Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Little House Cookbook

Amazon, in one of their slightly unsettling moments of knowing more about me than I'd like them to, has correctly deduced that two of my favourite activities are reading Little House books and cooking. In what must be something of a triumph for them, they have come up with the ultimate book for me and emailed me forthwith, with the happy news that I can now purchase, 'Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories'.

All set and ready to bake!
I've got to admit, I'm tempted. What a marvellous way to indulge my inner 1880s pioneer woman! With this book propped open on the kitchen counter, I could make Johnny Cake, Vanity Cakes and churn my own butter. Mind you, I'm not really sure you need a book for all of this: the books themselves are so detailed that by the end of one slim volume, anyone with a mind to it and a ready supply of logs, bear grease, old button and a candle wick could easily build themselves a cabin and construct a button lamp. There is a minutely detailed account of how to make butter, how to fry salt pork in an iron spider and how to use every last bit of a recently slaughtered pig. On second thoughts, I'm not so sure this recipe book is such a good idea. It's not the pig I'm worried about, it's more that a true Little House Cookbook would involve recipes nobody much would want to make.
Blizzard raging from October 'til May? Nearly all your wheat supplies used up? Game either hunted to extinction or frozen under eight feet of snow? Family racked by cabin fever and malnutrition? Worry no more! Try our recipe for 'coffee grinder wheat'. That's right: use your coffee grinder to make flour, using the last of your seed wheat. The work is exhausting, largely unproductive and you've run out of leavening anyway, but follow our simple instructions and you may just save your family from starvation!

It's hard work!
Trust me, I've been on the Dakota prairies and ground wheat in a coffee grinder and it is thankless work! Oh, all right, I was just trying it at a visitor centre and doing a bit of re-enacting. And it was hot and sunny. But I've tried it, right? And it was hard work! And that's the thing, all these tie-in products and experiences give us a taste of life on the frontier, but it's a fleeting glimpse, not the real thing. I don't think I'd want the real thing, to be honest (note the hint of indecision there!). Year after year of ruined harvest, debt, isolation, hardship, near-starvation... it all sounds a bit much. That's the thing with being drawn to the past, isn't it? On the one hand, you can tap into the strangely satisfying yearning for a different, less complicated time. On the other, you'd probably be lying if you thought the lack of plumbing, heating or enough food to eat was really an option. One Amazon reviewer inadvertently has a go at summing it up, thus:

I was so annoyed I had to take a pen and cross over all the -homogenized- in basically every single recipe that included milk. The author even uses homogenized milk when making butter, which is utterly ridiculous because you cannot separate the fat from the milk and thus make butter if you use homogenized milk...

And further more, the first homogenizing machine was patented in 1899, and therefore homogenized milk isn't applicable on traditional cooking in the 1800s.

That's right, K. Norsetdt: ridiculous! I hate it when 'homogenized' takes over a cookbook and you're so darned right about the first homogenising machine (at least I assume you are - I can't be doing with verifying that). There was no homogenized milk on the prairies in the 1880s (to be fair, once the cow got malnutrition too, there was no milk of any kind and l can tell you're not one to split hairs). You know what else? There was no darned Amazon, either! Stick that in your purist's cup of milk and homogenise it!
You see, folks, you can't have it all. You can buy the Little House Cookbook (and I still might - Ma's instructions for vanity cakes were awfully vague and I can't hold a proper Plum Creek party without them now, can I?) and hope to rekindle a little of that way of life, but you can't replicate it entirely.
Not also available in Bronte.
Right, well I'm off now to 'pill a putatuh,' in the style of the Bronte's household servant. Wait - no - I don't think they had Good Grips peelers back then! Bother it! I'll have to think of something else to do now. Perhaps I'll read this blog instead and wish I'd thought of that.
Small print (because I know Nancy likes this bit): I know you're not supposed to start a sentence with 'and' or 'but'. But sometimes I want to. Also, the lovely picture of the ingredients came from the blog linked to above. I have no idea if the milk in the picture is homogenised.