Pioneer Cooking: Vinegar Pie

Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions that both the Ingalls and Wilder families baking Vinegar Pie in both the Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy, even though she does not go into detail in either account. This recipe was sometimes called, “poor man’s pie” and was used as a substitute for lemon pie in places where they did not have lemons. Vinegar pie was popular at the time because most people had the ingredients on hand. 

“[Ma] baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies, and filled a big jar with cookies, and she let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon.” (LHBW 62-63)

“When [Almanzo] began to eat pie, he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate a piece of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he ate almost a piece of vinegar pie. He tried a piece of mince pie, but could not finish it.” (Farmer Boy 262)

cookbook - Copy

If you recall from our first attempt at pioneer cooking we made lettuce leaves with vinegar and sugar and we were pleasantly surprised by how good it tasted, so I was very excited to try this recipe.

This recipe can be found on page 197 of The Little House Cookbook. For this recipe you will need pie paste, butter, eggs, white sugar, brown sugar, white flour, water, nutmeg, and of course vinegar. The recipe calls for homemade pie paste, which there is a recipe for in the cookbook. However, if you are not feeling adventurous you can get pie crust from the store like we did.

mixing

Once the pie is baked set it out to cool. This will take a long time, at least an hour and a half. After 40 minutes of cooling, Molly and I decided to wait until the next morning to eat it, as it was going on 9:00 at night.

The next morning we brought it to work for everyone to try, and we were surprised. The vinegar taste was fairly strong, but we discovered that it depended on the bite as to how much vinegar was in it. Over all the pie was good, but you may not want to eat too big of a piece. I would say it is somewhat similar to lemon pie.

I would recommend making this pie just to try it out, it is easy to make and gives you a good idea as to what the pioneers made.

 

 

Advertisements

The Mystery of Baby Boys

Over the years the Society has been asked why some of the Ingalls-Wilder women were unable to have baby boys. There was a trend in the family that all three generations had brothers or sons that were short-lived. Caroline Ingalls, Laura’s mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Rose Wilder Lane, Laura’s daughter, all had baby boys who passed away shortly after their birth.

Charles Frederick “Freddie” Ingalls:

Charles Frederick was born on November 1, 1875, in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, which technically made him Charles and Caroline Ingalls fourth child. Laura never mentioned Baby Freddie in her “Little House” books because she did not feel that it belonged with the image she was trying to create (Pioneer Girl iv). The whole family was extremely proud of Freddie and happy to have a boy. Mary and Laura would rush home from school just to see and spend more time with him (Pioneer Girl xvi). Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of information as to the cause of Freddie’s death. It has been noted that Freddie was a sickly baby, however; other versions of Pioneer Girl do not give any insight as to how Freddie died. We do know that he died in South Troy, Minnesota, on Peter Ingalls’ farm, but the grave location is unknown (Anderson LORE 2,2).

Son of A. J. Wilder:

Laura’s infant son, who was never named, is mentioned in Laura’s books unlike Freddie. Remember, Laura’s last book, The First Four Years was published many years after her death in 1971. The book talks about the Wilder’s hardships in De Smet, South Dakota, after Laura and Almanzo married in 1885. We have no way of knowing if Laura intended to leave in the story of her son’s death or even publish this book as their son’s death was just one of the many tragedies they suffered.

In The First Four Years:

In the afternoon Manly sent Peter to bring Laura’s Ma, and at four o’clock he sent Peter again to town, this time on his running pony for the doctor. But their son was born before the doctor could get there. (125)

She also mentioned that it was on the fifth of August that her infant son was born. Today we know from the De Smet Leader that the baby was born on Thursday July 11, 1889. It was published in the paper on July 13, 1889 saying, “Dr. Hunter reports the arrival of a 10-pound boy at A.J. Wilder’s on Wednesday night.” From the paper, we were also able to figure out the day Laura’s infant son died. On August 10, 1889, the De Smet Leader published, “Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Wilder’s little child died Wednesday evening.” From this quote, we know that the day their son died was August 7, 1889, living one day short of four weeks.

Laura mentioned her son’s death just a few pages later, “Laura was doing her work again one day three weeks later when the baby was taken with spasms, and he died so quickly that the doctor was too late” (First Four Years 127). That is the only insight was have as to how Laura’s son died. How accurate is her account? We do not know for sure but it is all we have today. Considering that according to Laura, the doctor did not make it before her son passed, it would be hard to have any documentation as to what he died of. Today he is buried in the De Smet Cemetery with the rest of Ingalls family.2017-08-07 (3)

Infant Lane:

Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane marked a third generation of baby boys not surviving. Even though Rose’s boy was born the latest, there is probably the least amount of information about him. Rose’s son was born premature and stillborn in Salt Lake City, Utah, at Holy Cross Hospital. From his death certificate we have been able to figure out that her son was born on November 23, 1909 (click here to see a copy of the death certificate). It was noted that they buried him the following day, November 24, which then points to a gravestone in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah, marked Infant Lane who was buried November 24, 1909. Beyond this information, we do not know anything more about Rose’s infant boy.

Since he was Rose’s only child, the direct line of Charles and Caroline Ingalls ended when Rose died, making it impossible to figure out if the Ingalls may have had a genetic disease that ran in boys or if it was just a coincidence.

Behind the Tree Claims

When the early settlers first came to the Dakota Territory there were very few to no trees. The railroad company would plant trees as they went along to help mark their way, and the one in De Smet became known as the Lone Tree. This was the only tree in De Smet when the Ingalls family first arrived and it even made an appearance in The Long Winter. During Almanzo Wilder’s and Cap Garland’s brave trip for the wheat they used the “Lone Cottonwood” as a point of reference in the snow-covered prairie (Long Winter 270). Due to the lack of trees the government wanted to entice the settlers to plant trees, which was where the Timber Culture Act came in.

Many people know about the Homestead Act of 1862, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, which gave settlers 160 acres of land for $1.25 per acre. This act lured many people into the area with cheap land and the idea of moving west. However, there was another act that brought many people to the area and is less known. That is the Timber Culture Act of 1873. Senator Hitchcock from Nebraska described the goal of the act in a Senate debate, “the object of this bill is to encourage the growth of timber, not merely for the benefit of the soil, not merely for the value of the timber itself, but for its influence upon the climate.”[1] Some senators pushed for this act because the west needed timber for fuel, while other senators pushed it because they believed that the tree would bring more rainfall to the region. Either way the government wanted a way to entice settlers to plant trees.

With the Timber Culture Act settlers could get 160 acres, possibly in addition to their homestead land, to plant forty acres of trees on. Originally there was not an age requirement for the land; however, when the act was amended in 1874 the government made the requirements the same as the Homestead Act, twenty-one or head of household, and citizen or soon to be citizen. In this amendment, the government also made a schedule with certain “deadlines” for planting the trees. The act was amended a second time in 1878, which lowed the required acres of trees planted from forty to ten. It also helped out settlers as it made exceptions for trees that were destroyed due to the harsh climate.

Ultimately this act did not pan out as intended. It had many loopholes and flaws as some homesteaders got away without planting trees on their tree claims. If the homesteader was not able to plant all the trees they could preempt the land, which meant the homesteader could purchase the land and possibly sell it later. Due to loopholes like this, ultimately the act was repealed on March 3rd, 1891.

Almanzo had gotten his homestead and tree claim in 1879, 6 years before he married Laura. He had proved up his homestead in five years; however, he and Laura were not able to prove up their tree claim with in the allotted time, which was about eight years, and thus Almanzo preempted the land.[2] Laura talked about her and Almanzo’s tree claim in The First Four Years. She discussed how the trees were not doing well and they needed to have ten acres of trees planted. Their trees also had to be given extra care because “for years from now there must be the ten acres with the right number of growing trees in order to prove up on the tree claim and get a title to the land” (First Four Years 47). Laura wrote that by the end of her and Almanzo’s fourth year of marriage nearly all the trees on their ten acres were killed (First Four Years 121). There was no point in replanting them because either way they could not fulfill the requirements for the Timber Culture Act. In August of 1888 Almanzo filed an intent to preempt his land and then in 1890 he purchased the land for $200.2 The failure of Laura and Almanzo’s tree claim did not help their terrible first four years; however, their troubles were not unusual. As I had mentioned earlier, the Act was repealed in 1891 due to people preempting the land as the trees did not grow well out here.

Over time De Smet has been able to overcome the difficulty of growing trees and today there are a fair number of trees in the De Smet area. There is even a De Smet Forest which can be seen off Highway 14 on the eastern side of De Smet.

 

[1] C. Barron McIntosh, author. 1975. “Use and Abuse of the Timber Culture Act.” Annals Of The Association Of American Geographers no, 3: 347. JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost (accessed June 30, 2017).

 

[2] Cleaveland, Nancy. 2011. “what happened to almanzo’s claims?” (accessed July 11, 2017).

Pioneer Cooking: Pancake Men

ingredients 2What could be more fun than making pancake men? Laura describes in her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, that her mother made the family pancake men for Christmas:

“For breakfast there were pancakes, and Ma made a pancake man for each one of the children. Ma called each one in turn to bring her plate, and each could stand by the stove and watch, while with the spoonful of batter Ma put on the arms and the legs and the head. It was exciting to watch her turn the whole little man over, quickly and carefully, on a hot griddle. When it was done, she put it smoking hot on the plate.” (Little House in the Big Woods 79)

Molly and I picked out numerous old fashioned recipes to test last summer and thought pancake men would be a fun recipe. This recipe can be found in The Little House Cookbook on page 92. For the recipe you need baking soda, water, whole wheat and white flour, salt, cultured buttermilk, an egg and salt pork. Now for us, we just used two cups of white flour instead of one cup of white and one cup of wheat. The reason the recipe calls for one cup of each is to resemble the flour that Ma would have used. The salt pork is used to grease the pan, since we did not have salt pork readily available, we just used butter instead. Once you have the ingredients you can start making your pancakes.

pouring

stirring

Making pancake men at this point is almost an art form. You have to be careful that the pancakes actually look like a man at the end, but then you cannot take too long or else your pancake man will burn. However, you still must successfully flip your pancake man. Mine looked great until I flipped him over and he became decapitated and Molly’s flipped successfully but was also burned. It may take a few tries until you perfect this art but it is a lot of fun and Molly and I got some good laughs out of it. We suggest making your pancake men small to start off with, to make flipping easier.


As for the taste, the pancakes were very good even with the lack of sugar and homemade batter. The taste combined with the cute pancake men makes for the perfect breakfast, dinner, or even late-night snack!

 

TV Show Truths: Competition Over Almanzo

One of the most memorable scenes in the “Little House on the Prairie” television series is  Laura and Nellie’s mud fight. Many Laura fans have raised the question: Did this really happen? The answer is no; however, Laura and Nellie did have some competition over Almanzo Wilder.

TV Show:

In season six of the TV series Almanzo Wilder comes to Walnut Grove along with his older sister, Eliza Jane. One day when Almanzo dropsEliza Jane off at school, Mrs. Harriet Olsen, Nellie’s mother, takes notice of Almanzo and thought that he would make a perfect match for her daughter who just graduated from the school in town.  Nellie seems to be a bit embarrassed by her mother’s actions, but goes along with it. On the other hand, Laura Ingalls falls for Almanzo right away, so there ends up being this competition between Laura and Nellie. Laura volunteers to cook Almanzo’s favorite dish, cinnamon chicken for Nellie and Almanzo’s first “date.” Due to the competition, Laura  uses cayenne pepper instead of cinnamon. Ultimately it ruins their date as Nellie and Almanzo’s mouths are burning after just one bite.

For Nellie to get back at Laura she lends Laura her books to study for the school certificate test. Nellie does not give Laura the history book because even though Miss Wilder said there would be a lot of history, Nellie said it was just to throw her off. Laura ends up failing the test because it is almost all history. After the test Laura runs into Nellie and amidst her furry, they get into a mud fight. Laura ends up winning because Almanzo comes by and picks Laura up to help her clean up and leaves Nellie in the mud.

Books:

In the books Laura and Nellie’s competition did not happen the same way it did in the TV show, it was a lot more civil. None the less, there was still some competition between the two. In Laura’s book, These Happy Golden Years, Nellie comes into the picture after Laura and Almanzo had already been on some sleigh and buggy rides together. One main difference between the books and TV show is that in the show Laura and Nellie’s competition starts early on, before Almanzo picks up Laura from her first teaching job. In the books, the competition between the two starts much later and it is after Almanzo picked her up from her first teaching job.

In These Happy Golden Years, Laura started going on buggy rides with Almanzo once he has a new buggy. Almanzo and Laura go on a few buggy rides themselves and then one Sunday Nellie Olsen shows up in the buggy. Nellie talks constantly about how much she loves buggy rides and how great his horses were. Laura could not stand Nellie but does not say anything about it. The next Sunday Nellie is in the buggy again when Almanzo comes to pick Laura up and Laura is not happy. During the buggy ride Laura is determined to have Nellies true colors show. First Laura lets the end of the dust robe flutter carelessly behind the horses, which scares the horses momentarily and scares Nellie as she exclaims that they were wild.

Second, Laura suggests to go by the Boasts and then asks to take new road north. The road ends up being “wet and boggy” and Nellie declares that “this isn’t any fun” (THGY 176). Laura executes what she had planned, she exposed Nellie Olsen’s true self. Once Almanzo drops Nellie off she suggests that they would go another way next week, but Almanzo just says goodbye.

When Almanzo drops off Laura she makes it clear to him that she will not go on anymore buggy rides with him if Nellie is going to come; he has to pick either her or Nellie. And when Sunday comes again there is Almanzo ready to take Laura for another buggy ride.

Real Life:

In Laura’s real life there was no Nellie Olsen. She was actually modeled off of three people, Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. In this instance, the real Nellie Olsen was Stella Gilbert. Almanzo started giving Stella rides because she worked hard and it would be nice for her to have a break. Laura was fine with it at first, but then “Stella’s smugness gave her scheme away to me. She was trying her best to edge me out of drives” (Pioneer Girl 301). Laura then started to maneuver the drives so they would end closer to Stella’s house and Almanzo would have to drop her off first. One day when Almanzo was dropping Laura off she gave him the same ultimatum that she gives him in the books. The main difference is that in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography Laura is more confident that Almanzo will come back for her and in the book, These Happy Golden Years, she is not confident that Almanzo will come for her.

Unfortunately, the mud fight scene from the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series did not happen in real life. That being said, Almanzo still had multiple admirers who wanted to get behind his beautiful team and tried to edge Laura out. Even though each aspect is a little different, with the TV show being the most dramatic, all three convey the “competition” Laura had when courting Almanzo.

TV Show Truths: Courting

Wagon and Sleigh Rides:

In the “Little House” television series, Almanzo offers to drive Laura to and from the school she is teaching at in order to see her family on the weekends. This is true to Laura’s accounts in her book, These Happy Golden Years, along with her real life. In Season Six of the hit TV show, viewers saw that Laura had been head over heels for Almanzo while he had seen her as a nice, young friend. Toward the end of the season, Laura gets the teaching job and Almanzo offers to pick her up every weekend and take  her back Sunday afternoon. At first Almanzo was doing this as a way to give his horses a workout, but as they spend more time together he begins to see Laura as more than just nice friend who is ten years younger than him.

2017-08-09 (2)

A cutter similar to the one Almanzo would have built on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society.

The idea of Almanzo driving Laura to and from school for the weekends came from Laura’s book, These Happy Golden Years. In that book and also in her real life Almanzo came to pick her up every weekend from school in the freezing cold of winter. The main difference between the TV show and Laura’s books and real life was that in the books and real life Laura was not interested in Almanzo. She made it clear to Almanzo in one of their sleigh rides that, “I am only going with you because I want to get home. When I am home to stay, I will not go with you any more” (These Happy Golden Years 62). Eventually after her school term was over, Almanzo was persistent and came back for Laura, a few weeks after, despite her request towards the end of their sleigh rides to and from the Brewster/Bouchie school. It was not until their sleigh rides to and from school ended that Laura slowly started to fall for him.

Age is Just a Number:

One factor that played a big role in Laura and Almanzo’s courtship in the TV show was Almanzo’s age. In the TV show and in real life Almanzo was ten years older than Laura. However, in the book series Laura made Almanzo only six years older than her. In The Long Winter, Laura notes that Almanzo was nineteen years old in October of 1880, when she was thirteen. This becomes an important fact because according to the Homestead Act the homesteaders were supposed to be twenty-one to file for a homestead. In the books Almanzo had to lie about his age to get his homestead (Long Winter 98-99). Laura may have made this change for two reasons, one being dramatic effect, Almanzo being man enough at nineteen to start his own homestead. The second reason was most likely just to shorten the age gap for her readers.

The TV show followed her real life regarding her age, which caused lots of issues for her father. He liked Almanzo as a man, but had a hard time getting used to Laura falling in love with him, due to the age difference. In the episode, “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,” Almanzo asks Laura to marry him at age sixteen, which “Pa” has a fit over because he does not want his daughter to get married until eighteen. Now “Pa” did not necessarily have a rule like this in real life; however, Laura did not get married until she was eighteen and when Almanzo proposed her parents were very happy for her and had seen it coming (Pioneer Girl 307).

Role Reversal:

The biggest change in Laura and Almanzo’s relationship between the TV show and the Little House books and Laura’s real life is who pursued who. In the TV show it is Laura who first sets her eyes on Almanzo during the first episode of Season Six. Almanzo does not start noticing Laura as more than a friend until the end of the season. In real life and the books Almanzo pursued Laura starting when she was fifteen and teaching at the Brewster/Bouchie school. Then it was not until later, after she finished teaching her first term, that she started to fall for Almanzo. One thought as to why the TV show had Laura pursue Almanzo is because in the 1970s it would have come across as inappropriate if a twenty-six year old man was pursuing a sixteen year old young woman, even though this was completely acceptable in the 1880s.

Pioneer Cooking: Fried Apples’N’Onions

 

ingredientsThis is the recipe that Molly and I were anxiously awaiting. It sounds like an odd combination, as most of these pioneer recipes do, but Almanzo spoke so highly of it that we wanted to try it for ourselves. Fried Apples’N’Onions is mentioned in Farmer Boy as Almanzo’s favorite food:

… Almanzo said that what he liked most in the world was fried apples’n’onions.

When, at last, they went in to dinner, there on the table was a big dish of them! Mother knew what he liked best and she cooked it for him.

Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples’n’onions fried together. (73)

This recipe is on page 127 and 128 in the Little House Cookbook. Since the recipe is for six servings, we decided to cut it in half, as we were not serving that many people and we were not sure if we were going to love it as much as Almanzo. The recipe calls for bacon or salt pork and we used bacon as it was readily available to us. Then we used three tart apples and three yellow onions since we cut the recipe in half.

bread tipOnce you have all your ingredients ready, the recipe says to start frying the bacon. If multitasking is not your thing, you can start with the apples and onions like we did. When cutting the onions, the cookbook suggests holding a slice of bread in your mouth between your teeth to prevent you from crying. Molly tried it and did not find it helpful. I also would not recommend cutting the apples next to the onions like we did because by the end of it Molly and I were both crying.

chopping apples and onionsFor cutting that apples the recipe calls for a corer to core the apple and then cut it crosswise in circles. We had an apple corer that cut the apple into wedges, so we used that and then cut the apples into thinner slices. Once all the apples and onions were cut we fried the bacon, but again the cookbook says to fry the bacon and while doing that to start cutting the apples and onions. Either way will work, just do whatever you feel comfortable with.

After the meat is fried, keep a tablespoon of grease and pour out the rest. Then fry the onions in it for about three minutes. Once that is done add the apples and sprinkle some brown sugar over top. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the apples until they are tender, stirring periodically to prevent scorching.

 

Once the apples and onions are ready spread the mixture over the bacon or pork slices, which we broke into smaller pieces, and serve warm.

Molly and I were once again surprised, not necessarily that it was good, but that it lived up to all of Almanzo’s praises. If you are not an onion fan I would still recommend trying it as I do not like onions but did like this recipe and would eat it again!finished product