A Day in the Life of a Pioneer

Dear Courtney,

I used to be an English teacher, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I love books.  My list of favorites is long and shifts with my mood, but without a doubt, the most loved books of my whole life are the Little House on the Prairie series.  As I kid I  literally read two sets to shreds.  Long before I could read the stories myself, my mom would read them to me, and then I would steal off and make up my own stories to go with the pictures.  For years I played the violin, an instrument I selected solely because Pa played a fiddle.  Laura and her family, the time period, captured my imagination and my heart.

So it seemed only natural that I would share Laura with my own daughter, that the Little House books would be the first chapter books Bugaboo heard.   We read the first one, and Bug was hooked!  Like me, 30 years ago, Bugaboo became lost in a world of bonnets, big skies, waving prairie grasses, and covered wagons.  But even more than that, she became fascinated with the food.  I didn’t remember from my childhood reading, but the books are FILLED with food descriptions.   Every time Bug and I read about turnips mashed with cream, bread slathered with butter, beans sticky with molasses, she beged to make the dish, so finally I  agreed to a “Mary and Laura Day” (so named by Bug).  Bug made a list of foods she most wanted to try, and I did the research on how to make them.

Of course the food she MOST wanted to try was sourdough biscuits– a problem because making them requires something called a sourdough starter (a live yeast culture) which I didn’t have or know how to make.  After several failed attempts to capture the culture myself, I put out an APB for one and was gifted a 100 year old starter,  first established during the gold rush in Alaska!  It seemed liked fate!

I had the starter.  Bug had her list of foods.  We were ready to get started.  We made plans to cook Sunday, and all week Bug talked about it.  That morning she woke me with the sun by whispering in my ear, “Get up Mommy; it’s Mary and Laura day!  It’s time to make the butter!”  Damn, I thought, this is how it really was!  Waking with the sun to make the butter!

In my opinion, making the butter was the best part of the day!  I knew we could make it with a blender or a mixer, but I wanted Bug to experience how much work went into even the littlest details of pioneer life, so we decided to make it by hand.  Someone suggested we use a mason jar and make the butter by shaking it, but letting a not quite 5 year old shake a glass jar over tile floors didn’t seem like a great idea, so we improvised and used an old thermos.

We used room temperature cream, and the butter came together pretty quickly.  Plus we ended up with enough buttermilk for pancakes! BONUS!  We used cookie cutters to mold the butter.

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Then it was time to make breakfast.  In the books Laura and her family always seem to have fried salt pork and sourdough biscuits, so that’s what we had too!  I warn you, this day was full of fried foods and animal fats!  It was not for the weak of heart! (Cheesy pun fully intended).   I did notice, however, that all that fat kept us very full, so we were able to keep our portions small!

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Bugaboo loved mixing (and eating) the biscuits, but she did not like the salt pork!

Lunch (dinner) was homemade baked beans, fried potatoes and strawberries.  I didn’t have a recipe for the beans, so I used the book’s description and winged it.   I used one can of white beans and drizzled in a bit of real maple syrup and molasses;  it didn’t take much, and they were delish!  Oh, yea, and salt pork.  Everything is made with salt pork!

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Finally, for supper we had mashed turnips, apples and onions, and  fresh sourdough bread with homemade butter.  The apples and onions were Bug’s favorite dish of the day; she had three helpings!

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 I was surprised to find Bugaboo and GuyGuy really liked the turnips.  The bread was amazing.  We ate it hot from the oven with fresh butter!  So. Good.

We just finished reading The Long Winter and much of this menu was inspired by that book.   As the title implies the story is primarily told across the winter, so there was little by way of fresh food.   As a result our meals weren’t very balanced, but for what they lacked nutritionally the more than made up for with education.  Bug had a great time, felt closer to the books, and at the end of it said, “Making food was a lot of work for Laura.  I think I’m glad we can go to Safeway!”

Me too Bug, me too!


2 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a Pioneer

  1. Gale says:

    I loved those books as a kid. My mom even made me a Laura Doll, with yarn hair and everything (just like Laura’s doll). How fun to try and eat like a Pioneer for a day.

    I’ve made butter by shaking before at girl scout camp. We all had little baggies we shook while we took a hike, and at the end had some butter for our bread. 🙂 At our VBS this year (where we recreate Biblical settings–this year was the Isrealites in the wilderness) they did butter too. It’s BIG staple for bedoins (butter, yogurt, cheese…anything you can make from goats milk) and probably was for the Isrealites too. So fun!

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