Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Getting Ready for Winter... more lessons from "Little House" books

Preparing for winter was important in the "Little House" days... with the days of big supermarkets, truck deliveries every day, and greenhouse foods, we've moved away from the necessity of "putting up" for the winter... I think it's time we got back to those days... what a peaceful, comfortable, secure feeling it gives me when I know that if a winter storm or a hurricane hits, I've got plenty for us to eat without having to brave the elements to grab that last loaf of bread or gallon of milk everyone seems to rush out to get. I like to call it "food insurance!"

Mary and Laura play with their dolls among the pumpkins and other
food stored in the attic in the "Little House in the Big Woods"
From Little House in the Big Woods
One morning Pa went away before daylight with the horses and wagon, and that night he came home with a wagonload of fish. The big wagon box was piled full, and some of the fish were as big as Laura. Pa had gone to Lake Pepin and caught them all with a net.
Ma a cut large slices of flaky white fish, without one bone, for Laura and Mary. They all feasted on the good, fresh fish. All they did not eat fresh was salted down in barrels for the winter.
Pa owned a pig. It ran wild in the Big Woods, living on acorns and nuts and roots. Now he caught it and put it in a pen made of logs, to fatten. He would butcher it as soon as the weather was cold enough to keep the pork frozen.
Laura woke up and heard the pig squealing. Pa jumped out of bed, snatched his gun from the wall, and ran outdoors. Then Laura heard the gun go off, once, twice.
When Pa came back, he told what had happened. He had seen a big black bear standing beside the pigpen. The bear was reaching into the pen to grab the pig, and the pig was running and squealing. Pa saw this in the starlight and he fired quickly. But the light was dim and in his haste he missed the bear. The bear ran away into the woods, not hurt at all.
Laura was sorry Pa did not get the bear. She liked bear meat so much. Pa was sorry, too, but he said: "Anyway, I saved the bacon.”
The garden behind the little house had been growing all summer. It was so near the house that the deer did not jump the fence and eat the vegetables in the daytime, and at night Jack kept them away. Sometimes in the morning there were little hoof-prints among the carrots and the cabbages. But Jack's tracks were there, too, and the deer had jumped right out again.
Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come.
Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic's corners.
The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry, and yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves...
...The attic was a lovely place to play. The large, round, colored pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables. The red peppers and the onions dangled overhead. The hams and the venison hung in their paper wrappings, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking and the bitter herbs for medicine, gave the place a dusty spicy smell.
Often the wind howled outside with a cold and lonesome sound. But in the attic Laura and Mary played house with the squashes and the pumpkins, and everything was snug and cosy.


  1. The little house books are on my bookshelf and I suggest everyone who is interested in storing food read them all. So much useful information is tucked within their pages it's unbelievable!

  2. I love any contemporary descriptions of the simple country life. I love the BBC "[insert era here] farm" documentary series (Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm and so on, easy to look up on youtube), for this very same reason.

    Another lovely book that gives glimpses of life in the old days, is Elinore Pruitt Stewart's "Letters from a Woman Homesteader", written from the frontier by an early 20th century female homesteader to her former employer. It's available in print, but you can find it for free for Kindle, or as a webpage at Project Gutenberg.

    I had this in my notes about the book:
    "Writing in 1909 in southwestern Wyoming, the writer states that she grew more than two tons of potatoes, half a ton of carrots, a large bin of beets, turnips, onions, parsnips, more than one hundred heads of cabbages, a winter squash (she pickled some of them), beans, and green tomatoes, making a relish out of the green tomatoes. She also put up gooseberries and milked ten cows twice a day. She sold enough butter to buy a year's worth of flour and gasoline. That gives us some idea of the amount of food people needed to get through a winter. She had a family and perhaps a hired man to feed. "

  3. I adore those books and re-read them every year. They definitely fanned the flames of my enthusiasm for self sustenance.

  4. I watched the show but never read the books. Will have to make a run to the library.

  5. I learned so much from those books. I remember one where Ma was hulling corn for either meal or grits. The process was described in some detail. I also remember reading about making whitewash in "Farmer Boy"... they weren't too worried about chemicals back then for sure. I think Mother made a soft brown soap in that book as well. Either Mother or Ma made tallow candles too. My favorite descriptive part in "Farmer Boy" (other than all the horsey stuff) was when the cobbler made Almanzo's new boots. I still need to try making a vinegar pie, Almanzo sure could eat!

    Michelle- you MUST read these books. The TV show took many liberties and the books are of course so much better. The book "Laura" by Donald Zochert is another must-read.

  6. Oh, how I loved these books as a child, I am going to have to re-read them, for several reasons, thank you for reminding me!

  7. I read these books as a child, but don't remember reading these excerpts. I remember most the stories of their Christmas. Thanks so much for sharing, now I want to go out and re-read these books and share them with my children!

  8. Another book that I would read to my boys over & over was The Oxcart Man. It was about simple cottage life in New England, everyone doing their part and a few luxuries that come around before the year starts over. It was a short book (40 pages)--but it was about simple colonial life and the harmony that comes from self sufficiency.

  9. I still "put up" for winter, and summer, and fall, and....well, you get the idea. A stocked pantry to us means that even if something were to happen weather wise, or to one of us, our children would still be fed. We grow as much as we can ourselves, and supplement from the farmers markets, and lastly, the grocery store.

  10. I still "put up" for winter, and summer, and fall, and....well, you get the idea. A stocked pantry to us means that even if something were to happen weather wise, or to one of us, our children would still be fed. We grow as much as we can ourselves, and supplement from the farmers markets, and lastly, the grocery store.

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