selection for the Reading to Know Classics Bookclub.

That would have been all I did for the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, except that I took some time Saturday (I know, not in January at all) to stitch up another article of clothing for Anne’s wardrobe.

For those of you who’ve been following me for a while, you may remember the plain dress Marilla made Anne to replace her yellow-gray wincey (that was a cross between the snuffy-colored gingham and the black and white checked sateen) and the carpet bag with the funky handle (okay, I didn’t replicate that part.)

But now, Anne’s wardrobe has a third piece: the yellow-gray “skimpy” wincey. (Note the too shortness of the hem and sleeves as well as how tight the skirt and sleeves are. The goal was to have no superfluous fabric–did I succeed?)

This marks the end of Anne’s pitiful wardrobe–so the next piece will either have to be THE dress with the puffed sleeves or an outfit from after that wonderful gift. Yay! (Both exciting and scary since I’ll actually have to do some real pattern drafting to add tucks and shirrs and doo-dads for those fancy dresses.)

To see what others have been reading and doing for the challenge this past month, check out the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge at Reading to Know.


In addition to the L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, I have been trying to sneak in at least one book for the Armchair Cybils, which will be finishing up in the middle of February. Amy wrote a fantastic review of Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire–and that title just happened to be both a Cybils finalist AND in my local library system.

I’ve been devouring it. It is SO good. Rose is an American pilot who’s in the British Air Transport Auxillary, transporting planes from factory to field and back–until she finds herself landing in enemy territory and is taken to the Ravensbruck work camp where she meets a whole host of other interesting female prisoners.

One particularly interesting note for me was the early mention of (even obsession with) the German V1 “buzz bomb”. When my parents came down to Wichita to visit us last fall, we went to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson–which has an enormous museum on the history of space. The first room included a V1 buzz bomb and gave a history of it–which made reading about it in a novel all the more fun.

I’m planning to be able to finish it up and review it by the time the Cybils winners are announced on Valentine’s Day–but it’s good enough already that you might as well put it on your watch list :-)


Finally, I’m going to be participating in Barbara H’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge this month. I plan on reading Little House on the Prairie (also this month’s selection for the Reading to Know Book club) as well as a number of biographies of Laura (as many as I can manage of the half dozen or so that I checked out of my local library).

The last time I participated, I made butter a la Ma from Little House in the Big Woods–and I’m eager to see what I can come up with to work on from the Prairie (When I was little, I wanted to build a log house like Pa and Laura did, but the closest I ever got was Lincoln Logs. I think it’s likely that’ll still be the closest I get after this month :-P)


So those are the reading challenges I’m participating in this month (or finished from last month.) Are you participating in any challenges this year? What are they?

Laura Ingalls Wilder Wrap-Up

February 29th, 2012

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading ChallengeI’ve been so busy blogging Cybils reviews this month, it seems I’ve completely ignored Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

But things aren’t always as they seem, and I’ve been having a blast immersing myself in The Little House in the Big Woods.

Re-reading Little House, I am struck again by how much I identified with Laura as a girl–and how much I still identify with her. On a superficial level, Laura is the second child and I’m the second child. She has brown hair–and so do I. Her older sister is blonde–so is mine. She’s a daddy’s girl–and so am I.

But two scenes are particularly poignant, then and now, reminding me of the ways Laura and I are alike.

When Laura and Mary went to town, Laura filled her pocket with the beautiful smooth stones she’d found by the shores of Lake Pepin. When Pa swung her into the wagon, her pocket, overtaxed with the burden Laura’s exuberant collecting had placed on it, tore right off her dress. Laura cried.

“Nothing like that ever happened to Mary. Mary was a good little girl who always kept her dress clean and neat and minded her manners. Mary had lovely golden curls, and her candy heart had a poem on it.

Mary looked very good and sweet, unrumpled and clean, sitting on the board beside Laura. Laura did not think it was fair.”

How many times have I found myself in a similar situation, I wonder? Wanting to grasp everything life has to offer, collecting experiences and projects and activities like a little girl collecting rocks, only to find out that I’ve overfilled my pockets and wrecked my dress. Then, of course, like Laura, I look with envy at the less ambitious of my siblings, the ones with intact dresses and only one hobby. I think it unfair that I am the way I am and they the way they are.

The second story also deals with sibling rivalry a bit. Laura slapped Mary one day, and Pa punished Laura with a whipping. Once the whipping was over, Laura sat in her chair and sulked. Laura writes: “The only thing in the whole world to be glad about was that Mary had to fill the chip pan all by herself.” Even after Pa mollified Laura’s feeling of inferiority about her (uglier than Mary’s?) hair, Laura is still glad that Mary had to gather all the chips.

That is me, all the way through to the core of original sin. Sulking when I’ve done wrong and gotten punished. Full of my own inferiority (or superiority, depending on the day). Spitefully glad when someone who hurt me (in however small a matter) has to pay.

It’s not a pretty sight, but it’s reality. Me, a full-grown woman, still often acting the part of a five-year-old girl.

Of course, Little House in the Big Woods did inspire more than just reflections on original sin–I also took the opportunity to do some Little House inspired activities.

I made butter and pancake men, rolled my hair in ragless rag curls, and sang “Old Grimes is Dead” (sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”, of course).

You can browse through a full album of my LIW-inspired activities by clicking on the picture below link above.

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And don’t forget to visit Barbara to see what everyone else has done this month.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: Visiting the Old Familiar

February 1st, 2012

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading ChallengeFollowing directly on the heels of Carrie’s L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge, it’s time to kick off Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge.

The first books that I remember reading independently were Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. I remember passing our blue covered paperbacks back and forth through the thin shaft of light that crept in through the cracked bedroom door after light’s out, dying to see what would happen next–or eager to savor again what I knew was coming.

My favorite books were Farmer Boy and The Long WinterFarmer Boy for its put-an-ache-in-your-belly descriptions of food and its detailed depictions of day-to-day, mostly-self-sufficient farming; The Long Winter for its tale of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Farmer Boy was probably responsible for my early-teen obsession with back-to-the-land homesteading—an interest that had me checking endless 1970s tomes out of my local library. I studied animal husbandry, gardening, small farm machinery, candlemaking, soap making, fabric weaving. I was ecstatic when my high school organic chemistry class had me dyeing wool with homemade herb-based dyes—just like in Farmer Boy.

One of my favorite games during the height of my “Little House” passion was taken from the title of the first chapter of The Long Winter. “Make hay while the sun shines,” I would proclaim as I hurriedly raked the lawn and bundled up leaves.

Pa and Laura said those words in jest, never knowing how prophetic they would be. I did my personal haying in full awareness of the long winter that was coming.

I dreamed of my full larder being salvation for a needy family, just as Almanzo Wilder’s seed wheat provided food for the starving Ingalls family.

But just because Farmer Boy and The Long Winter were my favorite books didn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the others or draw useful bits from each. No, the whole series would come to color my activities, dreams, and plans.

This month, I plan to read through at least Little House in the Big Woods (if not a couple more of the series), sharing my childhood remembrances and my current day realizations as I read. And I plan on doing something from the book.

If I have lists of every item mentioned in the “Anne” books (which I do), I also have lists of every “skill” mentioned in the “Little House” books. Buttermaking. Pig Butchering. Rifle Loading. Onion braiding. Cheesemaking. Jack-frost-picture-playing. If it happened in the Little House books, I have it on my list–and I’ve wanted to do it for practically forever.

I’m not sure which of the many options I’ll take this month. Will I make molasses candy in a frypan of fresh-fallen snow? Will I make butter and color it orange with a carrot? Will I try whittling a whatnot like Pa did? Maybe I’ll make a rag doll or a needle book. Maybe I’ll have my sister-out-law teach me how to play the fiddle. I don’t know–but I’m eager to find out during this Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge!

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