Ellen Clifford
November 15, 2013 1:00 pm

Patti Smith may be my hero these days, but growing up, Laura Ingalls Wilder used to be my little idol on the prairie. And yes, I am talking about the Laura you get to know in Little House books. The television series, the couple of times I tried to watch it, proved saccharine, and the characters annoying. But that’s just me. If you loved it, keep on loving. Opinions are just that.

My opinion of the Laura I got to know in the books was that she was a pretty wicked combination of tomboy and smarty-pants, who could milk a mean cow. And stand up to a mean girl. Darn you, Nellie Oleson!

We may have the Pioneer Woman now, but Laura was the original pioneer. She conquered the Wild West long before Ree could take on the World Wide Web. My plan is to be pioneer of something that involves four words beginning with W so I can continue the pattern. I’m thinking Winsome Whiskey Waffle Whiz. When I figure out how to work whiskey into waffles I’ll let you know. Seems plausible.

Out of all the Little House books, I chose to reread Little Town on the Prairie. Although I enjoyed it so much I may pick up some of the others later, if you can bear more Laura-inspired recipes.

I’d forgotten how fascinating Wilder made the descriptions of the simplest things in life. Pages and pages are filled with luscious fields, droplets of dew, homey meals with Ma and Pa and even simple details like the pattern on the edge of a plate at the first birthday party she attended. And it is fascinating and beautiful.

Wilder appreciated the most basic things. She taught me to absolutely relish things like the frost on the grass I walked as I walked across the park to get to school. I learned how nice a simple walk round the block with my dad was. Even just a simple piece of bread and butter can feel special, if you take the time.

Little Town is an interesting one though, because you see Laura transitioning into her teens, and becoming more sophisticated as she adjusts to town life. Distressingly, we see that apparently even back then women were agonizing over their looks. She agonizes that she is not as “tall and willowy” as her rival Nellie. She worries that her eyes don’t “sparkle at all”. Come on Laura! You need sparkly eyes about as much as we need thigh gaps. Not at all.

We also see the beginning of her courtship with Almanzo. She falls in love with his horses first. That’s my girl. She is rather baffled by why he might want to walk her home, and gets more excited by the promise of a sleigh ride with his horses than the fact that he would be the one steering the sleigh. Hmmm, is this the prairie version of a material girl?

Perhaps. But let us get to the food. There is a day, early in the book that ends “in perfect satisfaction”. The day is “perfect” simply due to the fact that “All the work, except the supper dishes, was done until tomorrow”. Also, their kitten made it’s first kill. And if a cute cat story doesn’t make your definition for a good day, then you should just give up.

The perfect day’s supper is “bread and butter, fried potatoes, cottage cheese, and lettuce leaves sprinkled with vinegar and sugar”.

Two words: fried potatoes.

If that doesn’t make for your definition of a good day then I’m bringing out the ringer: butter.

What is better than fries? Fries with butter. Oh yeah. I said it. We are going to put BUTTER ON OUR FRIES. I feel so liberated.

I am sort of doubting that Ma had enough oil to deep fry, so these are oven fries. After they get nicely crisped up in the oven we are going to sauté them in butter. Life is beautiful.

Perfect Day Potatoes adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook eleventh edition

  • 2 cups russet potatoes sliced into French-fry shape (I like the peels on but feel free to peel)
  • 2-3 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 tsp. chives
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • kitten (optional)

Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Melt 2 Tbsp. of butter. Toss taters with a tablespoon or so of melted butter. Spread on a baking sheet and bake 30-40 minutes, rotating periodically. Heat the rest of the butter in a heavy skillet. Add roasted potatoes and chives and cook and stir until butter is absorbed. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Cuddle with a kitten if you have one nearby. Perfect.

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