Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 13

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 13


It's winter again and Pa is starting to hunt now that the harvest is all in and put away.

   One night when he came in from doing the chores Pa said that after supper he would go to his deer-lick and watch for a deer. There had been no fresh meat in the little house since spring, but now the fawns were grown up, and Pa would go hunting again.

And, no, I still don't understand how the Ingalls are eating if they only have fall crops and winter game. Spring and summer don't sound like much fun at all, in that light.

Anyway, Chapter 13 is very pretty and introspective; Pa goes into the forest to shoot game but he's so dazzled by the gorgeous natural beauty of, in order, a stag, a bear, and a doe and her faun, that he doesn't bring home any food. Mary and Laura don't mind and remind him that beauty and nature are more important than supper. Then Pa plays gorgeous haunting music while Laura falls asleep.

And, really, this is nice. At least when you're a kid and you just assume that the Ingalls' larder is so full to bursting that game isn't a necessity. If it was a necessity, then this makes Pa out to be, um, a little careless for the safety of his family? It's not like Laura and Mary and Ma have much of a say in all this, honestly. But ... yeah.


Majromax said...

Winter wheat was becoming popular in the US plains around this time, so there may have been an early-summer crop of that.

Also, almost certainly the family would have had source of small game such as rabbit and squirrel; if nothing else they could be trapped-for. Also, the supplies of salted fish mentioned in the first chapter would have come from somewhere.

Ana Mardoll said...

Well, but it says "NO fresh meat". Are squirrels not meat like fish isn't meat?

cjmr said...

I can't imagine they didn't have chickens, but they never mention them. (So theoretically they could have been eating eggs for protein.)

Naomi said...

In the summer they'd have had garden produce.

Which they'd have to keep rabbits from eating, and HEY rabbit is tasty (and really, to a gardener, rabbits are VERMIN, including the baby ones. I don't care how cute they are, you're going to set traps and turn them all into tasty, tasty stew.) I don't know why "no venison" = "no meat."

Randy Kay said...

"And, no, I still don't understand how the Ingalls are eating if they only have fall crops and winter game. Spring and summer don't sound like much fun at all, in that light."

Well, it honestly is worth taking into account that it is now thought that Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter, Rose, did a significant amount of the work on these books. Rose Wilder Lane was a dedicated Libertarian, so she had a vested interest in making the hardscrabble life seem less difficult than it actually was. While the hardships are certainly not papered over in the series, they are nevertheless muted, and some of the worst periods are skipped over altogether.

Ice said...

I just want to say that I've thoroughly enjoyed this decon, even though I've not read the books. Very interesting, and makes me want to pick up the series to read for myself. Awesome posts, Ana!

Ursula L said...

My guess is that staples like grain (corn, wheat) and (dry) beans were grown in sufficient quantity to last until the next fall harvest, so they'd have those all year.

Gardening would begin in the spring, with some produce eaten fresh and other produce preserved for later. The fall garden crops (potatoes, carrots, pumpkins and winter squash, peppers, apples, onions, etc.) were things that would mostly last through the winter, running out in early spring, with a short time of limited choices before the next spring garden food came in.

Fall meant butchering. Most of the best cuts of meat would be gone by spring, but there would be enough fat (salt pork and lard) to last until the next butchering. There might also be a small spring butchering, particularly if the cow's calf that year was male, and wouldn't grow up to be another productive milk cow, and you didn't have the need to either raise it to be gelded and trained as an ox or to be kept as a bull to father the next generation of milk cows. The stomach provided rennet to make cheese with the milk during the summer, thus preserving it for winter, and there would be veal to eat for a little while.

Other hunted meat supplemented the diet during the winter. Big game (bear, dear) would be hunted in winter, when the cold would keep the meat edible for a reasonably long time, so it could be eaten rather than spoiled. Hunting larger animals took a dedicated effort, time that couldn't be spent in other productive activity. Practical in the winter, when other work was less, you could take the time to preserve the fur or hide, and the large quantities of meat could be saved by freezing/chilling with less labor than the preserving that went with butchering. Not worth it in the summer, when time was needed for other farm tasks, and meat would spoil quickly. That was "real" hunting, while something like shooting or trapping a rabbit in the garden could be done year round, opportunistically during other work.

Dairy products, eggs and milk, were seasonal from spring until mid-winter. At some point in the winter, the hens stop laying and the cows stop producing milk, and those products were then done until the next spring.

There is also gathering. Maple sap, to make syrup. Wild greens in the spring. Various fruits and berries in the summer, some eaten fresh, others dried or otherwise preserved. Wild honey, when found. Fishing, either with a fish trap (as in OTBOPC) or as an occasional bit of play on a summer day when rain forced a break in the ordinary farming routine.

So you have a diet that is very, very seasonal. Where some types of food are more interesting than others, and also where the production of some types of food made for a better story than others.


That's in the early books, LHITBW, FB, and, to a lesser extent, LHOTP (they're aiming for this diet, but don't stay long enough to get the benefit of their first garden.) The books with the best food porn.

Starting in OTBOPC, you see the shift to grain farming for cash, and less variety in the diet, a crisis that culminates in LW, when the lack of a grain harvest prevented them from buying enough food to make it through the winter, and the lack of well-established subsistence farming prevented the stockpiling of their own farm food. In LTOTP and THGY, the Ingalls farm gets better established, and we start to see garden food again, but not the variety of meat that came with hunting and trapping.

Timothy (TRiG) said...

My mother read us all these books at night time when we went to bed. We were well capable of reading for ourselves, but she was an excellent reader, and that was our nightly ritual. I must point her to this series of posts. I'm sure she'd find them fascinating.


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