Why have I waited so long to recap chapter 12? I wondered to myself, as I picked up the book.
Oh. OH. It’s “The Wonderful Machine”. It’s pages upon pages describing how a horse-powered threshing machine worked and it was so fascinatinzzzzzz…..
To be fair, some of the greatest pioneer old-timey stuff in the whole book is the first part of this chapter. We get a very detailed, step-by-step primer of how to make braided straw hats, and I swear I could make my own if I just had a ready supply of oat straw. Apparently, “Ma could make beautiful hats”, so I guess we need to add “milliner” to the list of potential career choices Caroline could have made before she moved into the forest with a crazy-bearded man.
Harvest time has come again and so Ma and the girls gather nuts – like squirrels! – pick the root vegetables, and stew all the pumpkins. (Side note: they must have then canned the stewed pumpkin, because otherwise it makes no goddamn sense to stew every pumpkin in the garden before winter. But canning is never mentioned as something Ma did, not once in the whole series. Now that I think about it, that’s rather an odd omission). The stewed pumpkin is a rare treat, apparently – the girls are allowed to mold the stewed pumpkin into pretty shapes with their knives before they eat it. I’m going to tell my kids that the next time they get upset that I “only” let them watch three episodes of Power Rangers: Giant Unwieldy Foam Monster Costumes on Netflix.
They also have another of Laura’s favourite treats, hulled corn and milk. It takes THREE DAYS to make hulled corn, which seems a little ridiculous given how much work they’re doing all the time anyway. Also, I have puzzled about this passage since I was seven years old. I’m really hoping someone can enlighten me, because step one of hulled corn involves boiling shelled corn in a large pot with a bag of ashes. I was taught from a very young age that mixing ashes and water made a caustic brew called “lye”, and that I’d burn my skin if I ever, ever poured discarded ashes from the woodstove into a bucket to make ‘potion’ again.
Google to the rescue… and it turns out Ma was actually boiling the corn in lye. Well. I’m both horrified and intrigued.
We then move into the description of the threshing machine, which seemed interminable when I was a kid, and is still pretty dull as an adult. Thank goodness for Garth Williams’ excellent illustration, because despite Laura’s best efforts it is just about impossible to describe a late-19th century threshing machine in action.
It’s just dull, and the only thing worse than reading it to yourself is reading it aloud to your kids. Trust me on this.
The next chapter is the last one. After that, it’s on to either Little House on the Prairie or Farmer Boy. Apparently Lauraphiles can’t agree on which one comes first in reading order, so I’ll leave it up to you guys. Vote in the comments and let me know which book you’d like me to tackle next.