I recently read The Wilder Life: My adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure who is on a search for her minds version of “Laura World.” The funny thing is, I never realized that I have been on my own hunt for some version of “Laura World” for years.
Having grown up in Vermont helped to fuel this pioneer girl fantasy of mine. We lived in a house surrounded by farm land and our own version of the “big woods.” Hidden ponds, raging rivers, covered bridges, barns and cattle were a part of the everyday scene. Family vacations beyond the borders of Vermont helped me to learn that Vermont operated on a different plane than the rest of the world. Things were a lot slower and a lot simpler in Vermont. We actually did things like walking a mile to the bus stop in a blinding snow storm. We tapped our trees and made our own maple syrup. Mud season was dreaded by every Vermonter who lived down a dirt road; which was darn near most of us. We got Friday afternoons off from school in the winter time so we could take skiing lessons. It really was a different world in Vermont, one which I regret not appreciating more as a child.
Some of my favorite activities as a child included climbing Mt. Tom and visiting the Billings Farm and Museum which is touted as the “gateway to Vermont’s rural heritage.” I absolutely adored the Farm Life Exhibit and touring the 1890 house. In mere moments I could be swept back to a time where people ate common crackers smeared with homemade freshly churned butter, sheered their own sheep, made dolls out of corn husks and dried apples and played games like Rounders and Graces.
At home, my sister and I loved to play “olden days.” We would go into the woods by our pond and “hunt” for food which we would cook at “cooking rock.” It was especially exciting when the power would go out and we had to light candles and lanterns that would bring the “olden days” to life inside our house. Cooking and crafting (even wild-crafting) were always a part of our life as well and looking back I now realize that there was always a part of me searching to make my own life a little like “Laura World.”
I knew deep down that “Laura World” wasn’t all rosy and that the time was filled with tragedy and despair that often outweighed and outnumbered the times of joy and triumph. Still I longed to be a part of this world in some shape, form or fashion.
I do not recall the exact first time that I made fresh butter, which likely occurred at Billings Farm, although I can recall many subsequent times. The simple act of churning butter spurned a desire in me that has led me to life on a farm in Arkansas where I raise chickens and constantly beg my husband to buy me a cow. The simple act of churning butter has led me to seek out a more simple life where I can be more self-sufficient and less dependent on the world for my survival. The simple act of churning butter has led me to learn how to garden and grow my own vegetables and herbs. The simple act of churning butter has led me to learn how to butcher and dress my own chickens. The simple act of churning butter has led me to learn how to sew, and knit, and crochet. The simple act of churning butter has led me to where I am today.
I realize now that Laura has been with me all along. That life, my life, is merely a modern day version of “Laura World.” That my family strived to give us a life full of adventure and passion which spurnned us to seek out a “better” life for ourselves. That as I got older I seeked out love over material things. That happines comes in accepting where you are, striving to be better, an having no regrets about roads untravelled.
Is it weird that I still churn my own butter sometimes and that I always make fresh whip cream? Is is strange that I grow my own herbs and vegetables? Is it weird that when we run out of eggs I visit the chicken coop instead of the grocery store? I don’t think so. I am proud of my “Laura World” type life.
1 Small lidded jar, such as a Mason jar
Fill the jar about 1/3 of the way with whipping cream and cover tightly. Shake the jar vigorously for 15-20 minutes. As you shake the cream with expand, become fluffy and fill the jar (whipped cream). Continue shaking and it will seemingly turn liquid again as the buttermilk separates out and you will start to see pea-sized lumps of butter. When the bits are firm but not hard, stop shaking. Pour off the buttermilk and add a little bit of fresh, cool water to the jar. Cover and shake for about 30 seconds. Pour off the water and repeat until the water stays clear after shaking. Washing the butter removes the milk and helps the butter to last longer. After you have washed the butter you can work in the salt. Add approximately one-half to one teaspoon of salt per pound of finished butter. Store in the fridge for immediate use or in the freezer for storage.