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In search of Little House on the Prairie


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#1 Rail Paul

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 02:55 AM

The writer Laura Ingalls Wilder created a series of stories in the 1930s about her life growing up on the American frontier in the 1880s and 1890s. The stories draw on her experiences as a child living in a sod hut, and in several small homes built by her father, who was among the generation of homesteaders in Minnesota, Missouri, and South Dakota.

Wilder (LIW) lived for about ten years in DeSmet, South Dakota, in the southeast corner of the state, about 30 miles west of Brookings. This little town has built a business out of the stories, recreating or renewing buildings, homes, the original farm section worked by her father, etc. It hasn't yet gotten to producing any place to eat. In the very unlikely event we ever get back to the area, I'd consider staying in Brookings, which looks like it has much better choices for dining, strolling, etc.

We stayed at a B&B called the Heritage House, which was quite nice. It's in the center of town, in a lovingly restored bank building, with lots of cut glass, milled wood trim, 15 foot ceilings, and generously proportioned bedrooms. The parlor is filled with antique furniture. Very nice place, and a steal at $75. The other B&B is down the street and around the corner, and it's called the Prairie House.

There are two separate LIW groups in town. The historical society owns the Surveyor's House, two school buildings, and a home hand built by LIW's father. A highly researched and carefully delivered presentation in each place ("and here's the oboe used by Almanzo on page 56 of LHOTP") provides an enormous amount of context. Dee and many of the other guests were deeply engaged.

The other major property is the Homestead, and that's owned by a different group. This is the original farm site, and features in several books. The owner has built several reproductions of various sod houses, barns and farm tools typical in the 1880s, planted crops similar to what would have been grown then, etc.

The LIW tourist trade is very seasonal, and a town of 1,000 people isn't going to support a good restaurant, unfortunately. It can support at least four bars and several package stores, however. We had dinner twice at a place called the Country Club, which was pleasantly situated on a small golf course, with a small lake and a nice view of rolling hills. Good 20 oz beers (usual plus Fat Tire) for $3.50.

Food was OK, beer was cold and good. "Torsk" interested me, and was described as a cod, cut up and fried in small pieces. I passed on that. The other was something called "Chislic" which I guessed might be sliced chicken. Nope. Steak tips flash cooked on a flat top, and served with a cottage cheese and onion dip concoction. The steak pieces were rare to medium rare, which was fine, and had a finish something like red wine and onion reduction. I wouldn't order it again, but it wasn't bad, as long as you stayed away from the dip. The waitstaff were friendly and competent, and the meals for two, with tax and tip ran about 28 for two people, including beer.

Heritage House

The Society's site

Ingalls homestead site

“Jazz musicians just get better and better as the years go by. I think chefs are the same way. You know who you are.”

 

...Jonathan Waxman


#2 Sneakeater

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 05:07 AM

Why would anyone who's read the Little House books imagine there's any good food anywhere near there?
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#3 FoodDabbler

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 08:06 PM

In addition to a full set of the Little House books, my daughter has The Little House Cookbook.
It's actually interesting reading. The recipes themselves are modernized interpretations, and therefore
suspect, but there are lots of quotes on food from the original books. I checked a few of them and
they seem accurate, although bits are left out. The description of blackbird pie from Little Town
skips a throwaway comment about Ma hating Indians, for instance. In addition to blackbird pie, they
ate tomatoes with sugar and cream, freshly fried cracklings, and drank ginger water. One can imagine
these things on the tasting menu of the chef's table of some hipster restaurant in Brooklyn.

#4 splinky

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 08:09 PM

In addition to a full set of the Little House books, my daughter has The Little House Cookbook.
It's actually interesting reading. The recipes themselves are modernized interpretations, and therefore
suspect, but there are lots of quotes on food from the original books. I checked a few of them and
they seem accurate, although bits are left out. The description of blackbird pie from Little Town
skips a throwaway comment about Ma hating Indians, for instance. In addition to blackbird pie, they
ate tomatoes with sugar and cream, freshly fried cracklings, and drank ginger water. One can imagine
these things on the tasting menu of the chef's table of some hipster restaurant in Brooklyn.

i seem to remember recipes in the books and i think we made a few of them. i have vague memories of sticky maple candy made in snow

Supplies:

2 cups pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
saucepan (non-stick works best)
candy thermometer recommended

Instructions:

Cook syrup over very low heat until it begins to boil, stirring frequently.
Continue boil until it reaches 233°F on the candy thermometer.
Remove from heat and cool for aproximately 60-70 minutes, or until the temperature on the candy thermometer reads about 110°F
Add the vanilla extract and heat until smooth and fluffy.
Shape this mixture into small patties, or while still warm you can pour onto pans of clean snow as Laura did. If you have no snow, you can blend ice cubes until they are crushed, then place crushed cubes into a pan before pouring the maple candy. You can also use candy molds.
Maple candy must be stored in airtight containers to prevent the candy from drying out.

From Little House in the Big Woods


“One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. 'Oh, no!', I said, 'Disneyland burned down.' He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.”
~Jack Handey

*proud descendant of cheese eating surrender monkeys*

 


#5 FoodDabbler

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 08:21 PM

Where's your recipe from? The cookbook I was mentioning has an account of molasses in
snow taken from Little House. It (the cookbook) talks of the similarity with maple-sugar-
on-snow, but says that maple syrup was generally converted to sugar before winter for
ease of storage and transportation. Minor point, I know.

Leafing through the books some more I found a comment on doughnut making. Ma preferred
to make twist doughnuts over the (apparently newer) round ones with holes in the middle.
The twists rotated themselves in the hot oil. Round ones needed turning.

#6 splinky

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 08:22 PM

Where's your recipe from? The cookbook I was mentioning has an account of molasses in
snow taken from Little House. It (the cookbook) talks of the similarity with maple-sugar-
on-snow, but says that maple syrup was generally converted to sugar before winter for
ease of storage and transportation. Minor point, I know.

Leafing through the books some more I found a comment on doughnut making. Ma preferred
to make twist doughnuts over the (apparently newer) round ones with holes in the middle.
The twists rotated themselves in the hot oil. Round ones needed turning.

the recipe is from little house in the big woods but the description was a lot more vague. i'll try to find the original

“One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. 'Oh, no!', I said, 'Disneyland burned down.' He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.”
~Jack Handey

*proud descendant of cheese eating surrender monkeys*

 


#7 splinky

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 08:30 PM


Where's your recipe from? The cookbook I was mentioning has an account of molasses in
snow taken from Little House. It (the cookbook) talks of the similarity with maple-sugar-
on-snow, but says that maple syrup was generally converted to sugar before winter for
ease of storage and transportation. Minor point, I know.

Leafing through the books some more I found a comment on doughnut making. Ma preferred
to make twist doughnuts over the (apparently newer) round ones with holes in the middle.
The twists rotated themselves in the hot oil. Round ones needed turning.

the recipe is from little house in the big woods but the description was a lot more vague. i'll try to find the original

we made this one from "christmas in the big woods" too.
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“One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out warehouse. 'Oh, no!', I said, 'Disneyland burned down.' He cried and cried, but I think that deep down he thought it was a pretty good joke. I started to drive over to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.”
~Jack Handey

*proud descendant of cheese eating surrender monkeys*

 


#8 FoodDabbler

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Posted 11 September 2011 - 08:30 PM

I just checked. You're right that Big Woods has descriptions (but not recipes in modern
form) of maple syrup in snow. It also describes molasses in snow.