happy 145th birthday, laura ingalls wilder!

“Remember well, and bear in mind, a constant friend is hard to find.” ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

I like to think of Laura as a good friend. I first “met” her as a shy child who devoured her books, and she’s remained a constant presence in my life as a reader, writer and human being.

I’ve enjoyed deepening my connection to Laura by learning more about the foods mentioned in the Little House books (via Barbara M. Walker’s Little House Cookbook), and making some of the recipes contained in The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook (Trophy Press, 1997).  Some of you may know that this cookbook contains over 70 recipes compiled by Laura during the 30’s and 40’s when she lived with Almanzo at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri.

Last year, I made her Chicken and Dumplings and Apple-Upside Down Cake, and two years before that, her famous Gingerbread. To celebrate Laura’s birthday this year, I decided to try her Apple Slump, another of the six apple recipes included in the Country Cookbook.

Little House illustration by Garth Williams

Well, I’ve made cobblers, crisps, crumbles, and buckles before, but this was my first slump. It’s basically another cobbler variation that originated in the New England area, often considered synonymous with a grunt — although if you really want to get technical and all pie-litically correct, slumps are supposedly baked uncovered, while grunts are steam cooked (mostly on the stovetop). Just think in terms of a nice layer of fresh fruit cooked beneath a dumpling-like/biscuit dough.

Did somebody say dumplings?

Laura liked dumplings ☺, and so do I. See why we’re best buds?

But . . . her Apple Slump confused me a little and proved that when it comes to cobbler-type definitions, there’ll always be overlap and differences. That’s okay. Cobblers are supposed to be relaxed affairs, not known so much for their pretty appearance as for their taste, and yum is yum, no matter what you call it. Slumps were so-named because of their tendency to slump on the serving plate; grunts because of the sound the fruit made while cooking under the dough (socially acceptable behavior only if you’re a blueberry, peach, apple or cherry).

You know how Laura liked to do things her own way? Well, her Apple Slump is partially steamed, since the recipe calls for pouring a cup of vanilla water over the sliced apples before you cover them with the dough. You cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes, and then remove the foil and bake uncovered for another 30-40 minutes. So you’re really slumping as well as grunting with this one.

That Laura!

Another puzzle: the recipe calls for 6 large apples, peeled, cored and quartered. How would you quarter an apple? Make 4 wedged slices, or cut the apple in half, then in half again, crosswise?

The moustached leprechaun and I had a spirited discussion about this. My first instinct was to cut the apple in half, then in half crosswise rather than lengthwise. Either way, you’d get large pieces, so it made sense that Laura wanted to partially steam the apples in the baking process. I bowed to the engineer’s advice and went with four wedges.

The biscuit dough was easy to make, though mine came out softer and stickier than it should have, making it tricky to “pat dough into shape to fit top of casserole.” I interpret this to mean you could actually pick up the dough and shape it with your hands (no rolling out, as this would make the slump a pandowdy). I added a little more flour, but the dough was still too soft, so I spooned and spread it out over the apples, neatly tucking in the edges.

Turns out I needn’t have fussed so much, since everything baked up beautifully and tasted even better. Those three teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda ensured that the slump had a nice, fluffy dough pillow. Pat, pat. You know how it is with cobblers and such. While still warm, heap it onto your plate or pile it into a bowl, then top with whipped cream or ice cream, and watch it melt ever so slowly. Mmmmm!

Dishes were one of Laura's rare material indulgences. She had a large stock in several pattern varieties to feed lots of guests. Her favorite: Allerton Blue Willoware.

APPLE SLUMP
(6-8 servings)

6 large apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
3/4 cup granulated sugar (divided use)
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup water with 1 teaspoon vanilla added
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons butter
1-1/2 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter 2-quart ovenproof casserole.

2. Put apples in casserole. Combine 1/2 cup sugar and spices and sprinkle over apples. Pour vanilla water over apples.

3. Make biscuit dough: Combine flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in butter. Mix in buttermilk until just combined.

4. Pat dough into shape to fit top of casserole dish and put over top of apples. Cover lightly with foil.

5. Bake 30 minutes; remove foil. Bake 30 to 40 minutes longer until biscuit is baked and golden brown. Serve warm.

Whenever I make one of Laura’s apple recipes, I always think about how hard they worked to plant the hundreds of trees in their orchard. “The Wilders took such a personal interest in their orchard that they could discuss the individual trees. If Almanzo mentioned ‘the tree that leans to the north,’ Laura knew exactly which one he meant. Their Missouri Pippins and Ben Davis apples were not only marketed around Mansfield, but shipped to big cities.

Today I’ll be imagining Laura in her kitchen, the work center of her life as a farm wife. She might be looking out the window at the duck pond as she kneads the dough for her weekly bread baking. Or maybe it’s her day to churn the butter, pack eggs, or prepare bran mash for the chickens. It’s likely a visitor or two will stop by, who’ll be warmly greeted with a pot of tea, so they can all catch up with local news. Laura might also find a quiet moment in between washing the dishes and cooking Apple Slump in her woodburning stove to pencil another story in her dime store tablet about how her family crossed the Midwest in a covered wagon.

If the way is long
Let your heart be strong
Keep right on round the bend
Though you’re tired and weary
Still journey on to your happy abode
Where all that you love
And are dreaming of
Will be there at the end of the road.

Happy Birthday, Laura!

♥ Other Laura recipes at Alphabet Soup:

Interview with Sidney Greenbush, one of the twins who played Carrie in the Little House television series. First featured in 2009, it’s still the most frequently read post on this blog.

Soup of the Day post on Borrowed Names: Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C.J. Walker, Marie Curie and Their Daughters by Jeannine Atkins (Henry Holt, 2010).

♥ 2011 Laura birthday post by Beth Py-Lieberman at Food & Think, Smithsonian.com.

♥ Here’s Pa’s fiddle to play us out:  once a year, the fiddle is taken out of its case and played during Wilder Days in September at the LIW Home and Museum in Mansfield. “Sweet By and By,” Pa’s favorite song, was referenced in The Long Winter and played at his funeral.

This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, which is open to anyone with a food-related post to share (fiction, nonfiction, movie and cookbook reviews, recipes, musings, quotes, etc.).

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Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

52 thoughts on “happy 145th birthday, laura ingalls wilder!

    1. I’m thinking of a good summer/early fall project, when fresh fruit are plentiful — to try and make each of the cobbler variations I haven’t made yet.🙂

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  1. Slumps, grunts, and pandowdies! I have some small golden apples just right for this birthday celebration. (Although I may cheat and use Bisquik!) The oven will be on this evening for shepherd’s pie, and a slump will slide right on in with it.

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    1. Good idea! No use wasting oven heat🙂 I love shepherd’s pie — I usually use Delia Smith’s recipe, from an old cookbook I got in England years ago.

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    1. Love cherries! I’ve never actually gotten around to baking anything with fresh cherries yet, since we always eat them on the spot. I also don’t have the patience to pit them.

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    1. Yay, another lifelong Laura fan! So many of us also wanted to *be* Laura — a romantic notion as far as I’m concerned, since I’m too much of a wimp to be a pioneer. Can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to endure the hardships she and her family had.

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  2. I got a kick out of the difference between a slump and a pandowdie. Jama, regarding cherries, I finally indulged in a cherry pitter, which can also be an olive pitter. This summer, baking with cherries will be a more viable option!

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    1. I’m going to have to consider getting a pitter, too. Still, that won’t solve the problem of eating all the cherries before I get a chance to bake anything with them🙂.

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  3. Loved every scrumptious bit of this post, Jama! I’m a cobbler, crisp, and crumble baker, but I clearly need to expand my repertoire. Slump and grumble sound just the ticket.

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      1. LOL! You’ve just invented yourself another type of cobbler. Perhaps it’s cooked outdoors over an open fire, and the ingredients include berries collected by grizzly bears.

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  4. I cannot remember when I first read the Little House books – it’s like they’ve always been good friends. Even now, I will sometimes pull one of the books from my boxed set and read it while doing my morning stretches. Happy birthday, Laura!

    I’ve seen the portrait of Carrie, Mary and Laura together before, but I’m not sure I’ve seen the others. It’s funny – you get a permanent idea of what they looked like from Garth Williams’ artwork, and then the photographs look so different! In particular – holy cow, how severely pulled back the women’s hair was! I knew it was braided, of course, but not that it was pulled so tightly, you practically couldn’t see it at all!

    It was a special treat to hear one of Pa’s favorite songs – I always had to imagine what those tunes must’ve sounded like.

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    1. I had the same reaction seeing the real pictures. The women’s hairstyles looked so severe and hardly anyone smiles for photographs. It’s not only Garth Williams’s illustrations that are in my mind, but the actors on the TV series. It’s hard to think of Laura without seeing Melissa Gilbert’s face.

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  5. I’m partial to crisps myself (in fact, I still use Mrs. Olmo’s apple crisp recipe from my 6th grade Home Ec class), but your slump sure looks tasty. Believe it or not, I never read any Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a child, but I’m going to reserve some right now. Thanks for another terrific post!

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  6. Of course I was thrilled when my DD was enthralled by the same LHOTP books that I had read as a girl. Someone then passed on their copy of the cookbook to us, and right then and there dear daughter insisted that we make ‘sugar on snow’ the first time we had a snow day and no school. Somewhere I have a photo of our efforts. It was more fun to make than to eat – so VERY gooey! But we plan to make more recipes from the book. Nice and nostalgic.

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    1. That cookbook is such a classic! I’ve passed over a few recipes because I don’t like using lard. But for kids who like the stories, making some of the recipes is such a fantastic way of extending their enjoyment and understanding of Laura’s experiences. You’re lucky that you got to experience the joy of these books a second time with your daughter🙂.

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  7. It’s been a busy week, but I hope Laura doesn’t mind if I celebrate this weekend. Thank you for the feast — apples and blue willow ware are heaven. We might have to toss in a few cranberries in my house though. It seems as called for these days as cinnamon — Laura would have understood if ever got to Massachusetts!

    thank you for the beautiful celebration — sorry I showed up late, but I was looking forward to it!

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    1. Yes to the cranberries! They make any celebration all the more festive. I’m sure Laura wouldn’t mind your celebrating this weekend, and the next, and the next . . . perhaps a spitting contest to liven things up even more?

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  8. Wow that slump looks so good! You know, I have the Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbook but I’ve never used it. Seems I’m going to have to rectify that very soon.🙂

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    1. I’ve only made the Apples ‘n Onions from that book so far. The Country Cookbook seems to have more “doable” recipes, simple country fare. If you make any recipes, hope you’ll blog about it!

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  9. You certainly took me back in time while reading this post! I also grew up reading Laura’s books! She holds a special place in my heart…And these recipes sound amazing! Cooking and baking with apples is one of my favortie things! Thank you so much for my trip down memory lane!

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    1. Glad you traveled down memory lane with us, Lisa. There’s nothing better than cooking something that has a special connection to your past. Memories are the best “favorings” for recipes.

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  10. I have at least two Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbooks. She will always, always have a special place in my heart too. I doubt Laura fussed much when she baked her apple desserts — and the results look wonderful!

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  11. This was a lovely tribute to one of my favorite authors too. I too have made many recipes from this cookbook. My favorite is her gingerbread. I haven’t tried the slump, but it seems like a great way to use special apples. I wonder if the apple varieties you mentioned (Missouri Pippens and the Ben Davis’) are still around. The variety often makes the difference.

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    1. I don’t think those old apple varieties are still around, but it’s always fun experimenting with different apples. For this slump, I used golden delicious and granny smiths. Of course these store bought apples aren’t as good as the Fall apples I get at the farm market. Will have to wait for summer to make more cobblers, slumps, grunts, pandowdies, crumbles and crisps!

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  12. I have such fond memories of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a child, and reading them to my own girls, too. Not sure why I’ve never investigated her cookbooks. This looks wonderful!

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    1. The names for all the different types of cobblers get all mixed up sometimes, but it’s certainly fun to learn about what they’re supposed to be and where they came from.

      Glad you liked Cornelius’s apple photo. He’s such a ham and loves the attention.

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  13. Sounds yummy. I found your site while searching about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Did you blog about the other recipes you’ve tried?

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  14. So glad you posted this! Some years ago I made Laura’s Peach Slump recipe & it was the best I’ve ever had! I got it from one of her cookbooks & it may have been this same book but I’m not sure. In this Apple Slump recipe does it give the option of peaches? Anyway I lost that recipe & have been searching for it forever. Maybe I can just exchange apples for peaches with this recipe…what do you think?

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    1. Hi Leanna,

      I checked the Apple Slump recipe again and it doesn’t mention anything about substituting peaches — but I’m sure you could do it. Maybe a little less sugar if the peaches are quite sweet already? I also looked at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Cookbook and couldn’t find any peach slump recipe there. Now you’ve got me craving Peach Cobbler. Good luck with your baking!

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      1. Jama, thinking back it may have been one of Rose Wilder’s recipes or maybe I substituted Lauras. I’m not sure now, but it was to die for.
        Nonetheless I love peaches and I adore Laura! So many fond memories of sitting near my mother every evening as my mother read them to me and then later reading them on my own, late at night or sitting in the tree in the backyard.
        I’ll never forget as a child, visiting her home in Missouri either.Every detail if it is etched in my memory.
        Thank you for posting about her.

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      2. Lovely memories! I’m jealous that you visited Laura’s home in Missouri. I’d love to go there someday🙂. Glad you enjoyed the post — thanks for your nice comments.

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