Over the River, and Through the Wood

It is Thanksgiving week in the United States. Many people love this holiday because they can spend time with their family and share favorite foods. It is also a time to think of all the things for which we are grateful. Which holidays are your favorite? Do you spend time with friends or family at Thanksgiving? What is your favorite food to eat?

In 1844, Lydia Maria Child wrote a poem for a children’s magazine called Flowers for Children. Lydia Maria Child was one of America’s first well-known women writers. She was a famous for writing cook books and house help books. She also wrote articles and books about why America should not have slavery. Her poem was called, “A New England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day.” Lydia wrote the poem about the things she remembered when visiting her grandparents as a little girl.

wagon ride

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

snowy woods

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.

snowy barnyard

Over the river, and through the wood—
and straight through the barnyard gate,
We seem to go extremely slow,
it is so hard to wait!

ox in snow

Over the river, and through the wood,
to have a first-rate play.
Hear the bells ring, “Ting-a-ling-ding!”,
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood—
When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for everyone.”


Over the river, and through the wood—
now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Lydia’s poem has stayed popular for over one hundred and seventy years. Through the year’s people have changed some of the words and even made a song out of the poem. Some people sing it as, “to Grandmother’s house we go,” instead of Grandfather’s house. Either way, it’s a fun poem to make us think about our own favorite things about Thanksgiving Day.

We hope everyone in your family has a wonderful Thanksgiving this year!


Christmas Cake

Christmas foodsMost families have special food traditions for their December holidays. Is there a recipe that you cook at your house only at this time of year? Do you have a favorite food to eat during holiday times? Today, we think of candy canes, or egg nog, or sugar cookies and gingerbread as some of the foods enjoyed during the Christmas season. One favorite holiday recipe for Iowans in 1875 was a special Christmas cake.

Today we like our birthday cakes and wedding cakes to be light and fluffy. Most of us like lots of frosting on our cake and a lot of people love chocolate cake the best. What is your favorite kind of cake? Do you put frosting on it? How about sprinkles?

FruitcakesultanasChristmas cake in 1875 was a bit different. Instead of light and fluffy, Christmas cake was heavy, spongy and thick. Inside the cake, there were dried pieces of fruit or candied fruit peel for extra flavor. Can you think of a dried fruit that you enjoy today? If you guessed raisins, you are right! Raisins, which are dried grapes, were also very popular in the Victorian era because they were a fruit that could last a long time. Some raisins had fancy names like sultanas–golden raisins or currants–a tiny, dried variety of grape called the Black Corinth.

Christmas cakes were a type of fruitcake. candied orange peelDark fruitcakes were made with brown sugar, molasses, and spices like cinnamon, clove and allspice. These are some of the same spices we put in gingerbread cookies. There were also light fruitcakes flavored with vanilla. They both would include nuts, like walnuts or almonds, and lots of dried fruits like raisins. Some recipes call for the peels of lemons or oranges. The peels were boiled in sugar syrup to make them sweeter. This was an extra special ingredient because lemons and oranges were expensive in 1875. Christmas fruit cake was special because it used these fancy ingredients that parents might only buy as a treat at Christmas time.

Here is a recipe for a Christmas cake from a cookbook called Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which was written over 150 years ago!

Book of Household ManagementSome things about the recipe are different from what you might read today. Instead of using cups and teaspoons, cooks measured things by weighing them out on a scale. (For example, half a pound of butter is one cup or two sticks.) You can still make this recipe at home though! If you don’t have a kitchen scale, you can find lists of how much flour and sugar weigh in cookbooks or on the Internet –here or here.

Mrs. Beeton’s Christmas Cake

½ lb. of butter, softened
½ lb. of castor sugar (powdered sugar)
½ lb. of sultanas (golden raisins)
½ lb. of dried currants
6 oz. mixed candied lemon or orange peel
1 lb. of flour
¼ oz. baking powder
4 eggs

Sift together the flour and baking powder then add the dried fruit and candied peel. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar, and add eggs one at a time, beating well after the addition of each egg. Add flour and fruit mixture, then enough milk to make the consistency of a batter. Bake in greased round pans or loaf pans in a 350 degree oven for 3-4 hours or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. May be frosted or decorated once it has been cooled.

FruitcakeToday, we sometimes make fun of fruitcakes. People don’t make them at home very often and sometimes the store-bought cakes are too sweet or sticky. The Christmas Cake was such a tradition in the 1880s that people made fun of them then too! In the 1880s, music was published in several places for a tune making fun of an Irish young lady’s Christmas Cake.

Sometimes the song is called Miss Hoolihan’s Christmas Cake and sometimes Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake. You can hear a famous Irish band called The Irish Rover’s sing this song here. You can also see the words and music here at the Library of Congress website. The words to the song go like this:

Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake by C. Frank Horn and William Fogarty sheet musicShaw, 1883.

Verse: As I sat in my window last evening, The letterman brought it to me A little gilt-edged invitation sayin’ “Gilhooley come over to tea” I knew that the Fogarties sent it. So I went just for old friendships sake. The first thing they gave me to tackle Was a slice of Miss Fogarty’s cake.

Chorus: There were plums and prunes and cherries, There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon, too There was nutmeg, cloves and berries And a crust that was nailed on with glue There were caraway seeds in abundance Such that work up a fine stomach ache That could kill a man twice after eating a slice Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake.

Verse: Miss Mulligan wanted to try it, But really it wasn’t no use For we worked in it over an hour And we couldn’t get none of it loose Till Murphy came in with a hatchet And Kelly came in with a saw That cake was enough by the powers above For to paralyze any man’s jaws

Verse: Miss Fogarty proud as a peacock, Kept smiling and blinking away Till she tripped over Flanagans brogans And she spilt the whole brewing of tea “Aye Gilhooley,” she says, “you’re not eatin, Try a little bit more for me sake.” “And no Miss Fogarty,” says I, “For I’ve had quite enough of your cake.”

Verse: Maloney was took with the colic, O’Donald’s a pain in his head Mc’Naughton lay down on the sofa, And he swore that he wished he was dead Miss Bailey went into hysterics And there she did wriggle and shake And everyone swore they were poisoned Just from eating Miss Fogarty’s cake.fruitcake


playing pianoDo you know how to play the piano? Do you take music lessons to learn to play a musical instrument? In the 1800s, wealthy children often learned to play musical instruments or sing. If company came to visit, the children could entertain guests with their talent.

Children, especially young ladies, would have learned how to play the piano or violin, as well as to sing. A young lady would be invited to perform at parties for her friends and her parents’ friends! She would need to practice a lot to be able to perform well! Do you practice your music lessons every day? How about when you know you will have a concert or recital?

playing piano in parlor

In the late 1800s, people liked to have music parties called “musicales”. A family would invite friends to come over for an afternoon or evening of music.  The family members could play or sing and guests would also perform. The family would also serve snacks or desserts.

snacks for musicale

You could give a musicale at your house too! Practice a favorite song or two on the piano or practice singing your favorite song. Then invite your family or some friends to come over for a concert! You could have cookies or ice cream and show off your musical talent! Everyone could also sing together!

refreshments for musicale

At the Flynn House at Living History Farms, our guides have been practicing their piano skills this week! We are going to have a musicale on Saturday, July 26 from 1 pm to 3 pm. We hope to have lots of visitors join us in the parlor to listen to the music and maybe sing along to some of well-known songs of the time. We’ve been practicing tunes like “Yankee Doodle”, “Oh, Susannah”, and “Beautiful Dreamer.”

parlor piano

In the front parlor at the Flynn Mansion, we have a beautiful square grand piano that was made by the Chickering Company of Boston in 1871. This piano has 85 keys on the keyboard instead of 88 keys like other pianos. It is sometimes called a “box piano” because it is shaped like a large rectangle. The strings run from left to right instead of up and down like a modern piano. These pianos were very popular in the United States between 1850 and 1900, and cost from $475 to $1200 at that time.

We hope you’ll stop by the Flynn House to sing with us at our musical afternoon on July 26. If you know how to play a tune, we’ll invite you to play the piano, too!

Decoration Day with the Family


Summer vacations are coming! School will soon be over and kids will be able to play outside. Summer holidays are coming, too! Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, and more! What does your family do to celebrate in the summer? Do you have picnics? Do you go to a park? Do you like to play baseball in the summer?

The first summer holiday is on May 26. It is called Memorial Day. Many people have the day off of work and school. They celebrate with a picnic or a barbeque. It’s the beginning of summer fun with our families! Memorial Day has been a holiday for 145 years. That’s a long time! At first, Memorial Day looked a bit different than it does today. It was a day to be serious and to remember important people.


Memorial Day began in 1868 as a day called Decoration Day. This was right after the American Civil War. Over 600,000 soldiers had died during that war. The families of those soldiers did not want anyone to forget what happened. On Decoration Day, these families went to the graveyard with flowers and flags. They decorated the graves of their soldiers who had died.  decoration day da photo 1

Many small towns had parades. Veterans, men who had been in the army or navy, would carry flags and banners. Children walked in these parades carrying flowers.American_Patriotic_Art_Card_Memorial_Day-005

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Sometimes, important men like the mayor or governor would give a speech. Bands would play music and people would sing songs about their country.

decoration day da photo 11

Today, we honor all fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, not just those who died in the Civil War.

American_Art_Vintage_Memorial_Day_Souvenir_Card-01Memorial Day became a day to spend thinking about all of your family. We remember family members who are gone and celebrate family members who are here. Families still go to cemeteries to remember soldiers in their family that have died.

They also spend time with their living family, having picnics and parades and baseball games together. It is still a day to think about important people and remember. And also a day to celebrate and have fun together. How does your family celebrate Memorial Day? Do you decorate the graves of any family members who served in the military? Do you spend extra time with your family that weekend?

decoration day da photo 2

You can see what Decoration Day might have looked like over 100 years ago by visiting Living History Farms on Saturday, May 24. Historical Interpreters will act out a Decoration Day speech and parade at 1:00 pm. Museum guests can walk in the parade and listen to the speeches about Civil War soldiers. At the Decoration Day ceremony, everyone will sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. This was a very popular song for soldiers and their families. You can hear what it sounds like here. What is your favorite song about your country?


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There will also be a historic baseball game on Saturday, May 24 at 1:30 pm. We hope families will come and spend time together then. If you visit for the baseball game, you will need to know the rules! They were a little different in the 1870s.

1875 baseball rules cropped