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Life in a Log Home

Part IV: Preparing Meals

No matter how many were under foot, the cooking had to be done. Its preparation depended upon what was available. Game was abundant; fruits and vegetables were seasonal; crop produce could be stored in root cellars, dried, or preserved. Turnips and carrots, pumpkins, potatoes, apples, berries, nuts and pork gave some variety but meal was the mainstay. Cornmeal was made from white corn, sometimes yellow or even red. Cornbread or mush were staples on the menu. Mush was put on to cook by mid-afternoon.

Buckwheat was a quick-growing crop which could be planted late and still have time to mature. The meal was used for pancakes. In November, 1959, a recipe for old fashioned buckwheat cakes was given in the Des Moines Register: It is repeated here, by permission of the editor: * "Pour 1 pint of warm water into a large pitcher or crock. Add package of dry yeast; 1 teaspoon of sale and 2 tablespoons of dark molasses. Then add enough buckwheat flour to make a thin batter. (Scant 2 cups.) Cover the pitcher and let stand in a warm place over night (or all day). In the morning, beat the batter down and add 1 teaspoon soda dissolved in a little warm water.

Bake on a greased, hot griddle, drench in hot maple syrup or honey and start eating. Boy!

These are the real, genuine buckwheat pancakes. You can keep the batter "going" for a long time. Save cup of batter in the refrigerator and use it in place of the cake of yeast for the new batch. Proceed as for first time.

The cakes get a bit tangier as you go along and we like that bit of sourness, but some epicures prefer to make a new batch each time."

Use plain buckwheat flour, not the self-rising ready-mix.

Apples were peeled and dried, later to be soaked and cooked with a little honey or sorghum. William Jones of Washington remembers that his mother put down crab apples in sorghum, probably thinned with vinegar and spiced. Fried, dried-apple pies were a welcome addition to the menu. The cooked and sweetened fruit was placed on a small round of pie dough and the edges sealed like a turnover. The pies were then fried slowly in a heavy iron skillet, first on one side and then. on the other.

Mr. Jones told about a wintertime confection their family liked. Parched corn and nutmeats were ground up and mixed with boiled syrup made of sorghum and butter, somewhat like cracker-jacks. The latter was made by cooking sorghum and butter in a heavy skillet until it "spun a hair." The syrup was poured over popped corn, stirred, and spread out to "crisp." (Use 9 cup sorghum, '1 cup corn syrup, 1 tablespoon butter, pinch of salt, to a couple of batches of popcorn.)

Pork was almost too plentiful and early settlers suffered from a steady diet of it. It might be salted down and smoked, or "fried down." Or it was used fresh, often by sharing and exchanging with neighbors. The boss of a crew of men working on construction jobs might buy a whole hog and have it "fried down" for the use of the camp cook. The sliced or ground meat was fried, packed into jars and covered with melted lard or "fryings." In this way, the meat "kept" during warm weather.

Beef was less common. Not only was the meat enjoyed, but also the tallow was valued for candle-making. A portion was dried behind the stove or near the fire, after first being cured and smoked. It became so dry and hard that it could only. be chipped off, giving the familiar name to our "chipped beef" gravy.

Originally published in the Annals of Iowa, Vol. 37, No. 8 (Spring 1965) Copyright 1965, State Historical Society of Iowa Excerpt reprinted by permission of the publisher.
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