I’m moving on from Little House in the Big Woods to the ever classic Little House on the Prairie now, but not before mentioning a few things in the first book I’d forgotten.
Hog butchering? Check. Butter making? Check. Maple syrup time? Check.
But I’d forgotten about the cheese making!
“When the milk was heated enough, Ma squeezed every drop of water from the rennet in the cloth, and then poured the water into the milk. She stirred it well and left it in a warm place by the stove. In a little while it thickened into a smooth, quivery mass.
“With a long knife, Ma cut this mass into little squares, and let it stand while the curd separated from the whey … Ma emptied the curd into a big pan and salted it, turning and mixing it well.”
The cheese was then pressed overnight, sewn into a cloth, and slathered with butter. Every day Ma turned the cheese after wiping the outside down and re-applying butter. Once a hard rind had formed the huge cheese wheels were wrapped in paper and stored in the attic.
Classic farmhouse cheese. Since the milk was raw, it already contained plenty of good bacterial cultures, whereas we have to add those to milk even if it’s pasturized at a low temperature. And Ma churned butter once a week – so the cream she saved had a chance to sour naturally. I get the same tangy flavor from introducing piima culture to my cream, but her butter would have the same complexity of flavor and keep for longer at room temperature than “sweet cream” butter.
And then there were the straw hats. After the oats for the horses had been harvested, Pa brought Ma a bunch of straw. She soaked it in a tub of water, and once it was soft, got to braiding.
“She made a fine, narrow, smooth braid, using seven of the smallest straws. She used nine larger straws for a wider braid, and made it notched all along the edges. And from the very largest straws she made the widest braid of all.”
Using strong thread she sewed the braids into mats, then tightened the stitches to bring the crown together as she sewed around and around, then loosened the stitches again so the brim would be flat.
“Ma sewed hats for Mary and Laura of the finest, narrowest braid. For Pa and for herself she made hats of the wider, notched braid. That was Pa’s Sunday hat. Then she made him two everyday hats of the coarser, widest braid.”
I went looking for more information on making straw hats and found it on VintageSewing.info. It’s a site chock full of ways to recreate vintage fashions.
Finally, there was the honey tree Pa found, which would have been a real boon. He ran a bear off of it, broke it open and harvested buckets and buckets of honey. The bees moved to another hollow tree to set up shop.
Yes, I’m now about to look up those plans for the horizontal bee hive I was thinking of building this winter. There’s still time …