Doughnuts in Your Socks!

It is Christmas week and many of our readers are waiting on Santa Claus! Do you put up a stocking or receive gifts under a Christmas tree? Or do you have other traditions for giving gifts in the winter months? There are many holidays Iowans celebrate in December where people give gifts.

a home in the wilderness

Did kids a long time ago wait for Santa? In the 1840s, many Iowa kids were pioneers. They lived with their families in log houses in the country away from town. Most of these children did not put up a Christmas tree in their house. But a lot of them did hang their stockings on the end of their bed for presents on Christmas night. Stockings are long wool socks. In 2015, we sometimes make fancy stockings to put up for Santa. In 1840, Christmas stockings were the same socks kids wore on their feet everyday!

kids stockings 1870

Some of these pioneer kids wrote in their diaries about how their family celebrated Christmas. Mary Miller lived in Clinton, Iowa in 1842. She remembered, “We all hung up our stockings. Next morning we were gleeful at finding in each stocking a nice fat, brown doughnut and some pieces of gaily colored calico. I was happy because I knew that my elder sister would make and dress a rag doll for me, just like the one with which she played.” Would these gifts make you happy today? Can you imagine finding a sticky doughnut in your sock?


Doughnuts were a favorite treat for holidays. When pioneers made doughnuts, it didn’t take up a lot of sugar, but it tasted really sweet! You and your family can make these doughnuts too. Pioneers would fry the doughnuts in a kettle over a fire. With an adult’s help, you can fry your doughnuts on top of your stove.

Cooking fire at the 1850 Pioneer Log House

Here is a Pioneer style recipe for this sweet treat. Kids can do the mixing, cutting, and finishing. An adult should do the frying. Always be careful when working around any kind of stove and hot oil!

¼ cup butter

1 cup sugar

4 cups flour

½ tsp salt

4 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

Vegetable oil to fry

Cinnamon, powdered sugar to finish

Cream (that means mix together really well) butter and sugar. Mix in two eggs and vanilla, set these wet ingredients to one side. In a different bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix half of these dry ingredients into the butter/sugar, then add a bit of the buttermilk. Then add the other half of the dry ingredients, then the rest of the buttermilk. Mix together until you have a dough. (Chill this dough for a good half hour, if possible.) Roll dough out on a floured table or counter. Roll the dough out 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut the doughnut shapes using a biscuit or doughnut cutter—the end of a glass works well too. An adult should preheat a heavy pot with vegetable oil in it. Have an adult fry the doughnuts in the hot oil (approximately 375 degrees) until golden brown on both sides. Place on a towel to cool. Sprinkle with either cinnamon or powdered sugar.

We wish all of our readers a very happy holiday season!


Waiting for Santa Claus!

SantaIt’s Christmas week! Many children are waiting for Santa to come on December 24! Do you think children in the year 1875 waited for Santa? For kids living in houses like the Flynn Mansion or the Tangen Home, kids might indeed be waiting for Santa! 140 years ago, many Iowa children celebrated Christmas with a visit from Santa. He would bring gifts of candy or small toys, leaving them in stockings on Christmas Eve. Some children—especially if they had moved to Iowa from places like Germany or Holland might have a different name for Santa. They might have called him Kris Kringle or St. Nicolas or maybe SinterKlaas. For these children, St. Nicolas sometimes came on December 6. This is the feast day of St. Nicolas.

How do we know what Santa Claus looks like? Well, two men who lived in the 1800s helped kids get an idea of what Santa should look like.  clement mooreOne man wrote a very famous poem about Santa. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem for his children about a magical visitor who brought presents every year on Christmas Eve. The poem was published in first a newspaper in 1823 and later a book. I bet you know that poem. It starts “Twas the before Christmas and all through the house . . .” This was one of the first descriptions of Santa. It told us he wore fur “from his head to his foot” and that he was a “jolly old elf”. This was also the first place a writer described Santa as having “eight tiny reindeer” and what their names were. Can you name all of these reindeer? This was before Rudolph joined the team. When the poem was first placed into a book, several drawings were made of Santa Claus. At that time, the artist thought he looked like this!Santa, Moore

In the 1860s, another famous artist made more drawings of Santa Claus. This artist’s name was Thomas Nast. Thomas NastHe drew cartoons about politicians in New York City for a magazine called Harper’s Weekly. He drew his first Santa Claus for them in 1863. The picture showed Santa Claus in a coat of stars handing out presents to Union soldiers during the Civil War. Mr. Nast drew pictures of Santa Claus almost every year into the 1880s. Mr. Nast’s drawings helped us understand that Santa Claus kept a list of naughty and nice children, that he lived at the North Pole, and that he had elves to help him make toys. Mr. Nast’s drawings also helped children know they should write letters to Santa telling him what they wanted for Christmas! Mr. Nast’s Santa Claus drawing looked like this! Santa, Nast 1881

Do you leave out cookies and milk for Santa Claus? No one is exactly sure how long children have been leaving cookies for Santa. Some people say that St. Nicolas began snacking on the gingerbread ornaments decorating German Christmas trees back in the middle ages. Some people say Santa started snacking on cookies left out for him by children in the 1930s. No one is quite sure. But just in case you and your family were going to bake cookies for Santa or other friends this week, here is one of our very favorite spice cookie recipes! At Living History Farms, we usually bake this cookie in a wood-burning stove. It will taste very good after being baked in a modern oven too! This is a traditional nineteenth century cookie recipe that is a favorite of our historic kitchens.  Spice cookies and shortbreads were common kinds of “comfort” food cookies for the 19th century, rather than today’s chocolate chip or peanut butter varieties.

cookiesCrinkly Molasses Cookies

¾ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
4 Tbls. molasses
2 tsp soda
½ tsp salt
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
½ tsp cloves

Cream butter; add sugar, egg, and molasses. Sift dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture. Drop onto greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees. Keep in airtight canister for crisp cookies, cookie jar for soft cookies.

Have a very Merry Christmas from all of us at Living History Farms!

Merry Christmas

Comfort Baking for the Pioneer Farmer

Well, LHF Kids, it is still pretty cold outside! The cold weather often makes people want to stay inside and bake yummy treats! Do you think the first settlers to Iowa in the 1850s did this too? Remember, in 1850 people did not have electric or gas ovens. Stoves were made of heavy iron and burned wood or coal, like this one at our 1900 era farm house.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When the pioneers traveled to Iowa in the 1850s, they did not have much room in their wagons. They had to be really careful about what they chose to bring with them. A wood burning cook stove was too big and too heavy to fit in their wagons. So how did the pioneers bake their bread and cakes?


A bake kettle! A bake kettle is a deep cast iron pan with three legs and a rimmed, close-fitting lid. Around 1850, it was usually referred to as a bake kettle or bake oven. Today, people refer to it as a Dutch oven. So how does a bake kettle work?

First you need to build a fire and get good coals. Coals are the part of the fire that glows orange.


Next, you prepare your food. Make sure to grease your bake kettle! Place your food inside the bake kettle, and then place the lid on top. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter that, take a scoop of coals and place it on your hearth.

A hearth is a stone floor that sits in front of your fireplace. Then you set your bake kettle on top of the coals.  Because it has legs, it won’t sit directly on the coals, so it won’t burn. Next, take another scoop of coals and put them on top of the lid. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The lid has a rim on it so the coals won’t spill. Lastly, take a scoop of ashes and put them on top.
coals on bake kettle (2)
This makes sure the heat from the coals doesn’t escape and cooks your food. Now you wait! To check to see if your food is done, you take a special hook to lift the lid of your bake kettle, if it needs more time, the lid goes back on. If your food is done, flip it out on a plate and enjoy!

cupcakes (2)

If you would like to try a pioneer recipe at home in your oven, try this one! It was originally published in a very old cookbook called Housekeeping in Old Virginia. You don’t have to own a bake oven. You can make this one in your modern kitchen using cupcake pans and your electric or gas oven. We have “modernized” the recipe to make it easier for you to read. It’s called “cup” cake because all the measurements are in cups. Remember whenever you work in the kitchen, you need the help and permission of an adult!

Cup Cake

1 cup of butter at room temperature                     2 cups white sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour                                        4 eggs

Mix butter and sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, mix well. Gradually, add flour until all ingredients are mixed well. Spoon batter into greased cup cake pan. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cup cakes comes out clean.