What’s for lunch? Squash!

pumpkinsHave you ever been to a pumpkin patch? Do you visit one in October to grab a jack-o-lantern pumpkin? Maybe someone in your family has a great recipe for homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving? Visiting a pumpkin patch has become a special trip for us now. But in the past, Iowa farmers grew lots and lots of pumpkins in their fields. Iowa’s first farmers, the Ioway Indians, grew pumpkins as one of their three most important crops. Pumpkins and squash were easy to grow and they could grow to large sizes.

Lots of kids today have never tried pumpkins as a food. Many people have never tried squash at all! Pumpkins can be very tasty when cooked just right – even the seeds can make a great snack! In the 1700s, Ioway kids would have pumpkin or squash on their plates (actually, in their bowls) almost every day. And the kids would have to help grow the pumpkins their family ate.Ioway Garden

If you could see the Ioway’s fields, you would see tall stalks of corn with skinny vines wrapped around them. These vines had beans growing on them, climbing up the corn to get some sunlight. All around the ground, colorful pumpkins and squash grew, hiding under their big fat leaves.

Moms were the farmers of the family. But Mom had lots of help from aunts, grandmothers, and especially kids! After the older women had prepared and planted the gardens in the spring, the kids would help to take care of the plants and make sure that the crops were safe from weeds and animals. Of all the crops, pumpkins and squash really came in handy for the kids, because they helped keep animals away and kept the soil from drying out.  plants

Since pumpkins have big leaves, they kept the soil shady. This kept the soil from drying out as quickly. That meant the kids didn’t have to water the plants all the time! Squash vines are also very prickly. Have you felt one of the vines at a pumpkin patch? This helps to keep out small animals that might want to eat the corn and the beans. Can you imagine working very hard every day to have good food to eat, and then waking up to find out animals have snuck in to eat your crops? The pumpkins and squash help to make sure that doesn’t happen.pumpkins

When summer was over, Ioway kids would see that their squash had grown up into all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Some of the squash would be cooked and eaten soon after it came off the vine. But most of it would be saved for eating in the wintertime, when no crops could grow.


The Ioway cut their squash and pumpkins into rings. The rings were hung on big drying racks. The sun and the winds dried the rings out, taking away moisture. The rings became dry, thin, and crispy. Families stored them in a cache pit – like an underground pantry – near the family’s home. When the family wanted to eat their dried squash during the winter, they would put it into soups and stews! cooking

Mom would put the dried squash rings into some boiling water, along with dried corn, dried beans, and whatever meat had been gathered by the father. The Ioway family might have soup and stew all winter, until they could start growing some fresh food again. If you wanted to live like the Ioway, you’d need to like soups and stews! Those were the main dishes that the Ioway had to eat in the wintertime. And hopefully, you’d like pumpkins and squash too, because those were some of the main ingredients in their stews.


The Ioway had to grow all of their own food for hundreds of years. Today some families still grow food in gardens, but we also have grocery stores to help out. And we can buy pumpkin and squash whole or in cans. Next time you go to the store, see if you can find any squash – it is still very tasty after all these years!


Parents and caregivers: The Ioway ate pumpkin and squash in stews, but there are many ways to introduce squash to kids. You can find kid-friendly recipes for squash here!


Houses and Homes

This summer at Living History Farms, we are celebrating houses and homes! The places people live in come in lots of shapes and sizes. Some houses are big. Some houses are small. Some people live in apartments. Some people live in farm houses. Some people live in mobile trailers. The people and things which share our living space and the things we do there together make the house into our home.

1900 farm house

Was this true a long time ago? Let’s take a walk through the past to see where people were living in Iowa a long time ago. As we look at each of these houses, think about how they compare to your house. Let’s start at the 1700 Ioway Farm. The Ioway Indian people lived in Iowa during the 1700s. They had 3 types of houses that they lived in during the year. Each house had just one room, a bedroom. Everyone in the family slept in this one room together. The summer house would be built up on the top of a hill where flooding was not an issue and where a breeze could be found. The frame of the house was made out of trees and then covered with bark taken off of elm trees. The bark would reflect the sun, making it cooler inside the house.Bark house

The winter house would be built down in the woods where it was protected from the winter winds by the trees. The frame of the house was made out of willow trees and was covered by 4 layers of cattail leaves that were sewn together into mats. The cattail mats would keep the wind out of the house and a small fire in the center of the home would heat it up to 50 degrees. (How warm is your house in the winter time?) The house would have an animal skin for the door.

mat house

The Ioway people used a traveling house for a month at a time, in the summer and winter, when they would go on a buffalo hunt. The frame was made from pine trees and the cover was made from buffalo hides sewn together. The house was lightweight enough to carry and was fast to put up and take down.tipi

What about houses for pioneer settlers? People from America and Europe started moving to Iowa in the 1840s. They had to build their homes by hand. Many of them used the trees around them to build houses. log house

Many settlers built a house with just one room that would be used as a bedroom, kitchen, living room, and storage room. There would be 2 doors on the house to go outside. If they had time for extra building, the trees might be squared off for a nicer house. There might be a loft upstairs used as a bedroom by all the children and used for storage. The house would have a fireplace on one end to heat it and to use for cooking. During cold winter months, the fireplace might have looked warm, but it could only keep the house around 40 degrees inside during the day.

Pioneer fireplace

As more and more settlers moved to Iowa, small towns like Walnut Hill were built. Life in a town was a little different from life on a farm. If your family owned one of the businesses in town, you might have a really comfortable home with many rooms.Tangen house

The Tangen House is home to the Implement Dealer’s family in our town of Walnut Hill. The house has 7 rooms on the main floor. Each room had a use. The parlor was for guests to sit in when visiting. There are 7 different doors on the main floor that go to the outside. The bedrooms would be upstairs. This house would have 5 bedrooms upstairs for the family.

If your family was one of the upper class families you might have a really fancy house, like the Flynn Mansion. The Flynn Mansion was built using bricks.Flynn mansion

This house has 7 rooms on the main floor of the house, 8 bedrooms and another room on the second floor, an attic, and a cupola on the very top of the house. The house was built with a furnace to heat it and with gas lights to light each room. There are 2 big doors on the front of the house and 5 other doors in the house that go to the outside.

A farm family in 1900 might build their house in a square shape, a T-shape, or another shape. The house on the 1900 Farm at Living History Farms is a T-shape home. It has 2 rooms on the main floor and 2 bedrooms for children on the second floor in the front of the house. 1900 farm house

The back of the house has 3 rooms on the main floor. The house was heated by a stove in the center room that was also used to cook on. The house has 3 different doors that go to the outside.

Are any of these houses like your house? How many rooms does your house have? How are the rooms in your house used? Would you want to live in one of these homes or are you happy with the one that you have? What do you think made each of these houses special to the people who would have lived there? What made it home–more than just a place to live?

Caregivers: Starting on June 15th, there will be a special traveling exhibit about what makes a house a home in the Wallace Exhibit Center at Living History Farms. The exhibit is free with paid admission to the museum. House & Home, an exhibit organized by NEH on the Road, encourages visitors to explore how our ideal of the perfect house and our experience of what it means to “be at home” have changed over time. The exhibition includes domestic furnishings and home construction materials, photographs, “please touch” interactive components, and films. Together, the objects and images illustrate how transformations in technology, government policy, and consumer culture have impacted American domestic life.

Drawn from the flagship installation at the National Building Museum, House & Home embarks on a tour of houses both familiar and surprising, through past and present, to explore the varied history, and many cultural meanings of the American home. This exhibition has been made possible through NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It has been adapted and is being toured by Mid-American Arts Alliance. House & Home was organized by the National Building Museum, Washington D.C., and curated by Sarah Leavitt. Additional support was provided by the Home Depot Foundation.


Fur Coats and Covers

lodge interiorHave you ever wondered where people in the past got the things they needed for everyday life? Where did their clothes come from? or their blankets? How about their tools and their toys? When we need something we just go to the store or get on the computer and buy it. The Ioway Indian people lived in Iowa a very long time ago. In the year 1700, these people did not have stores to go to when they needed something; they had to make the things they needed. They used the things they found around them to make their own tools and toys and even their clothes and blankets!  What kinds of things are found outside in Iowa? How about rocks? or plants and trees?

What about animals? Animals can be used in many ways; but what kinds of animals would Ioway hunters be able to find 300 years ago in Iowa?

bison Bison, or buffalo, still lived on the prairies in the 1700s. Deer and elk, and even bear were found in Iowa. Small animals like squirrels and rabbits lived in Iowa, too. Beavers and otters lived along Iowa’s rivers.beaver

How could people like the Ioway Indians make things out of these kinds of animals?

Many of these animals could be used for food. The animals’ meat would be eaten, and then the rest of the animal could be used for other things. Their bones were turned into tools, and their fur and skins were used for coverings. Different animals were better for different jobs. The skins of the bison (buffalo) that were hunted in the summer months were used to make covers for traveling houses, called tipis. The bison hair could be scraped away to make smooth and strong leather out of the skin underneath.tipi

During the winter, bison grow thick fur to stay warm. The Ioway hunted these furry winter bison to make nice warm blankets that the family would sleep on, cover up with, and wear like a coat. The man in the picture below is wearing a bison robe. Can you find anything else made from animals in the picture?buffalo robe

Animal skins with the fur still on were used for cold weather clothing. For summer clothes, the Ioway used skins without the heavy fur to stay cooler. Do you wear different clothes in the summer and the winter?Ioway clothes

Some animal furs were used to make hats. The man in the picture below is wearing an otter fur hat. Do you wear warm hats in the winter?otter hat

Think about all of the things in your house that are used to cover you up. What are your sheets, blankets, clothes, shoes, and coats made out of? Would you want to have to make all of those things yourself?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy ThanksgivingThis Thursday is a special day in Iowa. Many people will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a time when lots of people have a big dinner with their family and friends. They eat together and say “Thank You” for the special people and things in their life. Having a day to say “Thank You” is an old idea. At Living History Farms, we like to remember how people in Iowa have said thank you in the fall every year.venisonIn the year 1700, the Ioway people held big meals together in the fall. They had a party to be happy for a good garden and plenty of food for the winter. Their harvest dinners might have pumpkin, corn, beans, deer, and buffalo!

1850 mealBy the year 1850, new settlers had moved to Iowa. Many of these people had moved here from states in the east, like Massachusetts. They had grown up having a fall party called Thanksgiving. In 1844, John Chambers—he was a territorial governor for Iowa and an important guy—decided to have Thanksgiving as a holiday in Iowa, too. He said in the Iowa City newspaper, “We believe this is the first Thanksgiving Proclamation ever issued in Iowa; we are glad to welcome the good old Pilgrim custom to our midst . . .” Many settlers were still living in log houses in the country. They did not have a lot of money to spend on fancy foods. Their meal was still pumpkin, corn and potatoes. They might roast deer and wild turkeys. This Thanksgiving meal might be for friends and neighbors and just the people who lived right there. People could not travel very far. Remember they did not have cars or planes!

1875 mealtangen cake

Later in 1875, people who lived in towns like Walnut Hill also had Thanksgiving parties. Having family visit and eating a special meal were pretty important by then. A man in Iowa named Thomas Terrill wrote in his diary in 1871, “Thanksgiving Day . . . Folks here for dinner. Had a turkey roast.” In 1880, Thomas wrote, “Took our Thanksgiving dinner at home consisting of a stuffed hen and other good things. Were thankful that we had so much.” Trains could bring fancy foods to Iowa stores from faraway places. A fancy restaurant in Des Moines in 1870 let guests choose from oysters, trout, turkey, chicken, duck, goose, buffalo, and deer. All kinds of cake, nuts and fruit were for dessert. Trains would have brought most of these foods to Des Moines for the cooks at the restaurant.

1900 Farm mealIowa farmers did grow many foods right here to eat at Thanksgiving. An Iowa farm lady near Iowa City, Iowa wrote about raising turkeys on her farm and selling them every year for people to have at Thanksgiving. Miranda Cline wrote in her diary in 1895, “I sold Turkeys at 5 cents per pound, brought home 8 dollars.” In 1900, farm wives might have cooked turkey, and mashed potatoes, squash, chicken pie, pumpkin and apple pie, and might have even served ice cream at dessert to be fancy. One 1887 cookbook did suggest just serving “cold roast turkey” for supper that night. Even then there were leftovers!

Happy Thanksgiving from Living History Farms!All of these foods and parties became something people had every year. Doing something over and over the way our parents and grand-parents did is called a tradition. What traditions do you have for Thanksgiving at your house? Do you eat a big meal? Do you watch football? Or a parade? Whatever your family’s tradition is for this holiday, everyone here at Living History Farms hopes you have a wonderful day! Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Season!

pumpkins and squash

Pumpkins are everywhere in November! Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin cake! Many people just have to have a pumpkin pie with their Thanksgiving meal. Here at the museum, our historic sites grow lots of pumpkin. Did you know that pumpkins have been around a very long time? The pumpkin was first grown thousands of years ago in Mexico. All the way back to 7,000 B.C! That’s a really long time ago! The historic guides at our museum like to grow pumpkins and cook the types of pumpkin recipes people in Iowa would have had in the past. That doesn’t mean they make pumpkin spice coffee and cake, though! The sweet pumpkin muffins and cake we love aren’t very old at all. They only show up in recipe books starting in the 1940s. That’s only about 75 years ago! And that pumpkin coffee that everyone loves was first made in 2003. That’s only 11 years ago! So if people in the long ago past weren’t making cake and cookies out of it, how did they eat their pumpkins?

pumpkinspumpkin on the vine

At the 1700 era Ioway farm, museum guides grow many kinds of pumpkins. The Ioway word for squash is wádwan. Pumpkins belong to the squash family. You might think of big, round, orange pumpkins, but pumpkins come in lots of shapes, sizes, and colors. They can be green and yellow, white, red, or even striped! We are not sure exactly which kinds the Ioway grew, but we know they planted their pumpkins in the garden next to the corn and beans. The Ioway called pumpkin one of the three sisters of life. Pumpkins grow on vines with prickly stems and big leaves. The vines help keep weeds from growing around the base of the corn and bean plants.

The Ioway people ate a lot of pumpkin and squash all year long. In the summer, the Ioway would pick the squash flowers off of the vines and eat them in stews. The Ioway also ate fresh pumpkin in late summer. They roasted the pumpkins whole in their cooking fires. In fall, the Ioway women would pick the pumpkins, cut them into slices and hang the slices on wooden stands to dry out in the sun. The dried rings of pumpkin wouldn’t spoil during the winter. The Ioway could eat them like jerky, or cut them up in soup and stew all winter long. Pumpkin, corn, and bean stew would be a winter treat!

pumpkin dryingpumpkin stew

Before explorers from Europe crossed the oceans, pumpkins did not grow in Europe. Native American peoples taught European settlers how to first cook pumpkins. The Pilgrims in Massachusetts wouldn’t have eaten pumpkin pie at those first Thanksgiving dinners! They would have stewed or baked their pumpkins like their Wampanoag native neighbors had taught them. The Pilgrims did find ways to use pumpkins in some of their own favorite recipes. They learned to bake a creamy pudding made of milk, eggs, and spices inside the pumpkin. They also added corn meal to stewed pumpkin and made bread out of it. Later, European settlers did start to make sweet puddings and pies with pumpkin.

pumpkins 1850At Living History Farms, the 1850 era Pioneer Farm grows lots of pumpkins in the field with the corn. Many of Iowa’s pioneers grew pumpkins and squash to eat during the winter. They could have cut some of the pumpkins into rings and dried them out for eating in stew, just like the Ioway.

pumpkin slicespumpkin rings

They also stored whole pumpkins in the cabin attic or in a root cellar for winter.  pumpkins 1850

These pumpkins could be stewed or roasted and then mashed. Pioneers could add spices to the pumpkin—and sugar and cream if they had some!

pumpkin baking 1850A pioneer woman in a log cabin could eat this mashed pumpkin like a pudding or she could pour it into a pie crust and bake it in a bake kettle in the fireplace.

Farm families in Iowa also made a sweet spread for bread using pumpkins. At our 1900 era Farm, museum guides grow pumpkins and make pumpkin spreads on the wood burning stove. The cooks stew or roast the pumpkin until is very soft.  Then they mash the pumpkin and mix it with sugar and spices. The cook puts the mix in a pot over the wood burning stove and lets the pumpkin heat for a long time. The mixture gets very thick and very sweet. This is called pumpkin butter! This very sweet spread would have been stored in crocks or glass jars in the year 1900 for use all winter long.

jars 1900

You can still make pumpkin butter at home today. With an adult, mix 8 cups of mashed pumpkin with 4 cups of sugar in a bowl. Add 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ginger, and 1 teaspoon of ground cloves. Now you need to cook the mixture. You can pour it into a heavy pot and let it simmer on top of a stove until it gets very, very thick. Cook it on low and stir it every so often. Or you can put the mixture into a heavy pan in the oven and let it bake it for several hours at 300 degrees. In 2014, we can even put the mixture in a slow cooker and let it heat four or five hours until it gets very thick. After you have made your pumpkin butter, you can put it into the refrigerator for several weeks or you can freeze it to eat later this winter!

pumpkin butter

Pumpkin Butter

8 c. mashed pumpkin      4 c. sugar

1 T. cinnamon                 1 t. ginger

1 t. ground cloves

Combine all ingredients; simmer over low heat until very thick. Stir occasionally.

Cooking Out–Ioway Style

Summer is coming to a close. Over the past weeks, many people have been grilling food for picnics and barbeques to celebrate the last of the great weather. Even our 1700 Ioway historical guides were cooking outdoors to celebrate the nice weather. What were they making at the Ioway Farm? Fish! Do you like to eat fish? The Ioway word for fish is hó.

WalleyeWhen the Ioway Indian people lived here 300 years ago, they would get fish from the rivers near their homes. In the larger rivers of Iowa like the Mississippi, Missouri, and Des Moines, the Ioway people could find up to 20 types of perch (like the walleye in the picture on the left), 12 types of sunfish, 10 types of catfish, 3 types of pike, 2 types of bass, and 1 type of trout (like the brook trout seen below). Learn more about the different types of fish native to Iowa here.brook trout

The Ioway would use woven nets or bone fish hooks to catch the fish. Once a fish was caught, there were many ways that it could be cooked. One cooking style involved leaving the fish whole, scales and all! After cleaning out the inside organs, the whole fish would be covered in clay that was gathered from the river banks. In the example below, you can see a whole fish, head and scales included, covered in wet clay!

Cover fish with clay

The clay-covered fish would be placed on top of hot coals from the fire and then covered with more hot coals.

Place on hot coalscover with hot coals

As the clay heated and dried, it would cook the fish inside. When the clay began to crack, the fish was done cooking.cook until clay cracks

The clay would then be cracked open and the meat could be removed. The fish’s scales would be left stuck in the clay.scales come off with clay

The bones could easily be removed from the meat and the fish would be ready to eat!

Food Adventures at the 1700 Ioway Farm

pizzaWhat is your favorite thing to eat? Do you love pizza? Will you eat chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese? Will you only eat them if they don’t touch other foods on your plate? Do you like broccoli? How about cabbage? In 2014, we have lots of different foods to taste and love. There are so many choices out there that we can be pretty picky about our food. Many people will only eat certain things and hate to try anything new.


Being able to pick and choose is a new idea! Today, we eat almost any kind of food we want any time of year. We can have strawberries in December. Even though strawberries don’t grow in Iowa in the winter. Iowans eat oranges any time of year. Even though oranges don’t grow here! We use trains and trucks to bring oranges and strawberries to Iowa from far-away places like Florida.


Before trains and trucks were invented, Iowans had to eat what was available—often just what they could grow or hunt for themselves. Today we can put food in the refrigerator or keep it safe in cans and plastic bags. Before fridges and cans were invented, people had to eat some food right away. Fruit that grew in summer wouldn’t be around in winter. Many times, people had to eat things that weren’t their favorite because their favorite food wasn’t growing at that time of year.Ioway

In the 1700s, the Ioway people lived in Iowa. There weren’t any trucks, trains, or airplanes to bring food from other places. Ioway moms and dads could not go to a grocery store to buy food. Families had to find food in the prairies and woods around them. The Ioway people grew plants to eat. An Ioway garden had corn, beans, and pumpkins growing in it. Ioway gardenHow many different ways do you think there are to cook and eat corn, beans, and pumpkins?

Actually, there are a lot of ways to eat these plants. During the late summer, the Ioway could eat the corn right on the cob like we do. Some of the corn would be cooked slightly and dried to eat later.ground corn Corn harvested later in the fall would be hung up in the sun and dried out. The dry corn would last a long time. Dried corn could be ground up and used as flour for bread or used to plant the next year. Beans could be eaten green in summer.beans In fall, the beans dried out on the vine and were shelled. Dried corn and beans were cooked in soups and stews. The soup water made them soft again.

Pumpkin could also be cut up into thin slices and dried for soups. pumpkin drying

Besides corn, beans, or pumpkin, soup might have meat in it, too. Ioway families ate prairie chickens, wild turkey, elk, deer, and buffalo. Meat and berries would also be dried to eat in soups later.cooking over the fire

Do you like soup and stew? If you were an Ioway child in 1700, you would eat a lot of soup and stew. Why? It was an easy meal to get ready and keep hot. Each Ioway family prepared their own daily meals. There was often no set meal time. Men and women had different chores and might be too busy to eat together. Food would be prepared and kept warm for each family member to eat when they had time. Ioway foodways

There were times when members of the tribe would come together with each other and with other tribes to have feasts. Especially in late summer and fall when the garden was ready, the Ioway would celebrate together! Visitors were almost always treated to food. It was considered impolite to refuse food offered to you.

On July 12th, the 1700 Ioway Farm at Living History Farms will be making a pumpkin corn stew to celebrate Ioway Culture Day. They will have samples to share. Modern Ioway dancers will also be showing off their talents. Come join us for the celebration! If you can’t make it out to see us on Saturday, you can work with a parent to make an Ioway stew in your kitchen. Try this recipe! The Ioway did not have plastic or glass measuring cups, so the amounts are by the handful.Game stew

Game Stew

Meat from an animal the Ioway would have hunted (1lb of bison or venison (deer) is good, but beef works too–even though the Ioway did not have cows to hunt. Ground bison is available from some grocery stores and health food stores today!)

Couple handfuls of fresh or dried corn (1 can of corn will work)

Couple handfuls of dried beans

Broken up pieces of dried squash or pumpkin (bite sized slices or small chunks of fresh acorn or butternut squash or pumpkin work too!)

Handful of dried wild onion (dried or fresh regular onion may be used)

Maple syrup (a couple good squirts or a tablespoon or so should be enough)

Put everything in pot, add enough water to cover everything well (more water gives you a soup and less water gives you a stew), hang over fire (or medium heat on stove) and let cook for a couple hours (it is ready when the beans and squash are soft and meat is cooked through). Eat when you are hungry.

*Add more or less of each item based on how many you are feeding. Any type of bean and squash/pumpkin can be used or even multiple varieties of each can be added (or you can leave one out if you prefer). Each time you make this you can try different combinations of items and you will get different flavors.