Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Farmer Boy Diet

I'm re-reading all the Little House books right now, in no particular order.  It started with The Long Winter, because it seemed appropriate what with all the polar vortexes this winter.  Everybody, stop complaining about the cold now.  You might be forced to listen to how Pa and Laura had to twist hay to burn so they could keep from freezing all huddled in the kitchen, and Pa had to take advantage of every day that wasn't blizzarding to haul more hay from the homestead through the treacherous slough where the horse would fall into the snow and need to be dug out, and they had to grind Almanzo's precious seed wheat in the coffee mill to keep from starvation...  Ok, shutting up now.

But now I'm reading Farmer Boy.  Oh my goodness, how the Wilder family did eat!  It's worse than reading The Pickwick Papers.  Here is what eight-year-old Almanzo ate on a typical winter day:

Breakfast:  Buckwheat pancakes, sausage and gravy, oatmeal with cream and maple sugar, fried potatoes, preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts, apple pie (of which Almanzo eats two big wedges)

Dinner:  Bread and butter, sausage, doughnuts, apples, apple turnover

Supper: Ham, baked beans, salt pork, boiled potatoes with gravy, bread and butter, mashed turnips, stewed pumpkin, cheese, plum preserves, strawberry jam, grape jelly, spiced watermelon-rind pickles, a large piece of pumpkin pie

Evening snack:  Popcorn with butter and salt, apples, apple cider

This was a weekday menu, not even Sunday.  Nowadays we would never cook that much food unless we had a lot of people for a holiday dinner.  And hardly anybody was obese then!  I suppose they burned all those calories doing their chores on the farm and walking to school and just keeping warm.  And Mrs. Wilder certainly burned it off cooking all of that food on a woodstove every day!

I also have a reprint of The White House Cookbook originally published in 1872.  The menus are quite similar to this one, although presumably the President and his family didn't do nearly as much physical labor as the Wilders!

I just can't wrap my brain around how people ate that much food.  Nowadays we're obviously much more sedentary, and processed food packs an unnatural amount of calories into a small amount of food.  But still, oh my gosh!  Maybe the portions were much much smaller.  A "big wedge" of pie could be our, "Oh just a little piece?"  But that doesn't make sense either.  Why would Mrs. Wilder cook up so many dishes to just give everyone a tiny bit of everything?  Why not just double the turnips, skip the pumpkin, and call it good?  Farm wives had plenty to do without cooking unnecessarily.  Make doughnuts or pie for breakfast, why both?  I just don't get it.  Maybe Mrs. Wilder just loved to cook and that was her "love language." I suppose the only solution to this conundrum is to move out to a farm and see whether I start cooking this way!

I wonder what they ate on Christmas.

7 Posts in 7 Days!

1 comment:

  1. I remember when I first read the books, in 3rd grade or so, and being astounded by that part too. I was reading in bed one night, and as my dad passed by in the hall, I said, "Dad - listen to this!" and told him, unbelievingly, all the foods that they ate. And he declared simply, "well, yeah. They did very hard work on the farm. They burned it all off."

    Another thought to consider is that it is just a book, and Laura is writing about Almanzo's memories rather than her own. He may have elaborated in his telling of the stories, and just lumped together all the good things he remembered into one meal.

    I have a suspicion that there might be more than just the fact of our forefathers getting more exercise. It would NOT surprise me if our modern genetically-engineered foods actually cause us to put on more pounds, for whatever reason.