It’s not often that I read a cookbook straight through, but after dipping in to The Little House Cookbook, I knew this was one that I had to read. It has been out for a very, very long time (1979), and I have a very dim recollection of checking it out at the library when I was a kid. But I had never gotten around to purchasing it for my library. After reading it cover to cover, I’m thrilled to add it to my kidlit history shelves!
From a historical perspective, Walker does a wonderful job of talking about the challenges of cooking in the 19th century. She talks about the shift from hearth to stove. How to preserve foods. What could be purchased from a store–and how exciting it was when new products were born. It’s stuff we try to explain to visitors at the museum on a regular basis, and her introduction to these complex stories is superb.
And from a kidlit perspective–this book is pure magic! These books spend a lot of time on food. Quick–how many Little House foods can you name? I’ll wait.
See? A lot, right? I think it is physically impossible to read Farmer Boy and not raid the kitchen. There are so many wonderful things to think about: fried apples n’ onions, vanity cakes, green pumpkin pie, doughnuts, even something as simple as popcorn just sounds better after reading about it. And this cookbook has all these recipes and more. Of course, Laura didn’t include recipes for everything, and Walker’s research skills really show here as well. She hunted through period cookbooks and tested and tested again to make these recipes possible for modern cooks. Granted, there are several recipes I have no interest in trying (roasting a whole pig? umm, no), but the fact that even those recipes were included makes this book extra special.
My delight in reading this book reminded me of a treasured book from my childhood. Back in 1991, Carloyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson published The Anne of Green Gables Treasury. Picture this: nerdy, 12 year old Melissa on the phone with a friend who also loves Anne. We’re thumbing through our respective copies together, squealing and giddy. Finally, we have the answers to so many questions! A map of Avonlea! The floor plan to Green Gables! A tea time menu, complete with recipes for Monkey Face Cookies (which are wonderful!) and Plum Puffs (also quite good)! Explanations of the clothes! Oh, it was really, really exciting.
Collins and Eriksson have gone on to publish more Treasuries, including books on The Secret Garden, Little Women, and of course, Little House. They are all quite good, but in my mind, none of them have had the magic that the Anne treasury did. Suddenly, almost all of my questions were answered. It was like these authors had uncovered these secrets that L. M. Montgomery had left buried in the books.
Books like these certainly aren’t for everyone. A lot of readers may not want to go beyond the page. But for those that do, I thank people like Barbara Walker, Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson. They’ve brought me a lot of joy as a reader–and certainly helped grow my love of history.