In the Prairie Kitchen

We would be toast if we had to deal with a prairie kitchen!

Most of us, anyway.

You know it. I know it. We look around our very usable kitchens and long for beauty. We want pendant lights and food processors and espresso machines with built-in water lines and self-cleaning ovens, dishwashers and big, bold refrigerators!!! Even a small house tends to have a great kitchen if you consider the alternative of the prairie… and if Chip and Joanna would come and give us a makeover, we’d be over-the-moon!

Not exactly and easy ride to the corner grocery… oh, wait. There were no corner groceries! 🙂

A hand-made wooden table, not always sanded to our current super-smooth niceness. Wooden hooks on the wall to hold things. Rough-hewn shelves, tacked to the wall. Maybe a dirt floor, at least the first few years… a fireplace that didn’t keep things warm or a Franklin stove when times got better! Dried herbs and smoked sausages and leatherbritches (dried beans) and dried fruit (if there was time and some was available because fruit trees weren’t exactly abundant!) Can you imagine the art of cooking and baking over an open fire or a Franklin stove???

Barrels for supplies… if you could afford supplies! Flour… brown sugar… lamp oil… oats… a jug of molasses. If you have a root cellar dug out, some potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, saleratus, salt… what else would they have? Need? Can you imagine planning and implementing everything you need for a WHOLE WINTER? And here in the northeast, ice houses were prevalent, but then we live along big lakes…. Not always available on the prairie!

Oh my stars.

I love reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Farmer Boy” and how they prepared for winter for months… every month, every week had a chore to do to put enough food by to get through a year. And that was easy compared to the prairie because the Eastern Woodlands have nut trees… fruit trees…. berries…. maple trees for syrup…. great soil for vegetables….. and porkers could be either shot in the woods or raised in pens….


A big step up from a soddy!!!! Or a dugout!

The prairie had grass and gardens planted in thick sod initially…. it often took two years of turning and killing grass to get plots of garden land for veggies and you’d need a one or two-bottom plow to break sod…. and then it took a lot of work to turn it enough to keep the roots dying. That grass is strong!

Carving an existence. No matter how you look at it, it had to take a huge measure of strength to maintain through those first two years especially. No towns. No shops. Few neighbors to speak of.

So different.

So cool.

And the prize of 164 acres of land.

A glimpse of yesteryear, the Hornbeck Farmstead…

No running water… maybe a well… maybe trips to the creek. Wash tub outside in nice weather and you’d stir the clothing in the hot soapy water over a fire…. in the winter the tub was inside, probably not used as much, and the clothes were often “freeze-dried” in the cold, harsh winds… how good spring must have felt to those brave souls!

I think of them often… when I whine about what I’d like vs. what I need. When I grumble about having to load the dishwasher three times a day… 🙂 When I let laundry… washed and dried by MACHINE!!!!… sit, waiting to be folded.


You want to know why women never waited to fold laundry?

There wasn’t time to wait. Time to sit. Time to do much pondering life’s injustices…. because they were so busy building a nation!

Go them!

Go us!

Those women had to use their time wisely… we’re different. Modern medicine has given us more time. Healthier time. And we know that… so I wonder if we’re a little less careful about it? A little too relaxed about what needs to get done or about appreciating how good our lives truly are?

Something to talk about!

Good morning, all… My name’s Ruthy and I’m just sittin’ here, wonderin’ how we’d all fare in the prairie kitchen… what would you miss the most?

What might you love???

And for those of you who’ve never read my beautiful women’s fiction/romance stories, I have a copy of “Refuge of the Heart”, an absolutely beautiful 5-Star book that touches your heart… and stirs your soul.


Maggie Award-winning novel… absolutely beautiful.

Chatter a bit with me to have your name tossed into the prairie tea kettle!


+ posts

48 thoughts on “In the Prairie Kitchen”

  1. Life back then definitely wasn’t for the lazy people we see often these days. I think I would miss a microwave more than anything.

  2. Good morning Ruthy,
    That’s one reason I love to read–and write–historical fiction. Add to the prairie kitchen: death in snowstorms, cholera, childbirth; the loneliness that drove some women mad; the lack of even the “modern” conveniences 19th-century people enjoyed in the city; and the courage it took to make any kind of a life out of it. And you’re right, Ruthy, they ALWAYS had to plan ahead or they were doomed.
    Good to see you in another venue,
    Kathy Bailey

    • Such courage, right? AMAZING! Every time I walk through an 18th or 19th century cemetery and see the young mothers and the babies… oh, my heart… Every choice took courage but their courage set the stage for so much. Now if we could live up to that amazing example!!!

  3. I didn’t have all of the amenities we enjoy today. I remember helping my Mon pin the clothes to the line in the morning and taking them down in the afternoon—sometimes stiff as a board.

  4. I’d rather live in a cabin than a soddy because of the dampness. I’d like to be closer to nature and not jammed in with people every which way you turn. I’d particularly like to be far far away from the politics and the state of the world currently. Yes, the frontier was a lot of hard work but somehow it seems like a more genuine life than being concerned with which neighbor has the better manicured lawn.

    • Eliza, that’s what I love about it: people were actually concerned with important things, a great example set in “Mrs. Mike” when Kathy came home to Boston only to see how petty people were… and how caught up in little things because there were no “big” things to fret about…

      She grew up that day and went back to Alaska… to her beloved “Mike”… and whatever the future held after burying her first two babies.

      Life is hard sometimes.

      I think we need to be strong…. always…. whenever we can… just in case.

  5. I think I would miss the running water and of course hot water. Now when I was a kid we didn’t have running water and heated our water but I wouldn’t want to go back to that now. There is a lot of things we have today that I would miss.

    • Quilt lady, I love running water, too… but I think I could heat it. I remember my mother-in-law seeing a news interview with a poverty-stricken person in a really dirty home/apartment… and she stared at that TV and said, “My mother heated water on the big wood stove for cleaning, for washing, for anything. She’d heat it and fill the buckets half-way and we’d scrub walls and doorways and floors…. Her house was clean and she didn’t have running water until we were all grown and gone.

      So an interesting viewpoint there…. I’d probably miss a whole lot more than I’m thinking of… I do love my big mixers and my gas oven that bakes so perfectly. When I got my first convection oven, it was love at first cake!!!!

  6. What I would love is to learn to cook over an open fire I think it would be interesting and a little dangerous but it seem to work out for them way back when. I would miss a washing machine the most as most clothes were washed on a scrubbing board and man that had to kill your back. But then life wasn’t easy back then but they had to be tough back then.

    • Kim, I think I’d do fine with soups and stews…. but setting bread and baking it… roasting foods… I bet that became an are all its own!

      And yes, Alva Fisher invented the washing machine… I looked it up years ago because I was washing SO MANY MUDDY BOYS’ CLOTHES and I wanted to send up a prayer of thanks. What a wonderful invention!!!!

      • I’m thinking they are a lot of rolls before the invention of the stove. Would be trial and error but would also be the easiest.

  7. I would miss a refrigerator the most. Would love the simplicity of the wood burning stove. If, I did not have to chop the wood, that is. Thank you for this historical view.

    • The summer would kill me. A hot stove, inside…. I can’t even! I love the old idea of a “summer kitchen” to have an outside cooking area, so in the summer I move my big roaster oven and my rotisserie outside…. and there’s the gas grill and a wood fire pit. Anything to keep the house cool because we don’t have AC and I’m a whiner in the heat!!!

  8. I enjoyed this fascinating post. I would miss bathing and hot water most of all. I do not update my appliances to the newest and they still function very well.

    • Anne, I’m with you! I keep mine until they absolutely have to be replaced… and last time it was a year before I’d planned, but when two of the three kitchen main ones go… well, then it was time.

      I do love hot water. Showers…. Oh, I would miss showers!!!!

  9. I do remember hanging the clothes on the clothesline in the backyard back in the 1950’s. I would miss the microwave but apart from that I do well enough without the newest of the new.

  10. What an enjoyable and interesting blog today. Definitely gave me a great deal to ponder even though I do enjoy the modern conveniences I see that many now are trying to live off the grid, while others bask in their unlimited luxuries of life. What a comparison.

    • Pearl, thank you! It’s a paradox, isn’t it? I look at how the Amish live off the grid and I admire their tenacity… but the Christian in me believes that Christians should be spreading the word openly, not living apart… but they make such a great example of living simply. And I do love that! (As I sip a diet Mt. Dew….) 🙂

  11. Oh, I am not really sure. I am not a very good cook, so I would probably be just as bad, if not worse, back in the day! LOL! I do not use a microwave due to it changing the molecular structure of our food so our bodies don’t know what to do with that food and don’t gain any nutrients from it, so that is one thing I wouldn’t have to worry about! I think one of the biggest things is how our government has made it illegal to be as sufficient as they were back in those days. They could hunt when they needed to. Now we have a very small window to hunt legally in and there is no way we have enough freezers to store it all for the whole winter.

    • Katie, so many good points. And you’re right about hunting limits and being totally self-sufficient. Folks with a bit of land could raise a few hogs and chickens…. but if you’re not on at least 5+ acres, then you’re limited by bagging what you can on the few days you have off.

      We’ve got people who come and hunt our land. First, there are way too many deer and they destroy our crops so minimizing their welcome mat is huge here… Second, the only predator the coyotes have is man…. and while I don’t mind them being around, being unchecked will become a recipe for disaster. As people, we’ve got to be sensible about how we live in peace with our fur-bearing neighbors… and how we eat them! 🙂 (Okay, vegetarians and vegans, don’t throw things at me… I am definitely an omnivore!)

  12. I think of how much precious reading time they missed out on. I can get distracted (like now!) and read a blog post or a couple more chapters in my current book while my washer and dryer are doing the work for me, and all my appliances will help me catch up later. Not to mention that I have light to read by anytime I want. Nope, I would not fare well on the prairie, I know I am much too spoiled.

    • Sally, I think you hit the nail on the head… if we had to give all this up, we’d be CRUSHED!!!! But if it didn’t exist, I bet more of us would fare well. It’s so hard to give up creature comforts. That gives me lots of respect for nuns/sisters who enter the religious life. What a wonderful dedication to God, faith and a new life that must be because you walk away from so many comforts… but find a different comfort, a spiritual one. I expect the lure of that 164 acres helped many stay the course. Not a spiritual link, but a very strong goal!

  13. What a great post, Ruthy! I loved it! Reading this sure makes us appreciate everything we have. I would definitely miss electricity. When it goes out for just a bit, it is no fun!

    • Oh, Melanie, that’s so true. I cannot imagine what we’d do… how we would adjust… if there were a sudden dearth of power. We’ve become so dependent.

      Would we gather our wits and make it?

      Now I need to stock up on lamp oil, Melanie!!!

  14. In my grandparents home, things were 20th Century rustic: initially, there was no indoor plumbing; dugout basement with a dirt floor, complete with storage for canned food, root vegetables, and seed vegetables; wringer washer–though she had a washboard; washline; galvanized tub for bathing–not a full body tub; potbelly stove in the living room–they did have electricity; no phone, but when the did, it was a party line; etc… As a little kid, it didn’t bother me, but I was really glad that by the time I was an adolescent, she did have some modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing. I’m talking the 1970s, y’all!

    The house is still standing. It never had central heat, over the years it varied with a wood stove, oil stove, and now propane. Never had a/c. And, it still has a a screen door with that snap I love. Dad uses it more as the epicenter for his apiary equipment.

    • I love the snap of a wooden screen door… I’ve put it in several books because there’s nothing like it, is there? Our aunt up the road had a dugout root cellar outside the house…. so when you drove by there was a DOOR in the side of the hill, leading into the root cellar! It was a topic of conversation for lots of folks! The “magic” door in the hill. 🙂

      We heat with wood…. I like not being totally dependent on outside entities for necessities, so the wood stove is clutch to me. But now we need to replace the Very Old, Very Unfriendly heating system in the basement but estimates are around 10,000 cool dollars… and that’s a lot of saving, isn’t it?

      Soon, though… because we can’t leave in the winter with no back-up heat source.

  15. Great post! I was thinking along similar lines last weekend as I tackled the mountain of laundry. I realized that I would miss my washing machine more than any other modern convenience.

    • That washing machine is such a time-saver. And a backsaver… and a wonderful thing. My newer model does such a good job compared to the old agitator top-loading models… And it plays music to me. So I love it. It’s a love/love relationship.

  16. Hey RUTHY! I enjoyed this post! Living in the prairie days wasn’t for the faint of heart! I would miss A/C the most.

    • Caryl, I agree! We don’t have A/C, we have trees, but I do install two window units… one in the kitchen and one in a bedroom so that if it gets too unbearable for too long, there’s a respite. And I do like to bake even in the summer, so the A/C window unit in the kitchen is a dearly beloved friend!

  17. Love this, Ruthy! I enjoy writing and reading historicals, but I know better than to wish I’d lived in the “old days.” If I had to grow my family’s food, and sew their clothing, we’d be the skinniest, burlap sack-wearingest people you ever saw. Thanks for such an interesting post!

    • hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!

      I often remember Laura Ingalls Wilder’s comment about the pioneers:

      They were thin and brown, like all the others.

      Because everyone had to work in the sun, people tanned naturally…. there was no sitting on a veranda, bonnet-wearing for a long, long time….

      And the thinness…. yes! Folks stayed in shape by necessity (work) and lack of high-carb foods (not much sugar and/or flour available) so things were used carefully… I would miss being able to bake whenever I wanted! I love baking… and creating…. and having kids love it. And they’re all slim because they’re busy all the time, so I might be solely responsible for the overuse of sugar in the whole country!!!

  18. I think that I might miss having a refrigerator. I don’t have a dishwasher. I think I could adjust to it okay.

    • The fridge is a big thing…. I think if we had the ice option, we’d be out there cutting ice blocks. I live near Braddocks Bay (an inlet of Lake Ontario) and Dave’s great and great great grandparents had ice houses down on the bay. They lived on a tiny “island” almost, in the bay and they would harvest rushes and line the “ice” house with thick cattail fluff… and then lay the ice blocks in there… and keep the thick insulating layers of “fluff” to stave off summer heat.

      Maybe I should buy an antique ice box! They’re so cute!!!

  19. The microwave was the first thing that came to my mind too!

    Without the electric washing machine I wouldn’t have a business (a Laundromat?)

    • Oh, that would end the laundromat, for certain… but you could start a laundry business, washing by hand!

      Do you know that lots of folks in NYC send their laundry out????

      I marvel at how different life is there… and how they know it as “normal”….

  20. What I would miss the most would be the refrigerator. We have an old icebox and it could still be used. but with the weather warming and winter not forming the kind of ice needed, it wouldn’t be a good option. Of everything we have now, it is the most important for good health and convenience.
    I have actually done many if not most of the things these woman had to do. I have started a garden from scratch, planned and planted, tended, harvested, and put things up either by canning or drying (also freezing). I have heated with wood. I have cooked on a fire and on a wood stove. I have washed clothes on a washboard and hung them on a line to dry or lay them on the grass to “bleach” them out. I have used a scythe but doubt I could do much in a wheat field. We have had a root cellar and I have dried meat. I have even helped build an addition to our house as well as gut a house and redo it. I can bake bread, know how to dress and pluck a bird as well as dress out game. I have hacked water from a hand pump in the yard and from the lake or stream near where we were. I have hd only a basin or wash tub to use for bathing. I can sew our clothes and keep them mended. I know how to set a snare and fish. I can shoot, but am not sure how good a hunter I would be.
    Could I survive as a settler. I think I could. Would I want to, not really. It is hard work and I appreciate all the modern conveniences we have. I like my free time, something these poor ladies had very little of.

    • I AM SO IMPRESSED!!!! That is a great list of accomplishments, that’s wonderfully inspiring, Patricia! And what a good point… I can shoot, too, but probably no one in the woods is SAFE with me in there….

      I like the challenge of knowing how to do things. I like not having to be totally reliant. And I’ve always admired the gumption of folks who sacrificed their comfort for the good of others… or to leave a family legacy. The lure of that farm!!!

  21. Ruthy, I would miss so many things but especially a microwave. I am very spoiled and at times forget just how blessed i am and how much i truly have. If we don’t reflect on the past we can get too comfortable in the present and take too much for granted. I am guilty of this. Thank you for the reminder of how much I truly do have. 🙂

    • Sabrina, what a sweet and kind thing to say…. I know we’re all guilty of this, it’s so easy to accept our normal as THE normal… and of course there are lots of emerging nations where our normal is like a DREAM… and we just take it as is because it’s our normal!

      I think when we talk about “walk a mile in his moccasins” those moccasins tell a lot more than distance and emotion and choices… they’re all about circumstances, too. A person’s circumstances and environment can have some really rough effects, can’t they?

      I think of Michael Oher’s story (Michael Lewis “Blindside”) and how he lived in such abject poverty and poor education… and then with the help of kind friends got his education and became an NFL player….

      That change of circumstances from a drug-addicted mother to a clean and normal home with kind people…. Made all the difference.

      Circumstances sure do matter.

  22. The laundry and the dishes I think I can handle out in the prairie. The cooking from absolute scratch three times a day I’m not sure if I could do…..

    • Hahahahahaha! I think the long winter would be the tough, tough thing for so many. Isolation. Lack of water. Heating snow or ice to make wash water. Lamp oil. Running out of oil. Heaven forbid a fire!!!! And the lack of fuel for that fire. No trees. No coal until the railroads came through… that changed everything! All of a sudden products became more abundant and more reliable….

      The cooking…. salted codfish…. codfish gravy… roasted rabbit…. 🙂

      Let me just add I would miss my big grocery store!!!

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