Sunday, July 19, 2009

Little House/ Pioneer Dinner


I've always wanted to do a book review for dinner. We just finished The Little House in the Big Woods. Briz read the chapters just before bed. Pa came alive in Briz because he knew and understood love for the woods, for making your own way and the magic of watching deer and fawns gaze trustingly at you. My children fell in love with Laura and Mary just as I did many years ago as I lay in my pink checkered bed at dusk and listened to my mother's magical voice bring the little house alive.

In addition, we are celebrating Pioneer Day this week. July 24 is the day the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, so besides parades and the like, our book review dinner will be an added piece in our celebration/ search for appreciation and understanding.

If you are not hungry when you begin the Little House Books, you certainly will be when you finish. Johny Cakes sizzle on the fire, bread carries Ma's signature hand print, cheese and butter production is described in detail, as is roasting the pig tail. Though I've never thought I wanted a pig's tail, I do while I read these books. In short, it is a perfect book to review during dinner.

Little Mother sat down to put on a video. "Sweetie, I thought we'd play a little game this evening and pretend we were pioneers like Laura and Mary. Would you like to play with me? Great. Then they didn't have DVD s did they. What would they be doing right now? Helping mom with dinner? Excellent. Come over here and we'll learn together how to do new things."

We started the cheese. Then she tried the pioneer secret of holding bread in her mouth while chopping onions. While I continued with some "boring stuff", she outfitted Sunshine and herself as best she could. She set the table with pie tins, tin cups, wild flowers, and our pioneer courting candle.
The meal was surprisingly good. Everyone polished their plates. We tried buttermilk with our meal. Some liked it but most only took a couple of swallows. After dinner we made maple candy, the children did dances and performed songs for us and we played games around the table. Sunshine wants to be a pioneer because she could go on hikes all the time. Little Mother isn't quite so sure the wants to be a pioneer. Pizza is still a better option for her.

The Recipes:

"They all hurried to the kitchen for plates, and outdoors to fill the plates with snow. ..She and the other Laura, and all the other children, scooped up clean snow with their plates. Then they went back into the crowded kitchen. Grandma stood by the brass kettle and with the big wooden spoon she poured hot syrup on each plate of snow. It cooled into soft candy, and as fast as it cooled they ate it. They could eat all they wanted for maple sugar never hurt anybody."

Maple Candy


  • 2 cups pure maple syrup

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • saucepan (non-stick works best)

  • candy thermometer recommended


  1. Cook syrup until it begins to boil, stirring frequently.

  2. Continue boil until it reaches 233°F on the candy thermometer.

  3. Remove from heat and cool for approximately 60-70 minutes, or until the temperature on the candy thermometer reads about 110°F

  4. Add the vanilla extract and heat until smooth and fluffy.

  5. Shape this mixture into small patties, or while still warm you can pour onto pans of clean snow as Laura did. If you have no snow, you can blend ice cubes until they are crushed, then place crushed cubes into a pan before pouring the maple candy. You can also use candy molds.

  6. Maple candy must be stored in airtight containers to prevent the candy from drying out.

From Little House in the Big Woods

"What would you like best to eat?" They talked about spareribs, and turkey with dressing, and baked beans, and crackling cornbread, and other good things. But Almanzo said that what he liked most in the world was fried apples 'n 'onions. When at last, they went into dinner there on the table was a big dish of them! Mother knew what he liked best, and she had cooked it for him. Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples 'n' onions fried together." - Farmer Boy pg. 73

Apples 'N' Onions

Servings: 6


  • 1/2 lb bacon or salt pork

  • 2 lb yellow onions (about 6)

  • 2 lb tart apples, chopped (about 6)

  • 2 tbsp brown sugar


Fry bacon slices in 12-inch skillet until brown and crisp. Set aside on a warm serving platter. While meat is frying, peel onions, leaving stems to hold for slicing. To prevent your eyes from watering, hold a slice of bread in your teeth while you slice the onions as thin as possible.

Core apples and cut crosswise in circles about 1/4-inch thick. Apple skins help the slices hold their shape and add color to the dish, so don’t peel unless skins are tough or scarred.

Drain all but 1 Tbsp fat from skillet, then add onion slices. Cook over medium-high heat about 3minutes.

Cover with apple slices in an even layer. Sprinkle brown sugar over all, cover skillet, and cook until tender, a few minutes more. Stir only to prevent scorching. Remove to warm plate with bacon slices.

"When the milk was heated enough, Ma squeezed eery drop of water from the rennet in the cloth, and then she poured the water into the milk. She stirred it well and left it in a warm place by the stove. In a little while it thickened into a smooth quivery mass. ..Ma cut it into little squares and let it stand while the curd separated from the whey. Then she poured it all into a cloth and let the thin, yellowish whey drain out." - Little House in the Big Woods pg. 188

Easy White Cheese:
Great for breading and frying, stir-frying with vegetables, or by itself, this mild cheese will keep refrigerated for one week.

1 gallon milk
2 T. lemon juice
3 T. white vinegar
3 teaspoons chives

1 teaspoon dill weed

Pour milk into a large pot. Slowly bring the temperature up to 180F. This may take an hour. Stir frequently to prevent scorching, and hold the temperature at 180F for four minutes. Combine vinegar and lemon juice and add to the milk, stirring gently, until the curds separate form the whey. Line a colander with cheesecloth, and pour the contents of the pot. Tie the corners of the cheese cloth together to form a bag and let it hang to drain for three hours. The cheese will be solid when its ready. Place in bowl and salt to taste. Wrap and refrigerate. Yield: one pound. Variation: Herbed Easy White Cheese -- Add chives and dill to the curds before hanging.

Johnny Cakes were a staple of the Ingall's family as for many of that time period. The are mentioned particularly in On the Banks of Plum Creek. A Johnny cake is cornbread that could be made on a hoe. Originally called Journey Cakes for their ability to travel, the name was shortened to Johnny Cakes.

I found this recipe from 1796:

Scald 1 pint of milk and put 3 pints of Indian meal, and half pint of flower -- bake before the fire. Or scald with milk two thirds of the Indian meal, or wet two thirds with boiling water, add salt, molasses and shortening, work up with cold water pretty stiff, and bake as above.

Joseph Smith's Johnny Cakes

3 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons molasses

3 cups buttermilk

2 eggs – well beaten

Sift the dry ingredients, slowly stir in molasses and buttermilk and mix well. Add the eggs and beat hard for 2 minutes. Pour into shallow well greased pans and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Eat with butter and honey.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of my favorite posts so far!
    The little house definately left its mark on me.