The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook

liw-cookbookWhen I saw The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook among the resources on Annette’s site, I had to look it up. Unfortunately, it’s out of print now, but used copies are available. I got mine for less than $4.

This is different from The Little House Cookbook, compiled by Barbara M. Walker, which shares recipes mentioned in the Little House books. This book was the result of finding Laura’s “home-made cookbook, waterlogged and wrinkled” “among reams of the yellowed papers that are a witness to her writing life” (p. vi).

Her cookbook was in the form of a scrapbook, which I enjoyed since I did mine that way as well. But hers was literally made of scraps. “The Wilders were extraordinary in their thrift and ingenious in recycling useful items. Laura’s cookbook exemplifies her careful economy…Recipes were pasted over pages of a cardboard-covered invoice book used by Almanzo while he was a fuel oil deliveryman in the early 1900s” (p. vii) as well as a calendar page and the back of letters. I tried writing notes on the backs of used paper in college, while money was extremely tight, and I couldn’t stand it. 🙂 It just seemed too confusing and messy. But for Laura this was probably a lifelong habit stemming from when they didn’t have money to get extra paper, or in some places where they lived when she was a child, there was no extra paper to be had.

It contains her owned penned recipes, “clippings from newspaper food columns or magazines,” meal ideas, “cooking advice from her mother…and daughter,” and even a tip about setting colors in cloth to avoid fading.

This cookbook doesn’t include the cooking advice or tips, but it does include several of Laura’s recipes, photos of Rocky Ridge farm, where Laura and Almanzo lived the bulk of their adult lives, by Leslie A. Kelly, and some commentary by Laura biographer William Anderson. I enjoyed seeing the photos of Laura’s home.

I even learned some things about Laura’s adult life that I hadn’t known before, like how she came to write columns for the Missouri Ruralist (its editor was a meeting where Laura was supposed to speak about raising poultry, which she had been asked to do because of her success in that endeavor. She could not attend but wrote out her speech to be read there.) Plus she took in boarders for a while (which they actually did portray in the “Little House: A New Beginning” TV series). The house had a lot of windows, and Laura would have “curtains hung straight at the sides, leaving the views undisturbed…’I don’t want curtains over my pictures'” she explained. Rose remarked, “She has windows everywhere, not only in her house but in her mind” (p. 144). She had a “behemoth” cookstove “circa 1905” which served her “for over a half-century” (p. 46). They later added a little electric stove for use for something quick or when it was too hot to use the cookstove, but she generally preferred the latter. In fact, the recipes had to be configured and tested in a modern kitchen for the book so they’d be more accessible to those who wanted to try them.

I also enjoyed learning a bit more about Almanzo.”While the careers of Laura and Rose brought renown to the Wilder name in journalism and literature, Almanzo was known as one of Wright County’s best farmers. Making Rocky Ridge farm productive was not an easy task; much of the land was stony and untillable. But Almanzo worked magic with the stubborn soil.” He was written up in the news for having a cow that produced “twenty-four pounds of milk at one milking,” “heads of wheat over seven inches long,” and a “fifteen-inch tomato.” He was both “a judge and a participant” in the Agricultural Stock Show and won many prizes (p. 56).

The recipes are primarily good old American cooking – meat loaf, chicken pie, chicken and dumplings, various side dishes, breads, desserts and beverages – with a few “adventurous” foreign-influenced dishes. Some of the entrees are not what we would call heart-healthy today. 🙂 But I have a few marked that I want to try, as well as a few from the different sections. The recipe she shared when asked for a favorite was her gingerbread, which I’d like to try some time, as well as Lemon Spice Puffs, Lemon Sticks, Whole Wheat Bread, Scalloped Corn Kansas, Farmhouse Stew, Gingernuts, and Applesauce Cake. The only one I have made so far is the Apple Upside Down Cake in her honor for her birthday.  I think I’ll leave the Liver Loaf, Chilled Meat Loaf, Glazed Beets, Dandelion Soup, and Lima Puree to others, though. 🙂

Reading her recipes while seeing photos of her home and hearing tidbits about her life was like a little visit with her. I think any Laura fan would like this book as well as anyone interested in vintage recipes.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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