“Once you begin being naughty, it’s easier to go on and on, and sooner or later, something dreadful happens.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder
Which children’s book character would you most like to be for just one day?
I’d like to be Laura Ingalls, mainly because her childhood was so vastly different from mine. I would love to have three sisters, a father who plays the fiddle, a dog named Jack, and a more intimate knowledge of how food was grown, cultivated, preserved, and prepared in the late 19th century. It would also be quite cool to be called, “Half-pint.”
Pioneer life was much harder than is depicted in the Little House books, so I wouldn’t necessarily want to actually be Laura Ingalls Wilder — no, just the Laura in the stories who eagerly watches Ma make Pancake Men, takes her turn at churning the cream, marvels at eating a little heart-shaped cake made from white flour, and is there to smell and taste all the bread and biscuits fresh from the wood-fired oven.
Somehow, no matter what difficulties Laura and her family faced, they got through them by pulling together and remembering what’s really important, or, as Laura herself said, “It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”
To celebrate Children’s Book Week, I decided to try Laura’s gingerbread recipe. It’s from The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook, which is a collection of 73 recipes she collected while living with Almanzo at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri. Apparently, she enclosed this recipe with a letter she wrote to Jennie Lindquist, an editor at Horn Book Magazine. I love seeing Laura’s handwriting!
I also loved the fragrance of each of the spices as I added them by teaspoonful to the flour per Laura’s instructions — ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. A whole cup of molasses couldn’t be rushed out of the bottle; it came out slow, thick, and gooey, and so very black. Whenever I use blackstrap molasses, I think I might grow chest hairs. It just sounds so strong and commanding, I know it will make itself known in the final product. I also say “blackstrap molasses” in my deepest voice for the full effect. Try it. “Blackstrap Molasses.”
The kitchen really smelled great while the gingerbread was baking — a little like Christmas. The recipe doesn’t specify size of baking pan, but I used a 9″ x 9″ square pan, and it was just right. It was also done in exactly 30 minutes, just like the recipe said. And the flavor? Yummmm. Positively strapping, I’d say. Robust, and not overly sweet. Lovely texture. But like any gingerbread or spice cake, it was even better after a day or so. Best of all, it’s something Laura really made herself, and baking it made me feel closer to her.
1 cup brown sugar blended with 1/2 cup lard or other shortening.
1 cup molasses mixed well with this.
2 tsp baking soda in 1 cup boiling water. (Be sure cup is full of water after foam is run off into cake mixture.)
Mix all well.
To 3 cups flour have added one teaspoon each of the following spices: ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and 1/2 tsp salt. Sift all into cake mixture and mix well. Add lastly 2 well-beaten eggs. The mixture should be quite thin.
Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) for thirty minutes.
Raisins and, or, candied fruit may be added and a chocolate frosting adds to the goodness.
I still remember how a public librarian first introduced me to the Little House books when I was 9 or 10. They’ve been important in my life ever since. The very first thing I ever got published was an article about Laura’s daughter, Rose, in Cobblestone Magazine, back in the late 80’s. I still try to read everything Laura-related I can get my hands on. Now that I’ve enjoyed her gingerbread, I’m going to treat myself to two recent books I’ve not yet seen: Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, by Pamela Smith Hill, which focuses on the writing/editorial relationship between Laura and Rose; and Tanya Lee Stone’s DK biography that just came out in March.
Okay, I’m going to have another piece of gingerbread now.
*chest hairs sprouting*
♥ Most of the newspaper columns Laura wrote for the Missouri Ruralist are online. I’m thinking she would be a great blogger — sharing stuff about farm life, her family, and things in the news. I especially loved the column she did about the Food Products building at the San Francisco Exposition,“Magic in Plain Foods.” She was fascinated by the modern machinery that makes food production so much easier, and the variety of foodstuffs available to the modern cook from around the world. She went around enjoying samples of rose cakes, rice cakes, and Scottish scones, and collecting recipes, including one for French croissants and Chinese Almond Cakes:
“We use raisins, flour, tea, breakfast food, and a score of other common things without a thought of the modern miracles that make it possible for us to have them.”
**So, now, please tell me: which character do you want to be today? I’d love to know, and maybe try a recipe that your character liked. ♥