Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chapter 17: Pa Goes to Town

"Before dawn, Pa went away. When Laura and Mary woke, he was gone and everything was empty and lonely. It was not as though Pa had only gone hunting. He was gone to town and he would not be back for four long days."

Laura and Mary stay in the house with Ma all morning. It is too big and empty outside with Pa gone. At noon Laura and Ma goes outside to move the cow's picket line to fresh grass. Then they go back inside until evening chore time.

Ma is just putting on her bonnet to go milk the cow when all the hair stands up on Jack's back and he rushes out of the house. They hear a yell, "Call off your dog! Call off your dog!" It is Mr. Edwards. Pa asked him to come by each day and check on Ma and the girls. He has come at chore time so he can help with the chores.

But now he is on top of the woodpile with Jack growling and trying to get to him. Ma makes Jack let Mr. Edwards down, but Jack keeps an eye on him the whole time he is doing chores.

That night everything is dark and lonely. A wolf howls out on the prairie, but Laura is not afraid. Ma has pulled the latch string through the stout door and Jack is in the house with them. Nothing can get to them; they are safe.

The next day is empty and long like the first one. Mrs. Scott comes to visit and talks to Ma. She says interesting things about massacres, but Ma changes the subject. Later Ma says Laura will have to be older before she can know what a massacre is.

Mr. Edwards comes again to help with chores and Jack chases him up the wood pile again. Laura and Mary think about Pa, camping that night in the town of Independence. Tomorrow morning he will shop and by tomorrow afternoon he should be on his way home again!

The wind blows bitterly cold for the next two days. Pa must travel into the wind to reach the little log cabin. On the second day, Laura and Mary begin to watch for Pa. They wait all afternoon and all evening, but Pa doesn't come. Only the wind blows and blows and blows.

Ma lets them stay up and wait for Pa, but finally Laura falls asleep sitting up on the bench. She falls right onto the floor and Ma says they must go to bed. Ma sits by the fire in her rocking chair waiting and waiting.

Laura doesn't even know when she falls asleep again, but next thing she knows, Pa is standing in the cabin. His clothes are cold and his boots are caked with frozen mud. He is very tired, but he wraps Laura and Mary in Ma's shawl and takes them on his lap. He is glad to be home.

Pa drinks a cup of nice, hot coffee and shows Ma and the girls the treasures he has brought from town. First he shows them a flat, square package wrapped carefully in brown paper. It is full of eight small squares of glass for their window! Ma is so pleased; now they will be able to look out the window this winter.

Pa also shows them a little paper sack full of pure, white sugar. Ma puts it away carefully to be used when company comes. Pa has also brought lots of nails, salt pork, tobacco for him, and cornmeal for corn bread. It is so nice. Now they will have enough of everything all winter long.

It's kind of interesting to read this chapter just as I'm gearing up for another monthly shopping trip. Once a month I go buy out Walmart and haul home hundreds of different kinds of items---pet supplies, groceries, household items, etc., etc. You know, just the simple necessities for modern life. Perhaps I should surprise Caleb by coming back this time with only cornmeal and sugar. Wouldn't he be excited!

Now, I know that the cornmeal Pa picked up in Independence was already ground at a mill somewhere. Even in those pioneer days, women had risen up in rebellion against the ancient method of hand milling. In fact, grist mills date back before the Roman Empire. Those ancient housewives must have been feisty!

But I wanted to try grinding corn the OLD-fashioned way. It seemed more authentic. More real. More in touch with history. More like I had no mill to use.

So I went out in the bitter cold and selected two nice rocks. It was a complicated selection process with stringent requirements----mainly I had to be able to kick them loose from where they were frozen to the ground.

Then they went through an important seasoning process where I scrubbed off all the dirt and dead vegetation. There was a limit to the amount of crunch I was willing to accept in my corn muffin.

I dried the rocks and placed a handful of popcorn kernels on the bottom rock. Popcorn kernels are smaller than regular grinding corn, but still work.

Then I started to grind the corn. Turns out dry corn is pretty hard...the kernels went flying and suffered no noticeable damage in the process. But I kept at it, though I did mentally downsize the amount of cornmeal I planned to get.

It was around this time that Caleb got home from school. Slam! "I'm starving, Mom! What's for dinner?"

He walks into the kitchen and sees me with my two rocks, grinding away at the corn.

"I'm making supper as fast I can, Sweety."

"Are you kidding me!?"

Have you ever seen a teenage boy cry?

My dad also stopped by, but somehow didn't want to stay for dinner. I don't know why---cornbread and chili beans is one of his favorite meals. He did let me know a fascinating historical fact: Old-fashioned stone-ground grain had powdered bits of rock in it and actually ground off people's teeth over time.  

Hmmmm. Maybe I'll just mix the cornmeal in only ONE special  muffin!

I worked at it for about twenty minutes before I got bored.  My family never would have made it back in ancient times! Or they would have learned to like REALLY crunchy bread. By the time I finished, I had quite a bit of powder on my grinding rock-----but still mixed in with large chunks of hardened corn. So I mentally downsized my expectations yet again and ran it all through a colander.

I ended up with about a tablespoon of extremely....hearty cornmeal. And I think almost half of it was actually corn!

Fiesta Surprise Cornbread:

2 1/2 c flour
2 c cornmeal
1/2 c sugar
4 t baking pwd.
1 t salt (I think I would increase this by at least 1/4 t next time)

Mix together

2 eggs
2 1/4 c milk
1/2 c melted butter
1/2 c frozen corn
1 4-oz. can green chilis
1 can sliced olives

Mix in separate  bowl and fold into mix; add small amount of water if needed.  Pour into greased pan and bake at 350  35-40 minutes until done.

That's an OLIVE, not a rock.....

Ready to eat the delicious "special" muffin that has the homemade cornmeal mixed in it......

First bite......

Mmmmmmmm! Tastes good.

But even Caleb can hear the chunks of corn? grinding in my mouth....

Delicious! I would recommend this recipe to anyone.

Though you may want to leave out the authentic stone-ground part......

Just a suggestion.

"Everything was alright when Pa was there. And now he had nails, and cornmeal, and fat pork, and salt, and everything. He would not have to go to town again for a long time."

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