Monday, August 25, 2014

happy anniversary laura

Today is the 129th wedding anniversary of Laura and Almanzo Wilder. I'm sure the time has just flown by for them, probably doesn't feel like a day over 120 years.

All kidding aside, they celebrated 64 anniversaries. I've got 36 to go to catch up to them...yikes.

This is a picture of Laura in her wedding dress although it was taken about 9 years after she got married. Because they had no real wedding ceremony to speak of (they got married in the pastor's living room with no family or friends around) and it happened rather suddenly (although they'd been engaged for over a year) she didn't have time to make a wedding dress and instead chose to be married in the black dress she was finishing up at the time.

This picture is from the winter after they were married, sometime in late 1885 or early 1886. The story is that there was a picture of them taken on or near their wedding day but it was sent to the publisher's office in the 1930s when her Little House books were hitting it big and somehow the picture was lost. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

Here they are in 1933, the year they celebrated their 48th anniversary, still quite a dapper couple.

In honor of Bess and Manly's anniversary, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association (now that's quite a mouthful), of which I am a founding board member, is releasing their Call For Proposals for the upcoming academic conference - LauraPalooza 2015: Through Laura's Eyes. Any Laura scholars/fans out there should start making plans to attend this conference taking place in Brookings, SD and maybe even present a paper. We've planned 2 previous conferences that were very well received - a perfect blend of research and fun. Hope to see you in Brookings!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

the kitchen project - one year later

A year ago I came up with this great idea. Wouldn't it be fun to spend days and days, including a holiday weekend, sanding and painting our kitchen cabinet doors? Ok, I never really thought it would be fun but I was so tired of looking at our VERY orange kitchen.

The only thing I liked about the kitchen was the pink tiled countertop but I kinda hated the way the pink tiles clashed with the orange that ran rampant everywhere else.

So we sanded and painted and installed new hardware. I may have complained one or two tiny little times during the process but I knew we were creating something wonderful even after the first day.

And now, even after a whole year has passed, I still get a goofy grin on my face when I walk into my little cottage kitchen. It's still absurdly small with almost no counterspace but it's bright and light and cozy and cute. Best of all, what was once just a vision in my head is now a reality.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

laura's wedding silver

 Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always tried to find a way to bring my interests into my daily life. It may have been wearing my hair like one of the Brady Bunch, convincing my mother that I needed that Partridge Family purse (which I was too embarrassed to carry in public, sorry Mom) or wearing purple socks like Donny Osmond. (You don’t even want to know about my Princess Diana period.) It’s not that I need the world to know about my interests, I just like to have a daily personal connection to things that I love.

It’s been no different with Laura but I never could figure out a way to bring her into my modern world. I have collected lots of items from the various homesites but it’s never seemed practical to wear a sunbonnet or drag my Charlotte doll to work with me every day. You can only wear your “Little Town on the Prairie” t-shirt in public so many times before people start to wonder about you.

Luckily I found a solution not too long ago. Through an email newsletter sent out by the LIW Memorial Society in De Smet, I saw a picture of Laura’s silverware, her wedding present from Almanzo. It’s a beautiful pattern that I would happily have picked for my own wedding silver, even without a LIW connection; unfortunately it was only made in the 19th century and is no longer for sale today – except through the magic of a certain online auction site. The pattern is called Crown and was introduced by Rogers Bros. in 1885, the year Laura and Almanzo were married. Laura wrote about her wedding silver in the book The First Four Years when she described the pantry Almanzo had made for her in their first little house:
“There was one drawer that already held a whole sack of white flour, a smaller one with graham flour, another with corn meal, a large shallow one for packages, and two others: one already filled with white sugar and the other one with brown. And one for Manly’s wedding present of silver knives and forks and spoons. Laura was so proud of them.”
Later, when their house caught on fire, a neighbor went into the pantry and started throwing dishes and other household items out the window:
“… so the silver wedding knives and forks and spoons rolled up in their wrappers had survived.”
Thanks to the quick thinking of that neighbor, visitors to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum at Rocky Ridge in Mansfield, Missouri can still see pieces of that wedding silver.

I started collecting pieces of this silver pattern a couple of years ago and eventually had enough place settings to give a small dinner party. But it wasn’t enough. I still wanted to find a way to bring Laura into my daily life. Then I remembered spoon jewelry. (Did anybody else out there have a spoon ring? They were all the rage when I was in junior high; and I had a couple of them.) But now I wanted something a little more useful than a spoon ring. Hmmm. How about a watch bracelet made of spoons? Was such a thing even possible? I thought it might be. But finding someone to make jewelry out of old spoons is not that easy. I contacted a few sellers on the aforementioned auction site and none of them wanted to touch my old spoons for fear of breaking them. I considered trying to do it myself, but then I came to my senses.

After almost a year of searching I found a vendor that specializes in all kinds of spoon jewelry and they were more than willing to take my “heritage” pieces and make a watch for me. Here is the result of their amazing work.


I love my watch. To everyone else it’s just a unique piece of silver jewelry and I get many compliments on it. But it’s so much more to me. I think about Laura every time I look down at my wrist and I’m thankful that Almanzo had such good taste in silver patterns.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

cottage cheese wars

And the cottage cheese saga continues...

After ending up with a giant bowl of nothing, I was kind of ready to call it a day but the Man of the Place had other ideas. He got interested in the whole process and wanted to try again. He thought maybe I hadn't let it sit long enough in the clabbering process. So he tried again with a smaller amount and let it sit and sour for 2 days.

Then he heated it up gradually in the double boiler. And nothing happened yet again.

So then he heated it up non-gradually, letting the water boil and boil. And still nothing happened.

Then he got really determined and stuck the glass bowl of sour milk in the microwave...just like Ma Ingalls would have done.

 I present you with cottage cheese! Or at least a reasonable facsimile. It wasn't exactly like the kind you buy in the store, the curds were not as defined but the taste was way better. We added in a little salt and cream (as per the instructions in the recipe) and it was delicious.

It was also a lot of work and time for a very little amount of cheese. I don't anticipate doing it again, at least not with that recipe.

But it was fun...kind of...not really. It definitely was an experience though. I don't think I am cut out for pioneer life. LOL!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Laura's Kitchen - fail

I've been looking forward to getting the chance to share some recipes from my favorite LIW cookbooks.

I became interested in the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was a kid but when the TV show Little House on the Prairie hit the airwaves that interest soared to a whole new level. Even though the TV show quickly moved away from the book storylines, I loved the show and watched every single week. My Laura stepped out of the books right onto my TV screen and I couldn't get enough of it. Many other people must have felt the same way because suddenly there were all sorts of new books about Laura in the bookstore, from the first biography to a wonderful, well-researched cookbook by Barbara Walker. My first edition of that cookbook has been one of my favorites for years and I was thrilled to meet Barbara Walker a few years ago and get it autographed. It's still in print, you can buy your copy here.

As a teen, I spent countless hours making recipes from the cookbook such as bread, strawberry jam, , pies, fried chicken and even  Laura's "wedding' cake which required an obnoxious amount of whipping egg whites by hand. I was fascinated by the idea of cooking like a pioneer using no electrical appliances (except for the and dad wouldn't let me have a wood stove), doing everything by hand.  There are food stains on many of the pages, it was a well-loved cookbook for many years. Eventually I moved on to other forms of cooking and the LH cookbook spent more time on the shelf.

It's been fun to rediscover this cookbook after several years. This time I wanted to try a completely new, never before attempted recipe.

Maybe that was my first mistake.

The recipe seemed so easy - mix milk with buttermilk and let it sit on the counter until it goes bad. Heck, I've done that hundreds of times in my refrigerator!

Then, after it's "clabbered" (that's a funny word, I like saying it) you heat it up in a double boiler.

You're supposed to heat it up gradually (without letting the water boil) until it begins to form curds (that's almost as fun a word as clabbered) at which time you will have achieved cottage cheese.

I heated it up and waited...and waited...and waited.

I'm pretty sure Ma Ingalls is up in heaven shaking her head right now at the ignorance of this modern age but after 2 1/2 hours of cooking, my "cottage cheese" still looked like the above picture, not a curd in sight. I don't know what happened, well, actually nothing happened. I made a whole lot of sour milk and nothing else. If I was a pioneer, my little family would have gone hungry that night. Big ol' pioneer fail.

There are tons of cottage cheese recipes on the internet that are different from the one in my Little House cookbook. I will try one of those and report back. I'm determined to make my own cottage cheese even if I have to do things that Ma would never do.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

that engagement ring

I am a founding board member of a very special Laura Ingalls Wilder research organization (LIWLRA) and I occasionally blog at our site Beyond Little House. The following is one of my favorite blog posts from 2009. You can see the original post here.

Laura held her hand up to the first light of the new moon. The gold of the ring and its flat oval set shone shone in the faint moon radiance. Three small stones set in the golden oval glimmered...a garnet, with a pearl on each side.
~Laura Ingalls Wilder, in These Happy Golden Years
Reading those words about the engagement ring that Almanzo gave Laura sealed my fate. I've been on a quest for that ring ever since.

I bought my first garnet ring while still in high school. While the garnet and pearl combination was popular during the Victorian years, it's not easily found in modern jewelry so that first ring was silver with a garnet and two tiny diamonds on either side. Although I cherished it at the time, deep in my heart I knew it wasn't authentic. The search went on.

Back in the dark ages, before internet auction sites, there were antique stores. I had a little more luck there, I found a lovely ring with three garnets and six pearls. Okay, not quite the ring but I was getting closer.

Then came the Internet and suddenly my search was made so much easier. There was a plethora of antique garnet and pearl rings available to buy.  Went a little crazy. If what they say is true that three or more of anything is a collection, I have a collection of garnet and pearl rings.

dsc00771This is just a small sampling of some of the rings that have found their way into my life. None are exactly right, which is why I kept searching those auction sites, usually late at night when it's very easy to talk yourself into something even though it isn't exactly what you're looking for.
And yet, the constant searching for "garnet pearl ring" paid off not too long ago. I found a listing for a ring made in 1884 (the year Almanzo and Laura got engaged) featuring a center garnet flanked by a pearl on each side. The setting is flat and best of all, it was the perfect size to fit on my index finger. Why is that important, you ask?  Because Laura describes wearing her engagement ring on her "first" finger. In The First Four Years she actually uses the word "index" finger. It doesn't appear to be a common practice; in all my research I've never uncovered any evidence that people commonly used the index finger for engagement rings. Since Ida's "broad circlet of gold" was on her first finger too, maybe it was a De Smet custom.

So you see where I'm going with this, don't you? Even though I already had 1 or 2...or 10, garnet and pearl rings lying around, I had to get this new one. It was made in 1884, was the perfect style and fit my index finger. It was a sign, I tell you. Well, at least that's what I told my husband.  I also told him that I would stop searching for "garnet pearl ring" on the Internet...and I will, soon. ;-)


Friday, August 1, 2014

welcome to the prairie

Welcome to the prairie

August always makes me think of weddings because the ultimate prairie girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, married that farmer boy hottie, Almanzo, on August 25 in 1885 - a mere 129 years ago. Almanzo was my first book crush, I love the strong, silent type.

Weddings always make me think about food (and cake!) which makes me want to get out my favorite prairie cookbooks to try a few things.

So, in honor of Laura and Almanzo's anniversary, I'm spending August getting my prairie on "in the kitchen with Laura." Hitch up your buggy and join me!