One of my favorite rituals I have with my three sons is reading to them before bed. They all share a room, which makes it easy. I tuck them into bed, turn off the lights, then sit on the bottom bunk and read to them by flashlight. Lately we’ve been taking turns between Harry Potter and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.
There’s a special place in my heart for Little House. I loved the television show as a kid, and growing up on the plains of South Dakota, with country schools and homesteads ripe for exploring, I honestly thought I was Laura. I still can’t walk down a hill without wanting to take off running and flapping my arms.
So when my middle son, Luke, came home with Little House in the Big Woods, which he checked out from the school library, I was very excited. We read a chapter a night, and all of us became completely enthralled with the Ingalls family. Next, we read, Little House on the Prairie. We loved hearing about their adventures, and also getting a glimpse of pioneer life with the descriptions of Pa planting crops and Ma cooking and taking care of the house. Not only have the books been a wonderful history lesson, but seeing a family with so little as far as toys and money goes — but with so much in the love department — has been a wonderful life lesson for my kids.
Imagine my delight when sweet Luke came home from school the other day with a book he checked out just for me: The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories, by Barbara M. Walker. The book has a fascinating introduction that talks about self-sufficiency and food preservation, which made me feel really blessed to have things like a refrigerator and a grocery store that’s only 20 minutes away.
The first recipe we made from the book had to be heart cakes. We could just feel Laura and Mary’s excitement when we read this passage from Little House on the Prairie … and we happened to be reading the Christmas chapter on Christmas Eve:
Those stockings weren’t empty yet. Mary and Laura pulled out two small packages. They unwrapped them, and each found a little heart-shaped cake. Over their delicate brown tops was sprinkled white sugar. The sparkling grains lay like tiny drifts of snow.
The cakes were too pretty to eat. Mary and Laura just looked at them. But at last Laura turned hers over, and she nibbled a tiny nibble from underneath, where it wouldn’t show. And the inside of that little cake was white!
It had been made of pure white flour, and sweetened with white sugar.
The cakes were also wrapped in blue tissue paper, so of course we had to do the same with ours! In reading the books, we learned how the family used dark sugar for every day, but would keep a little packet of white sugar tucked away for when company came to visit. The fact that it was used as part of a gift for the children must have made them feel so special! Here is the recipe, which makes six cakes:
‘Little House’ heart cakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour, plus extra for dusting
1/3 cup sugar plus extra for dusting
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup lard, chilled, plus extra for pan (we used butter)
1/3 cup cultured buttermilk.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and nutmeg. With cold, dry fingers, rub the cold lard (or butter) into the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center, add buttermilk, and work with your hands into a dough that can be rolled out.
Dust a counter or table with flour. Shape the dough into a ball and roll it out into an 8-inch circle. With a table knife dipped in flour, cut the circle in half, then the halves into thirds, to make six equal-sized slices. Shape each wedge into a heart. (Since there are five in our family, I took the sixth wedge, cut it into three smaller pieces, and made three mini hearts for the boys to take in their lunches the next day.)
Grease a baking sheet and place the hearts on it so they don’t touch. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the cakes are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and top immediately with sugar.
We loved the cakes. They were like a cross between shortbread and a scone, and the pinch of nutmeg gave them a great flavor. It was so much fun making these cakes with Luke and sharing them with our own little family. Enjoy!