Book Recommendation – The Birchbark House Series

Author: Louise Erdrich

Through each of her Little House books, Laura paints a comprehensive and incredibly detailed picture of pioneer life, making readers all over the world feel like they are living it along with her. However, Laura’s experiences only make up half of the frontier story. For readers interested in the experiences of the Native Americans living on the prairie, there is a series similar to Laura’s in its scope and descriptive powers. The Birchbark House series tells the story of Omakayas, an Ojibwa girl living in the southern Ontario Lakes region. Omakayas, which means “Little Frog”, grows up with an adoptive family on Madeline Island. She lives the life of a typical 7-year-old, and readers who delight in Laura’s descriptions of everyday pioneer chores will find much to love as they watch Omakayas learn to cook, tan moose hides, and pick berries. Omakayas experiences her own frontier journey, moving further and further west escaping smallpox epidemics, encroachment by white settlers, and many other dangers and difficulties before finally settling on the plains of Dakota Territory. There are five books in this series, following Omakayas and her family as they grow and travel. If you’re looking for a new series about the American West to devour, The Birchbark House should be first on your list.

Advertisements

Pioneer Cooking: Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar

Over the summer me and the other intern, Molly, decided that it would be fun to try out some of the original pioneer recipes from, The Little House Cookbook. Hopefully our attempts of making pioneer food will make you want to try some of the recipes yourself!

20403494_1508600489162734_554314275_n

We decided to start with an easy recipe- Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar. This recipe can be found on page 112 of The Little House Cookbook. Laura writes about this recipe in her book, Little Town on the Prairie:

“The day was ending with perfect satisfaction. They were all there together. All the work, except the super dishes, was done until tomorrow. They were all enjoying good bread and butter, fried potatoes, cottage cheese, and lettuce leaves with vinegar and sugar.” (34)

The ingredients needed for this recipe are simple and fairly self-explanatory: lettuce, vinegar, and sugar. Now lettuce is vague term, as today there are many types of lettuce. We know that Ma would not have used iceberg lettuce as it was not invented until the early 1900’s. Instead the lettuce she used would have been leafy, like something she would have grown on the homestead. If you have garden lettuce use that, but if you don’t happen to have a prairie garden on hand you can use romaine lettuce like we did. As for sugar and vinegar, use whatever kind you have at your house. Today the closet vinegar would be apple cider vinegar as pioneers often  made their own using peels and cores of apples. To make your own vinegar like Ma, there is a recipe in The Little House Cookbook on page 131. However, if you do not have the time or emotional investment to make homemade vinegar you can just get some from the store. As for the kind of sugar they would have used, it would have either been white or brown sugar, whatever kind they had at the time. The recipe does not specify which kind to use, so you can use either kind. In our case, we used brown sugar.

Once you have all the ingredients you can begin making your Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar.

  1.  Rinse the lettuce leaves and pat them dry with towels.20370344_1508600559162727_955177754_n
  2.  Put your vinegar in a cruet or a bowl if you’re not fancy enough to have a cruet.
  3.  Put your sugar in a bowl.
  4.  Take a leaf of lettuce and sprinkle vinegar on top.20371022_1508600412496075_33814977_n
  5.  Take some sugar and sprinkle it on top of your lettuce and vinegar.
  6.  Roll up your lettuce leaf and eat it like “a celery stalk.”lettuce and vinegar

If you turned your nose up at this recipe because of the seemingly odd combination of ingredients, you will be pleasantly surprised. Molly and I were shocked as to how good it tasted together. We were not sure what to expect, but it is definitely a good way to make a lettuce snack more exciting and is very easy to make!20292168_1508600312496085_1055735604_n

Nellie Oleson: Myth or History?

After hearing in our last post that Doc Baker and the Garvey family are characters completely original to the Little House TV series, you were probably glad to hear that at least Laura’s nemesis in the TV show, Nellie Oleson, and the rest of the Oleson family came from the books.

However, it turns out that not everything the TV show tells us about the Olesons comes from the books. In addition, not everything that we think we know about the Nellie Oleson of the books is true to history.

#11 Nels and Harriet Oleson

owens

A photo of the real Nellie and her family. Nellie stands in the center of the photo.

In the TV show, Harriet is Nellie’s mother. From season one and on, Harriet is a consistently antagonistic character. She’s rude, nagging, prideful, and vain. Like daughter like mother, I guess you could say. The Nellie of the TV show obviously takes after her mom. Nels Oleson, on the other hand, is a kind, generous, and gentle man, his greatest fault being that he’s a bad disciplinarian and a bit of a pushover. Although these characters certainly help make the TV show more interesting, their characters have almost no grounding in the books. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Oleson’s first names are never mentioned, and the characters really only appear in two chapters in the book On the Banks of Plum Creek. These chapters don’t give us much insight into who they are as individuals besides the fact that they are more wealthy than the rest of the town because Mr. Oleson owns a store in town and that the parents don’t seem to have much discipline over their rude and selfish children.

#12 Nellie Oleson

Even though we may not know for sure whether or not Mrs. Oleson was rude and vain, we do know more about Nellie Oleson, right? Well, it turns out that “Nellie Oleson” never even existed. Before you get too upset, though, I should explain that Laura did know girls who were like Nellie Oleson. In fact, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s depiction of Nellie Oleson in the Little House series is based on three different real-life girls who Laura knew during her childhood and adolescent years. And all three of these girls had Nellie-like qualities, which meant that they didn’t get along with Laura very well. The names of these girls were Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. The real life Nellie Owens did have a brother named Willie, as did the Nellie Oleson of the TV show and books, and her parents also owned a store in Walnut Grove. The season one TV episode “Town Party, Country Party” is probably one of the most accurate-to-the-book portrayals of the Nellie/Laura rivalry. As we know from Laura’s autobiography, Pioneer Girl, this portrayal also stays pretty true to events that actually occurred in Laura’s life.

Walnut Grove Myths

As we have been discovering in the past few posts of our Little House myths series, the popular Little House on the Prairie TV show has propagated some incorrect information about the Ingalls family. Last time, I debunked a few myths about Laura’s life as a young adult. This time, I’m going to take care of some of those myths that have spread about the town of Walnut Grove itself.

#8 The Ingalls Family in Walnut Grove

plum creek

A photo of the real Plum Creek in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The sign on the opposite bank marks the location of the dugout that the Ingalls Family lived in upon first arriving in the area.

In the Little House TV show, Laura lives in Walnut Grove from the time her family moves there after living temporarily in Kansas until a few years after her marriage to Almanzo Wilder. She and her family do move occasionally during this time, only to return after a short time to their beloved town in Minnesota. In real life, the Ingalls family only lived in Walnut Grove, MN, for a total of three years, moving to Burr Oak Iowa after the first two years to work in a hotel. They came back a year later. The historical Laura spent her teenage and young adult years in De Smet, South Dakota, and that is also where she met her husband, Almanzo. To point out one nod that the TV show makes to the travels of the historical Ingalls family, the TV show family does move away from Walnut Grove to work in a hotel at one point, which is very similar to the historical family’s move to the Masters Hotel in Iowa. However, the fictional town of Winoka that the TV show family moves to appears to be in the Dakotas, not Iowa.

#9 Dr. Hiram Baker

One of the most notable secondary characters in the Little House TV show is Dr. Hiram Baker, the town’s physician. Doc Baker appears in every season of the show, and he’s always trusty and dependable. Unfortunately, however, no Doc Baker ever appears in Laura’s original stories. Although other Walnut Grove townspeople such as Miss Beadle, Reverend Alden, and Mr. Nelson were all based on characters from the books, Laura never mentions a Doc Baker.

#10 The Garveys

Although there are plenty of minor characters in the TV show who do not appear in the books, it may be shocking to learn that even some of the Ingalls’ family’s best friends, the Garveys, are just as fictional as Doc Baker. However, some of the family friends from the TV show do come from the books, including the Kennedy family and the Olesons. However, there’s some stuff about the Oleson family in particular that isn’t quite what you see in the books or in history. Check back next time for more about the infamous Nellie Oleson and her family.

Come Celebrate with us!

This year, as many fans know, has been a yearlong celebration of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th Birthday. On July 14-16,th the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society will be hosting a birthday party for Laura! We will be holding demonstrations, speeches, crafts, autographs, pictures, and more! One aspect of the weekend that some fans may be most interested in, is the appearances of Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on the hit TV series, “Little House on the Prairie,” and Alison Arngrim who played the mean girl, Nellie Olsen. Despite their “Little House” careers ending over thirty years ago, Butler and Arngrim are still very active in their respective fields today.

After “Little House on the Prairie” Dean Butler did a series called, The New Gidget, Into the Woods on Broadway, toured internationally with West Side Story, and did a feature called Desert Hearts. Butler only pursued acting until the late 90s when he decided to take a different path of producing.

Today Butler is producing a TV show called Feherty which airs on the Golf Channel, part of the NBC sports complex. This show is hosted by David Feherty, a former professional golfer, and is an entertainment talk show centered around golf personalities. In an interview with Paulette Cohn on biography.com Butler discussed how he really enjoys working for the show and has “had a great time with [it].” He also talked about how Michael Landon was a great example for producing. He said that, “there is nothing I do as a producer that I don’t ask myself, on some level: What would Michael do?” Butler’s experience on the TV show Little House on the Prairie still helps and guides him in the work he does today. [1]

Alison Arngrim has been busy since “Little House on the Prairie” went off air, she has started her own one woman comedy show, written a memoir, and now is starring in a You Tube series. Her latest web series is called “Life Interrupted” which has a cast filled with childhood stars. Some of the stars include Erin Murphy from Bewitched, Dawn Wells from Gilligan’s Island, and Michael Learned from The Waltons.

Arngrim enjoys the cast because she believes that it brings a wide variety of viewers who feel nostalgic towards their favorite childhood shows, according to a recent interview with Fox News. Both Butler and Arngrim said that they enjoy keeping in touch with their Little House castmates, and in a way the cast looks out for one another. Arngrim also said that she lives ten minutes away from Rachel Lindsay Greenbush who played baby Carrie on the TV show.[2]

Join us July 14-16th and celebrate Laura’s birthday! Alison Arngrim will also be doing her comedy show, “Confessions from the Prairie” with a reception afterwards. The pictures and autographs with Dean Butler and Alison Arngrim cost a small fee. The tickets for Alison’s show and reception are on sale now on our website.

Check out our schedule of events: http://www.discoverlaura.org/birthday-event.html

For more information call 800-880-3383 or email us at info@discoverlaura.org

 

[1] Cohn, Paulette. “Dean Butler Reminisces on ‘Little House’ Days and Michael Landon (Interview).” Biography.com. July 20, 2015. Accessed May 24, 2017. http://www.biography.com/news/little-house-on-the-prairie-dean-butler-interview.

 

[2] Nolasco, Stephanie. “‘Nasty Nellie’ Alison Arngrim talks ‘Little House on the Prairie’ days, reveals what she’s up to now.” Fox News. March 23, 2017. Accessed May 24, 2017. http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2017/03/23/nasty-nellie-alison-arngrim-talks-little-house-on-prairie-days-reveals-what-shes-up-to-now.html.

Throw Your Own Little House Birthday Party!

Over the past several posts, you’ve had a chance to explore some of the birthday parties described in the Little House books. You’ve even learned about the things that were happening in Laura’s life around the time of her unmentioned birthdays. Now it’s time to take your studies to the next level: throw your own Little House birthday party!

For my own twelfth birthday party, I got my parents to help me throw a pioneer-themed birthday party. I scoured all of my Laura Ingalls Wilder activity and recipe books to plan the shin-dig and came up with a plan for the party. It was a delightful eventthe perfect outlet for my excitement about Laura’s life and the pioneer days she lived in.

smilesWhy not work with your family to throw a pioneer party for your own? Here are a few simple steps to help start you off as you put together a plan:

#1 Pick a theme

Do you want to replicate a party described in one of the books or do you want to throw a pioneer party of your own making? Maybe you want to go with the “Town Party” theme from Nellie’s party in On the Banks of Plum Creek. Or perhaps you’d rather use Ben Woodworth’s birthday party from Little Town on the Prairie as a blueprint. If these don’t sound appealing, often the time of year can help you zero in on your own theme. For my twelfth birthday party, the theme was “Pioneer Winters.” We played indoor games and snow games and had a spelling bee, much like the one described in the winter chapters of Little Town on the Prairie.

#2 Decide on a dress code

Be sure to let the guests know if and how you want them to dress up. Should they dress to match the period? Or would more modern, country-style clothing suffice? Keep in mind the weather forecast for the day of your party and what sort of activities you’ll be doing. You don’t want guests to be uncomfortable in the clothes you made them wear.

#3 Find some games

This was one of my favorite parts about planning my own party. I probably spent hours going through my pioneer activity books, trying to narrow down the plethora of choices I found while selecting party games. One of the games we ended up playing was a version of tag that you could only play in the snow called “fox and geese.” To replicate Ben Woodworth’s party, some games you could play are “blind man’s bluff” and “drop the handkerchief.” You can easily find the rules to games like this online or in an activity book about pioneer life. Maybe you could incorporate some Little House trivia into one of your games.

#4 Make your menu

If you’ve read any of Laura’s descriptions of the birthday parties she experiences in the Little House books, you probably know that food is one of the most important aspects of any party. For the Ingalls girls’ country party in On the Banks of Plum Creek, Ma’s vanity cakes were a special treat. At Ben Woodworth’s party, Laura delighted in the oyster soup and orange slices. To come up with your own Little House menu, check out some of the recipes in The Little House Cookbook. This cookbook offers recipes of food mentioned throughout the series and will help you stay true to the times in your cooking.

 #5 Have fun!

Obviously, there are several more details that go into party planning, especially when it comes to a pioneer-themed party, but the most important thing about throwing any party is to have fun and enjoy the process of planning and executing it. This is your chance to experience the sort of celebrations that Laura would have experienced when she was a kid, so make the most of it!

Laura’s Birthdays with Almanzo

Happy 150th birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder! In honor of Laura’s birthday, we have devoted a good many blog posts the theme of birthdays in the Little House series and in Laura’s autobiography, Pioneer Girl.

wilder

A photo of Laura and Almanzo Wilder, taken soon after their marriage in 1885. Laura was 18 and Almanzo was 28.

Today, we will be wrapping up our exploration of Laura’s unmentioned birthdays and of our Little House birthday posts with a search of the final book of Laura’s original 8-book series, These Happy Golden Years.

Teacher’s Birthday

The first several chapters of These Happy Golden Years give an account of Laura’s first-ever teaching gig when she was only fifteen years old. She taught a two-month term at the Brewster school, twelve miles away from her home in De Smet. Every day, she managed five students in the one-room schoolhouse. Every evening, she went back to mean Mrs. Brewster’s house for dinner and bed. Every weekend, Almanzo Wilder would come through the cold, wintry weather to bring her home to her family.

Laura’s sixteenth birthday would have come around the middle of the two months of this routine. At the beginning of the chapter, “A Knife in the Dark,” Laura describes the February weather: “There were no blizzards yet, but February was very cold. The wind was like knives.” It is in this chapter that Laura begins to feel bad for Almanzo, who continually braves the cold to bring her home. She decides it’s not fair to take so much from him when she can’t give anything in return. So she tells him straight up that “I am going with you only because I want to get home. When I am home to stay, I will not go with you any more. So now you know, and if you want to save yourself these long, cold drives, you can” (These Happy Golden Years 62). Nevertheless, Almanzo continues to come get her anyway, explaining that he’s not the “kind of fellow” that would leave her at the Brewster’s when she’s so homesick just because “there’s nothing in it” for himself (77). (A very similar account of these events appears on pages 264-267 of Pioneer Girl.) This birthday brought Laura a new friend in Almanzoa friend with whom she would ultimately spend the rest of her life.

When the Clock Strikes Twelve

These Happy Golden Years skips right over Laura’s birthday month during the time of her engagement to Almanzo, going straight from the Christmas chapter to a chapter about the teacher’s examination, which Laura took in March after turning seventeen. Pioneer Girl, however, tells us a bit about the rest of the winter following that Christmas. That Christmas, Almanzo had planned to spend the entire winter with his family in Minnesota. However, he ends up getting lonesome for Laura and returns unannounced on Christmas Eve to surprise his fiancee.

Laura goes on in her autobiography to describe how she and Almanzo spent the rest of the winter having sleigh rides and chatting by the fire in the Ingalls’ sitting room (Pioneer Girl 314). Wilder briefly writes about one particular fire-lit evening:

The folks left us alone about nine o’clock, but we knew that Manly [Laura’s nickname for Almanzo] was expected to leave when the clock struck eleven. He always did except one stormy night when he stopped the clock just before it struck and started it again when his watch said twelve, so that it struck eleven just as he left.

Maybe Almanzo and Laura’s extra-long chat that night was on Laura’s birthday.