Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Laura Ingalls Wilder
How many of us have read the Little House Series of Books that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote? Or maybe you haven't read the books but you watched the TV series with Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert. I have read the Little house series many times and always loved the pioneer spirit of Laura's family. Most importantly I liked how the family supported each other in their trials and tribulations and how they accepted bad times and kept moving forward undaunted.
If you haven't read the series yet I suggest that you do. The period of time that these books were written about was pre-electric, pre-auto and pre-tractor era. They took what they could fit on a covered wagon and started from scratch each time they moved. Pa Ingalls built his houses with what was handy which was sod or logs and stone. Ma made their home as safe and tidy as was humanly possible. She washed their clothes and ironed them with whatever water was at hand from a creek, river, well or spring. She had their quilts and feather pillows and muslin ticking to stuff with dry grass to sleep on. She always had her red checked table cloth and one little figurine that was always with them and placed on a fireplace when she had one. Pa would build the furniture for the family. He would take some hand split planks and place one end against the log walls and fastened it and would make two legs from branches or small trees for the other end. The seating was thick logs sawn smooth on both ends to be used for stools. Simple but effective. The red checked tablecloth would be a crowning touch to the table. They had only enough enameled tin plates for everyone to have one and enough cups for everyone except at one time they were one cup short and so Mary and Laura shared a cup. Mr. Edwards brought Mary and Laura a shiny new tin cup for Christmas when Santa Claus couldn't make it to their Little House on the Prairie because of the snow! He also brought sweet potatoes and candy! How would your children today feel it they only got a tin cup and a sweet potato and a piece of candy? We are so spoiled today that we would have a hard time living as simply as they did then.
Ma would make meals with nothing more than some corn meal, flour, salt, and salt pork and if they were lucky some dried beans. They usually had a few chickens and would have some eggs and they did have a milk cow which they could get milk from for about 9 months of the year. How many ways could you fix meals with those ingredients before your family would rebel? Pa would go hunting and bring back jack rabbits and prairie hens most of the time. If they were near a creek that was big enough or a river or lake they might have fish to fry. After settling into a freshly built cabin Ma would plant a kitchen garden and would grow vegetables and herbs so I assume they brought a few seeds with them on their wagon.
I can't imagine waiting for 7 to 9 months for some fresh vegetables to serve my family and fruits were rare unless they found some wild blackberries or some other wild fruit or berries.
Pa made the rest of the furniture for their home as well. He made beds from hand hewn planks to get them off the floor and the only storage they had other than a few trunks or a kitchen box were shelves he made and pegs to hang their clothes on.
Clothing was usually 2 everyday dresses and one good dress for Ma but she would have 5 or 6 aprons so that she could keep her calicos clean and the girls had similar wardrobes for themselves and I believe they wore pinafore aprons to keep their cloths clean. Pa had 2 pairs of work pants, 2 work shirts, and one pair of pants in good shape with a calico or solid color shirt for special occasions. Men mostly wore suspenders instead of belts. Everyone was lucky if they had a pair of shoes. The girls and even Ma would be barefoot in warm weather to spare their shoes from damage. Pa wore his work boots to work in and would wear the same boots to special events like Church or a funeral or wedding after cleaning them up.
My family went to Mansfield, MO for our Vacation last month and visited Laura and Almonzo's farm they named Rocky Ridge Farm where they lived after leaving the Dakota's. I was fascinated by their little farmhouse. Laura wrote all the Little House books in this house in her 60's. They were her memories from childhood and the "Farmer Boy" book was Almonzo's memories from his childhood. His childhood was mostly about all the food that his mother cooked and served on their New York State prosperous farm. They had almost any food available to them that you could think of except for maybe citrus fruit. I think that after becoming a pioneer and living with the bare necessities of life and little variation in foods on the prairie when he was trying to prove up his homesteads he fixated on food in his memory while relating them to Laura for her to write his story. I know Laura took advantage of the foods that she could grow in Missouri to their full extent. She made lots of fruit pies, cobblers and used grapes and apples and peaches to their full potential. Some of Almonzo's favorite foods were fried apples and onions and Swiss Steak. Laura probably spoiled him food wise when they got settled into their home in Mansfield.
Laura and Almonzo became very active in their community and entertained on the grounds of their home very often. Smaller groups were entertained in their home around their dining room table or in their parlor in front of their stone fireplace.
Laura cooked on her wood cook stove most of her life. Rose bought her a small electric stove but Laura hated it and returned to cooking on her wood stove. Laura later in life after her books became popular she found that people wanted to meet her and she entertained many of her fans with tea and a sweet of some sort or if they had traveled a great distance she would invite them to dinner even if it was just eggs, ham, and biscuits for a country supper. Laura had learned that hospitality was the true way to be a gentle woman and a good Christian. Laura was always active and her neighbors said she always would be dressed in her best even when taking her eggs to the general store. She would be wearing her hat, gloves and her parasol and would walk with a very straight and good posture. The ladies in town would love to see the most fashionable egg lady on her walks to town. The farm house was about a mile from the town and that was a short walk in those days. Now we complain if we can't get a parking space right in front of the store.
The farm was kept up beautifully. Laura and Almonzo absolutely loved their animals and took great care of them. Laura even made friends with some of the wild turtles on their land. She would place saucers of milk and bread out and they became so used to it that they would come up to her backdoor the same time everyday to eat their food that she gave them. She always had dogs, cows, chickens and horses. The horses were mostly Morgan's and Almonzo really loved them. Laura's chickens would lay more eggs than anyone else's and she was asked to write articles for the agricultural magazine/newsletters about how she got her chickens to lay so well. She wrote that she kept the hen house immaculate and sunny and treated them so well that they were very contented and secure. They just laid their eggs to thank her if you ask me.
I think we could all take a lot from the way that Laura and Almonzo lived their lives, ran their homesteads and took care of the things God gave them. I have a great admiration for the pioneers in my own family and by reading The Little House Books I have a glimpse into the way they lived in Illinois in the 1850's and Iowa in the 1860's, in the Dakotas in the 1870's and in Montana in the 1870's through the 1930's.
I have people who were farmers, leather workers, printers, and miners. They all worked very hard to accomplish what they needed to for living a life in the pioneer times. We need to start trying out the things that the pioneers did if we can. We can all make homemade breads, rolls, muffins, cornbread, and biscuits. Try it for a month and see if you can do enough without having to buy more than flour, yeast, shortening, cornmeal, and baking powder and salt. That would be a great stride forward for all of us to accomplish. Secondly would be to learn to garden and can our produce. If you can't grow a garden then go buy bushels of fresh produce and learn to prepare and can it for your future. I have found that I really hate commercially canned vegetables now after trying my own home canned foods in comparison. Home canned vegetables have nothing in them except for what you add. Mostly I just add salt and water. Sometimes I will make some spiced carrots or dilled string beans but mostly I make plain vegetables with just salt. Next look at your wardrobe and figure out a way to simplify it so your laundry day won't be so much trouble for you. Try making yourself a dozen simple aprons. Overalls are a good thing to wear while working on the garden or with the animals. One good waterproof pair of boots would be excellent for working with the animals and garden clogs might be good for working on your garden unless you have a lot of snakes around. Then you should work in heavy leather or rubber boots to protect yourself from unwanted snakebites. If you have long hair then learn to braid your hair and pin it up while working with the animals. You might want to wear a scarf or hat to protect your hair and keep the hay and dust out of your hair. You won't be washing your hair everyday when you have to bring your water from a spring or well and heat it up on the wood stove. Around the house when cooking you might want to wear a housedress especially in the summer with aprons. If you have solar or wind power you may want to place a fan in the sunny side of the house facing out and place another fan in the shady side of the house facing in. This will keep the air moving and make your life more bearable. Also cover the windows in the sunny side of the house with dark curtains to keep your house cooler. If it seems unbearably hot still then keep sprayer bottles around with water in them to spritz your face and arms to cool down. Rest in the hottest part of the day. The idea of Siesta in Mexico was just because of the unbearable heat so near the equator. Start your work at daybreak and be finished by 1 p.m. and then work again in the evening until sunset. Also plan a summer kitchen. You won't want to cook in the house with no AC so cook out of doors in the morning and evening. You could get a solar oven in the summer as well to keep the heat out of your house. If you must cook then just do it on a grill or on a rocket stove or propane burner etc. Try Thermal cooking methods like Thermos cooking or hay box thermal cooking. It will preserve your fuel and still cook your food beautifully. In the winter you do the opposite. You cook indoors on your wood stove or fireplace. If you have a propane burner you can cook indoors on that as well. Since many cook stoves are propane it should be just fine as long as you have enough ventilation.
Try the different cooking methods and make sure you know how to use them to accomplish your goal of having good cooked foods for your family.
Think about everything that you may have to do different if there is no electricity and you are trying to maintain a homestead, urban or rural, and try doing the things now to familiarize yourself with those things and you will find the things you will need to accomplish tasks in the pioneer way. Clotheslines, oil lamps, K-1 kerosene for your lamps, wash tub and scrub board. Cooking methods you will have will be up to your circumstances and preference but try them out before you have to use them.
Try living the pioneer life for a weekend and see how it feels and what you are missing in your preps.
God Bless you and your preparations and keep trying to complete them as you can.