26 January 2009

Farmer Boy: An American Foodie

Farmer Boy: An American Foodie

I'm reading Farmer Boy to Lula and Cecily right now, and remembering some of the best food writing around.

(I was scolded by a colleague once for reading the Little House series to my children because of it's politically un-correct writing about "injuns" and homesteading. Rest assured that I explain as I read why characters in the book talk that way and why it is problematic. Hope that makes it ok, because these books are so fascinating.)

In regards to home cooking,though, no one has ever impressed me as much as Mother Wilder. She makes delectable things for breakfast, like stacked pancakes, with each cake lavishly buttered and sprinkled with maple sugar and placed on the stack as it comes of the griddle. In this scene, she has ten stacks working and adds to them as she goes. In addition to huge stacks of pancakes, the family eats oatmeal, sausage, apples, and pie for breakfast.

And Sunday dinner--three plump hens under a crust: "Father's spoon cut deep into the chicken pie; he scooped out big pieces of thick crust and turned up their fluffy yellow under-sides on the plate. He poured gravy over them; he dipped up big pieces of tender chicken, dark meat and white meat sliding from the bones."

But my favorite scene, which highlights mother's skill and industry, as she cooks on a wood stove, is this one, from pp. 75-76: "That night was Saturday night. All day long Mother had been baking, and when Almanzo went into the kitchen for the milk-pails, she was still frying doughnuts. The place was full of their hot, brown smell, and the wheaty smell of new bread, the spicy smell of cakes, and the syrupy smell of pies.

"Almanzo took the biggest doughnut from the pan and bit off its crisp end. Mother was rolling out the golden dough, slashing it into long strips, rolling and doubling and twisting the strips. Her fingers flew; you could hardly see them. The strips seemed to twist themselves under her hands, and to leap into the big copper kettle of swirling hot fat.

"Plump! they went to the bottom, sending up bubbles. Then quickly they came popping up, to float and slowly swell, till they rolled themselves over, their pale golden backs going into the fat and their plump brown bellies rising out of it.

"They rolled over, Mother said, because they were twisted. Some women made a new-fangled shape, round, with a hole in the middle. But round doughnuts wouldn't turn themselves over. Mother didn't have time to waste turning doughnuts; it was quicker to twist them"

1) Don't you love the crisp end of the doughnut that Almanzo bites off? New-fangled round doughnuts wouldn't have a crisp end.
2) I love mother's adherence to tradition--she's not going with every little foolish trend in doughnut making. I'm absolutely positive that twisted doughnuts are tastier than round. ( I despise doughnuts, except for homemade--Mother's doughnuts couldn't possibly be related to the corn syrup-drenched food product we buy in the stores.)
3) It would definitely be easier and faster for me to turn doughnuts than to twist them. Mother's an iron chef with mad skills--she bakes all day Saturday, plus she weaves and dyes her own cloth, sews everyone's clothes, processes raw ingredients every day all day long while maintaining her position as mistress of the best farm in the county. Plus she's hot.

If you've not read this book, or if it's been more than five years, go out and pick it up. And post your doughnut recipes in comments (Emily, I'm talkin' to you!)



Marni C. said...

My other favorite food moments: Almanzo and sister go out to get wintergreen leaves in the snow to make wintergreen syrup. They dig around the wintergreen bushes and gather the berries, which they stuff into their mouths on the spot. The berries are frozen and delicious, and seem to me like they would taste like the best of all sorbets. Later, Mother Wilder stuffs bottles full of liquor w/the wintergreen leaves to make delicious wintergreen syrup. I think that Almanzo must have always been hungry!

mimiwings06 said...

AAHHHHHHH I didn't know that anyone else felt that way. one of the reasons I love the little house books (actually, it's the main reason) is laura ingalls wilder's ability to describe food. THANK YOU!

Eva said...

Oh, mama.
I have been saving this post to read on a rainy day (literally--It's to rainy for me to go back to the nard before din, so I am using a computer in the building that my last class was in before I make my way speedily over to John Jay...).
It was worth the wait.
Plus, also I had to let you know that you do have mad skills in the kitchen. In fact, I would go so far as to call them Mad skillz!!!
Love you!