This week’s topic for the “I Remember Laura” blog-a-thon is family recipes. Laura was such a descriptive writer that any time she wrote about a meal or a special dish, it simply made my mouth water. Later I came to appreciate the utter simplicity of the meals that “Ma and the girls” served to family and guests alike.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the Little House books describing the make-do attitude and gratefulness that is such a prevalent theme in the stories of the Ingalls family:
Ma put the crust in the pie pan and covered the bottom with brown sugar and spices. Then she filled the crust with thin slices of the green pumpkin. She poured half a cup of vinegar over them, put a small piece of butter on top, and laid the top crust over all.
“There,” she said, when she had finished crimping the edges.
“I didn’t know you could,” Carrie breathed, looking wide-eyed at the pie.
“Well, I don’t know yet,” said Ma. She slipped the pie into the oven and shut the door on it. “But the only way to find out is to try. By dinnertime we’ll know.”
…Pa pushed back his empty plate and Ma gave Laura a look that said, “Now!” Smiles spread over all their faces but Pa’s. Carrie wriggled in her chair and Grace bounced on Ma’s lap, while Laura set down the pie.
For an instant Pa did not see it. Then he said, “Pie!”
His surprise was even greater than they had expected. Grace and Carrie and even Laura laughed out loud.
“Caroline, however did you manage to make a pie?” Pa exclaimed. “What kind of pie is it?”
“Taste it and see!” said Ma. She cut a piece and put it on his plate.
Pa cut off the point with his fork and put it in his mouth. “Apple pie! Where in the world did you get apples?”
Carrie could keep still no longer. She almost shouted, “It’s pumpkin! Ma made it out of green pumpkin!”
Pa took another small bite and tasted it carefully. “I’d never have guessed it,” he said. “Ma always could beat the nation cooking.”
–The Long Winter
The day was ending in perfect satisfaction. They were all there together. All the work, except the supper dishes, was done until tomorrow. They were all enjoying the good bread and butter, fried potatoes, cottage cheese, and lettuce leaves sprinkled with vinegar and sugar.
–Little Town on the Prairie
You know Laura grew up to be a farm wife, but did you know that she was also a journalist for many years before she wrote the Little House books? I’ve been reading some of her earlier writing recently. Here is a portion of an article from A Little House Reader that she wrote about taking in summer boarders.
If you have some spare rooms in your house by all means fill them with summer boarders and try marketing some of your surplus farm products that way. Get help in the kitchen if you can but if not, put out the washing, buy the bread and make the work light in every way you can.
Do not try to give them their meals in city style. They have come to the country for the sake of living the country life for awhile. Your common every-day things will be treats to them. Newly laid eggs, thick sweet cream, new milk, fresh buttermilk and butter, the fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden, are things nearly impossible to get in the city.
These things cost next to nothing on the farm and with the addition of some of the frying chickens are nearly all that is needed to make a delightful bill of fare for the summer. Everything necessary for the most delicious salads is ready at hand and they are not difficult to make although this is a dish too often neglected in the country.
The using of the things raised on the farm, many of which would otherwise go to waste or be sold at small price, is where the profit will be made and it will also give the greatest satisfaction to the summer visitors.
The first time I took summer boarders a couple of my friends began at the same time. I followed this idea of using home products and made a good profit from the start, doing better as I learned from experience. My friends could make no profit and even lost money.
The difference was that they bought fancy meats and canned goods. If they planned a salad they made a fruit salad of pineapple, bananas, oranges, etc., while I went to the garden where I gathered tender lettuce, whcih arranged on pretty places with a hard boiled egg cut in half to show the golden center and a little ball of cottage cheese made a beautiful and tasty salad. The dressing for the salads I made myself of homemade cider vinegar, mustard, sugar, an egg, with pepper and salt. When my friends prepared a dessert it was some expensive pudding or pastry while I served fresh berries, peaches or other fruit with sugar and cream.
The result was that while I made money they lost it and the humor of the situation was that their boarders wanted to leave them and come to me.
By using home products in this way, combining with a spirit of hospitality, a little taking of thought and some extra steps you can receive in return at least $5 a week and often more for each person entertained, and full half of this will be profit.
–“Summer Boarders”, A Little House Reader
Well, my family never took in summer boarders… (somehow we never seemed to manage to have “spare rooms”) …and we didn’t always have a garden. Or chickens. Or a cow. But neither did we have expensive or fancy food. Yet my mother always graciously served whatever we had “with a spirit of hospitality [and] a little taking of thought and some extra steps” to family and guests alike.
Isn’t that the way it should be?
P.S. I chose to talk about meal-planning and hospitality in this post, rather than specific family recipes. But that’s not because we don’t have family recipes. We do! Lots of them! I have actually published 2 large cookbooks full. Volume 1 is out of print, but Volume 2 is still available here.