Grandmas Are My New Laura Ingalls

The obvious hit me…why am I not reading rural pioneer life bedtime stories to my kids about their own great grandmas?

This week as I perched on a step ladder and worked on painting the posts on our porch before the bus pulled up and my little kids woke up from their naps, it hit me. It’s that very same time of year.

Something about the cool temperature, the smell of the air, and the afternoon sunshine all felt very familiar. It felt just like two years ago, when on a September afternoon, we first pulled into this yard that we now live in to check out a house for sale.

This house and that fall weather are always connected in my mind to my grandma, Olivia Siebenaler. When she passed away at age 98, we came to Minnesota from Montana to attend her services. During that same trip, we found what became our new home. I like to think she had a hand in it.

Thinking of my grandma reminded me of how she wrote a book for her family, filled with stories of her childhood and her life raising their 13 children. It’s been ages since I read her stories, and I’d love to sit down and read them again. And more importantly, I want to now read the stories to my own kids.

Olivia and Alex Siebenaler, my maternal grandparents.

Olivia and Alex Siebenaler, my maternal grandparents.

My husband’s grandma Grace also wrote a book of her stories growing up. The two women never met, but I have a feeling they would have enjoyed one another. Both had a simple rural upbringing: My grandma, Olivia Siebenaler, grew up in rural Southeast Minnesota, and my husband’s grandma, Grace Mosdal, grew up in Eastern Montana.

As I think of both women, they share many of the same pioneer character traits as Laura Ingalls Wilder, who is our current bedtime story favorite. I admire both grandmothers immensely.

And then the obvious hit me…why am I not reading rural pioneer life bedtime stories to my kids about their own great grandmas?

So, I have a new plan. Once we finish By the Shores of Silver Lake, we’re going to take a break from the Ingalls family and start reading Grandma Stories.

We’re going to start with Grandma Grace’s stories, since I have that book in my home already. I’m going to head up to the attic and unearth her binder of stories from the moving boxes. Then we’re going to settle in for the winter reading Grandma Grace’s stories at bedtime.

I think it will be an easy fit for my kids that are hooked on stories of pioneer life. Grace McCaskie Mosdal grew up on the prairie of Montana. Her adventuresome spirit, love of life, learning, and story-telling in many ways make her much like a Laura Ingalls in our own family. She had a story or joke to share with nearly any situation that arose.

My husband's grandparents, Grace and Thelmer Mosdal, in their hometown parade in Montana a few years ago.

My husband’s grandparents, Grace and Thelmer Mosdal, in their hometown parade in Montana a few years ago.

As a young lady, Grace spent her very first school teacher paycheck on a .22 rifle. Many years later, when my husband was a kid, she used that same rifle to shoot a bobcat off of a telephone pole near their yard. She dropped it dead with one shot. Did I mention Grace is a tiny woman who barely tops five feet and 100 pounds? Oh yes, and her cinnamon rolls are legendary.

Our kids need to know things like that.

I appreciate those stories more as I understand that time isn’t unlimited and things won’t always be as they currently are. These days Grace has dementia. She no longer has the same spark and ability to engage in lively conversation.

Letter writing also used to be one of her trademarks. She wrote letters and notes for everything. “Thank you for the thank you note”. Everything. Her letters were so commonplace that I didn’t save many of them. My two oldest kids each have a letter or two in their sock drawers from Grandma Grace.

By the time my two younger kids came along, her letter writing ended. My oldest is only seven, so the time span from letters being commonplace to no letters at all happened very quickly.

It makes me all the more thankful that she took the time to write down her stories when she did. She isn’t able to tell her stories any more, but this winter, I’ll read her stories out loud to our kids.

And someday, when the situation arises, my kids will be reminded of a story from one of their grandmas, and they will say, “That’s just like when Grandma…” and the stories of these pioneering ladies will go on, as our own personal Little House on the Prairie stories of our family.

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Making Butter for the First Time, Courtesy of Laura Ingalls Wilder


I learned a new skill this week thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Ok, to be honest, Laura Ingalls Wilder provided the pioneering spirit, and a search on the internet provided all the concrete instructions I needed.  It all started with a bedtime story.

My current bedtime book for our kids is the classic Little House in the Big Woods.  When I was a child, my sister read many of the Little House books to me, starting when I was in kindergarten. Even though I was only five at the time, the stories in the book resonated with me, and I have strong memories of so many of the details in the chapters as I reread them now to my kids.

Last night’s reading was no exception.  We piled into my five-year-old son’s race car bed, four kids and a mom, reading before bedtime.  My two little ones practiced gymnastic feats, leaping off the tail end of the bed, while my five and six-year-olds listened.  Last night we read the butter-making chapter.

As I read, my kids looked at the drawing of Mary taking a turn churning the butter.  I read about cream sloshing in the butter churn, using bits of shredded carrot to tint the pale winter butter, and molding the finished butter with imprints of a strawberry and leaves, “Laura and Mary watched, breathless, one on each side of Ma, while the golden little butter-pats, each with its strawberry on the top, dropped onto the plate as Ma put all the butter through the mold.”  I always loved that part.  It was just like I remembered.  (Books are nice that way.)

Then I had an epiphany.  I stopped reading and said, “Hey, do you want to make butter tomorrow?”

Yes!  We have an abundance of cream in our fridge after a stop at Kappers’ Big Red Barn in Chatfield, Minnesota, a local dairy that sells their milk and CREAM in half-gallon glass bottles.  We sipped away a quart of cream already in our morning coffee, making Half and Half suddenly seem downright watery, but we had plenty of cream left for a little butter project.

So today, I did what every person in 2012 does when they want to make butter for the first time: head to the internet.  I found a great ten-minute butter tutorial video on YouTube, and I was set.  I took a pint of cream out of the refrigerator, and let it sit out to reach room temperature by the time the kids came home from school.

Three kids eager to help (for a little bit, anyway).

My three-year-old son put the whisk attachment on my KitchenAid mixer.  (He’s been cooking for two years now, so it’s fine.)  With all of the kids gathered around, we fired up the mixer and watched the cream become whipped cream: “Ooh, Mom!  Let’s just stop and eat the whipped cream!”  Not a bad idea, but we kept with our original buttery objective.  Whipped cream began to “fall,”  got clumpy and a bit watery, and then in a matter of seconds, there was a complete change.

Almost in an instant, the mushy mass separated, and there at the bottom of the mixer bowl was a pile of liquid (buttermilk!), and clinging to the beaters were chunks of butter!  Eureka!

When the butter separates from the liquid, turn off your mixer.

The whole process of turning cream into butter took maybe five minutes   Of course, when the magic moment of butter creation happened, my kids had already lost interest and I had to call them back into the room.  We make things in the mixer all the time, so the whole process looked fairly unremarkable.  We turned on the mixer and it made something.  Yep, just like always.

No, kids, this is different!  It’s amazing!  It’s BUTTER!  Even though it happened just as all the recipes said it would, there is still that bit of magic in doing something on my very own for the first time.

Fresh buttermilk, ready to use in baking.  One pint of cream yields approximately one cup of butter and one cup of buttermilk.

I poured the buttermilk into a jar to use later in pancakes.  Then just like I saw on the video, I pressed the butter with a spatula, working out the remaining buttermilk while rinsing it in cold water.  Salt added, I gave it a taste, and then another taste or two.  In a side by side comparison between store-bought butter and freshly made butter, there is absolutely no contest.  Fresh butter has a rich, full-bodied flavor, tasting like whipping cream in butter form (which, of course, it is).  Store bought butter tastes flat and bland by comparison.

Thank you to Laura Ingalls Wilder for the butter inspiration.  Making something for the first time is immensely satisfying.  I am still truly amazed that something that we use so often is really so easy to make.  I had no idea.  People make homemade bread, sure, but homemade BUTTER…wowee cazoweee.  And the funny thing is, with a good mixer, it’s extremely easy.  I made butter in less time than I need to cook a frozen pizza.  Who doesn’t have that much time to play around?

After my pioneering butter foray, am I converted to always making my own butter now?  No, probably not.  But I definitely will be making it again.  Watching cream turn into butter is pure cooking magic, and we all need a bit of magic in our lives.

I am not a baking blog, but I do love food.  After all of this talk about making butter, someone out there wants to know how to do it.  Here you go!

Homemade Butter
2 cups cream
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Allow cream to sit out and warm to 50 degrees or so.

2.  Pour cream in a mixer. Alternative: pour the cream into a jar you can shake.

3. Mix cream until it separates: You will see yellow chunks of butter floating in watery buttermilk.  Takes 3-5 minutes in a mixer.

4. Drain off buttermilk, save to use in pancakes, biscuits, or just drink it like Laura Ingalls.  It’s good for you.

5.  Knead butter chunks together with a spatula for a few minutes, pressing out the liquid.

6.  Rinse butter in cold water while kneading with a spatula until the water runs clear.  Buttermilk left in the butter will cause it to spoil more quickly.

7.  Mix in salt (if desired).

Congratulations!  You made butter!  Enjoy.

Finished homemade butter with buttermilk in the background. Flavorful, fresh, and delicious.