Friday, March 22, 2013

Learning from the Little House Books... Smoking Venison

I first met Laura Ingalls when I was in the third grade... I began devouring the "Little House" books one by one... I read them again when I was a bit older, then again aloud to my own children and again to my grandson.

My youngest daughter, Hannah, with memories of "Little House" still treasured in her heart, bought me a beautifully bound copy of Laura's first five novels for Christmas this year... I've begun reading them again, with new eyes... and the realization that they are so much more than a sweet children's story... or historical fiction... there is much to be learned about homemaking and food preservation and self reliance in those beloved pages...


 From chapter 1 of Little House in the Big Woods...

"The house was a comfortable house. Upstairs there was a large attic, pleasant to play in when the rain drummed on the roof. Downstairs was the small bedroom, and the big room. The bedroom had a window that closed with a wooden shutter. The big room had two windows with glass in the panes, and it had two doors, a front door and a back door.
"All around the house was a crooked rail fence, to keep the bears and the deer away.
"In the yard in front of the house were two beautiful big oak trees. Every morning as soon as she was awake Laura ran to look out of the windows, and one morning she saw in each of the big trees a dead deer hanging from a branch.
"Pa had shot the deer the day before and Laura had been asleep when he brought them home at night and hung them high in the trees so the wolves could not get the meat.
"That day Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary had fresh venison for dinner. It was so good that Laura wished they could eat it all. But most of the meat must be salted and smoked and packed away to be eaten in the winter.
"For winter was coming. The days were shorter, and frost crawled up the window panes at night. Soon the snow would come. Then the log house would be almost buried in snowdrifts, and the lake and streams would freeze. In the biter cold weather Pa could not be sure of finding any wild game to shoot for meat..."

"So as much food as possible must be stored away in the little house before winter came.
"Pa skinned the deer carefully and salted and stretched the hides, for he would make soft leather of them. Then he cut up the meat, and sprinkled salt over the pieces as he laid them on a board.
"Standing on end in the yard was a tall length cut from the trunk of a big hollow tree. Pa had driven nails inside as far as he could reach from each end. Then he stood it up, put a little roof over the top, and cut a little door on one side near the bottom. One the piece that he cut out he fastened leather hinges; then he fitted it into place, and that was the little door, with the bark still on.
"After the deer meat had been salted several days, Pa cut a hole near the end of each piece and put a string through it. Laura watched him do this, and then she watched him hang the meat on the nails in the hollow log.
"He reached up through the little door and hung meat on the nails as far up as he could reach. Then he put a ladder against the log, climbed up to the top, moved the roof to one side, and reached down inside to hand meat on those nails.
"Then Pa put the roof back again, climbed down the ladder, and said to Laura:
'Run over to the chopping block and fetch me some of those green hickory chips -- new, clean, white ones.'
"So Laura ran to the block where Pa chopped wood, and filled her apron with the fresh, sweet-smelling chips.
"Just inside the little door in the hollow log Pa built a fire of tiny bits of bark and moss, and he laid some of the chips on it very carefully.
"Instead of burning quickly, the green chips smoldered and filled the hollow log with thick, choking smoke. Pa shut the door, and a little smoke squeezed through the crack around it and a little smoke came out through the roof, but most of it was shut in with the meat.
'There's nothing better than good hickory smoke,' Pa said. 'That will make good venison that will keep anywhere, in any weather.'
"Then he took his gun, and slinging his ax on his shoulder he went away to the clearing to cut down some more trees.
"Laura and Ma watched the fire for several days. When smoke stopped coming through the cracks, Laura would bring more hickory chips and Ma would put them on the fire under the meat. All the time there was a little smell of smoke in the yard, and when the door was opened a thick, smoky, meaty smell came out.
"At last Pa said the venison had smoked long enough. Then they let the fire go our, and Pa took all the strips and pieces of meat out of the hollow tree. Ma wrapped each piece neatly in paper and hung them in the attic where they would keep safe and dry."

15 comments:

  1. Thanks , I still watch the reruns on tv have always wanted to live in that era. Adore the books too!

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  2. I absolutely love the series. When I was in 4th grade, my teacher, read these books to us and I have never forgotten her or the books,

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  3. I too, fell in love with these books at a young age. Being poor (though we kids didn't know that) my soon-to-be brother-in-law's dear Mom, Ruth, would send a different book with him every time I read one and returned it to her. At the time, I never knew how much they would impact my life in later years. Ruth herself, actually lived in a humble log cabin covered over with asphalt paper way out in the country, yet to me her little house seemed so beautiful and held such wonders. She had books. She might be tucked away shivering on cold nights, but as long as she had light, she could escape to another world. Ruth took me to those worlds, and little Laura Ingalls Wilder was there to greet me. Thank you, Ruth. Though you've been gone many years, your contribution to my life will never be forgotten.

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  4. Still some of my favorite books!

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  5. I think i was in 5th grade when these books cemented forever my love of reading. I need to read them again. have you laurine snelling books? she writes about life in the dakotas and they remind me of Little house books.
    Thanks for the memory
    Ruth

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  6. I remember as a kid...all those years ago...reading and re-reading these books. I think my most favorite was Farmer Boy, when Almanzo was growing up in upstate New York. The feasts that were described were what started me on my love of cooking. My mother was not an inventive cook and often times we would eat the same thing for dinner for weeks on end...I would absolutely lose myself in the Little House books, especially Farmer Boy. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

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  7. I have loved this series since I was little. I have the entire set also and every once in awhile will read them again. Now that you have reminded us, I think it's time to bring themout again. Thanks.

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  8. i have a cook book called the little house cookbook ( frontier foods from laura ingalls wilder"s classic stories) by barbara m. walker ( harpercollinspublishers). this is worth the find if you like the little house books, stories about little house and old time recipes, even my children love it! we have the whole little house colletion, i call it one of my most valuable possessions!

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    1. Thanks for sharing this.. sounds like something I will love...

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  9. Stopping by to say hello! I, too, love Little House. I grew up in the area where Almonzo grew up in. There's a little museum there. :) Fun stuff on this blog of yours!

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  10. Although I am now 60 years old, I can't bear to part with my books. I can't tell you how many times I've read them. I bought them for my daughter over 20 years ago, but she does not have the love for them I do. At our local library you can request the show on DVD's and I never grow tired of watching them every couple of years. Although, hubby doesn't love them as much as I do, he's a good sport about watching them with me. Hee, hee...

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  11. I found the Little House series when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade as well..(was reading at 3) It was love at first story..
    This past Christmas I bought the Little House book collection to give to my "sorta-grands" but I kept them instead I think I need to read them before I give them away.. if I do at all. ;)

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  12. Love that book series and tv show. So many lessons learned while growing up and now that we live in the country I often find myself remembering the references to the bible to help get them through the difficult times. - Carole

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