little house in the desert

25 Oct little house in the desert

B and I recently started reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The first book, “Little House in the Big Woods,” describes in detail Laura and her family’s life in a log cabin in Wisconsin in the late 1800s. Wolves and panthers and bears roam the woods. Pa hunts and traps. Ma butchers meat and makes her own butter and cheese. At night, Pa plays the fiddle and tells wild stories.

B, who is fascinated by anything really old, has been captivated by the details — filling the bathtub with snow and melting it by the fire for the weekly bath time, traveling by horse and sleigh, storing food for winter.

She asked me if we could make our own butter…so naturally, in a very un-pioneer way, I Googled it. I never knew making butter was so simple. Turns out you can “churn” a batch in 10 minutes with just some cream and a mason jar. Here’s how we did it:

Fill a jar 1/3 to 1/2 full of heavy cream and seal it tightly.
Set a timer for 10 minutes and start shaking.

After about 3 or 4 minutes the cream gets really thick and turns into whipped cream. Keep shaking! Soon, you’ll see it start to change. The buttermilk begins to separate and eventually you have a glob of butter sloshing around the jar. When you’re done, you’ll have a mound of butter sitting in buttermilk.

Pour off the buttermilk (B drank it and loved it!) and then rinse the butter in ice cold water. Rinsing it removes the rest of the buttermilk and keeps the butter from spoiling too soon.

Once it’s rinsed, you can roll it up in plastic wrap or use candy molds to make fun shapes and refrigerate it. Or, eat it, like we did 🙂

I can’t say we’ll be making our own butter from now on. B got tired of shaking after a while. But it was fun, and it gave us a tiny bit of perspective on how hard some people have to work for their food, even today.

Side note: As we move through the books, I’m thinking about how we’ll discuss the pioneers’ settlement out west and the mistreatment of Native Americans. Racism and fear of the unknown are as much a part of the colonial history as the pioneer family’s bonding and survival. I love these books for the beautiful writing, the strong girls and their respect for wild animals and places. But I realize, like so much classic literature, there’s a large chunk of the historical narrative missing.

Have any of you read the series with your kids? Did you discuss these issues? How?

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