Posted by: Hannah | 11/08/2014

book 1, chapter 12

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…..

You and me both, Simon Pegg.

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.

Never forget.

Never forget.

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.



  1. Farmer Boy is more of a coming of age story, and I personally feel that it belongs just before Laura meets him, which is also around the time that the Laura books get REALLY BORING.

    • *GASP*

      Bite your tongue, I LOVE the Laura coming-of-age books. The later ones are my favourites. Although you make an interesting point about not bringing Farmer Boy into it until later. Hmm…

  2. Also: LYE? Man, and the hulled corn description always sounded so delicious.

    Also Also: PIONEER GIRL COMES OUT SOON. Will have to lay REALLY BIG HINTS for Christmas, since husband has laid down a law against me buying anything for myself November through February due to xmas and birthday coming one after another. I think my hint will look like this:

    “I want Pioneer Girl for Christmas.”

    • Yeah, I gave up on hints long ago and now just present lists. 😀

  3. I think that cooking in lye does the same thing as treating corn with lime juice as Mexicans traditionally do. The acid makes the nutrients in the corn more bioavailable.

    • But… but how did they KNOW it did that? I’ve always wondered about that. How did we learn these things, before we even completely understood what nutrients were? This is fascinating to me.

      Also, the Mexicans do it better because corn + lime = deliciousness, whereas corn + lye = DEAR GOD WHY.

      • Hahaha. I have no idea. I can only assume that we are devolving.

  4. Cooking things in lye is a thing, actually. There is a Norwegian specialty dish called lutefisck and it is fish cooked in lye. I remember my grandpa eating it at Christmas when I was a kid and it smells pretty much exactly like what you think. NO WONDER I AM A VEGETARIAN.

    I do remember reading that chapter and zzzzzz how fucking boring. And yet, it’s kind of amazing, that technology that would have been literally life-changing for them. AND YET SO BORING TO READ.

    • LUTEFISCK! I have heard of it but never tasted it. I’ll bet it’s just the best thing ever.

  5. I love that Simon Pegg gif! Hilarious.

    I really love the books. You know DH is still reading them to the Things and they have led to a great many discussions.

    I would not want to live on the Prairie… or in the Big Woods… or through the Long Winter…

    In all the reading and remembering, though, I still love Manly. 🙂

    Your reviews make me happy. I would love to see a Point/Counter Point between you and my husband. It would be really funny!

    • Have you read “The Wilder Life”? That’s a fascinating book. Plus the author did a lot of research and answers a lot of questions about the books. Highly-recommend.

      • I have not. I will!

        Thank you!

  6. Is THIS the post that got eaten? OMG, Hannah, ALL THE HUGS. You’re a champ for rewriting it. I bestow on you some corn that tastes like burning.


      I had so many links about hulled corn, and lye, and I had a little story, and DAMMIT WORDPRESS.

      I still kind of want to try the caustic corn, though.

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