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...
"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."