Winter Warming

Winter can be an unpredictable season in Iowa. From blue skies to blizzards and everything in between, it can be tough to know just what to wear some days to keep warm.  People can easily change their clothes, though, to match the weather.


The farm animals at the museum can’t put on a winter jacket and a stocking hat when it’s especially cold or a light sweater when it’s mild, and they certainly can’t come inside the house when it’s just too cold. So, what do they do instead to deal with Iowa’s unpredictable winter weather?


The horses and cows grow long, thick, shaggy winter hair when it starts to cool down in the fall. This hair growth doesn’t actually have anything to do with temperature, though.  It has to do with how many hours of sunlight there are each day, known as a photoperiod.  As the photoperiod shortens, the horses and cows start growing their hair to get ready for cooler temperatures.


Horses and cows use this thick winter fur to trap a layer of air against their skin, which is slowly warmed by their body heat. The hair also scatters light, which may help insulate the animals. As long as they have shelter from north winds, they are comfortable outside, and they enjoy sunning themselves whenever possible.

We cut the wool off our sheep (a process called shearing) at the start of each summer. They spend the whole summer and fall growing new wool, instead of waiting for days to get shorter like the horses and cows. By the time they need it in the winter, they have their thick wool coats back to keep them warm until spring.

All of the animals also have to use more energy to keep warm, just like how shivering takes more work than standing still. They all have to eat more food to make up for the extra energy they spend staying warm.

Since the pigs don’t have a thick outer layer of fur, wool, or feathers like the other animals, they have to create a thick inner layer of fat to help insulate their bodies. To create this layer of fat, they have to eat even more food than the other animals.


The pigs also enjoy being given a few extra whole bales of straw, which they rip up and rearrange to create their own nests inside the hog house. They cuddle up tight against each other in these nests to share body heat. Pigs also enjoy sunning themselves, even on cold sunny days.


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!

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!

Winter Wonderlands

machine shedIt’s February in Iowa. We still have snow on the ground. It’s been very cold here this week, too. Do you like snow and cold? Lots of kids love to play in the snow or go sledding. Many parents hate to shovel snow and don’t like driving on snowy roads. At the museum, cold weather makes us wonder about what it might be like to have been in an Ioway lodge during a snowstorm or in a log house on the prairie. What would it be like to do farm chores on a snowy day in 1900 or walk to school through the snow in 1875?

cattail lodgeIn the year 1700, the Ioway people made their winter houses by sewing together the long green leaves of cattail plants. In the winter, the cattail leaves would swell up and stick together. The leaves would shed water and keep out the cold air.  Buffalo skins with all the fur were used as blankets to keep warm. It may not sound very warm, but a cattail lodge kept the Ioway much warmer than pioneers would have been living in a log house around the year 1850.

Pioneer hearthMost log houses were heated by an open fireplace. The heat from the fire escapes up the chimney. A pioneer family was happy if they could warm their log house up to 45 or 50 degrees in the winter! It would take a lot of wood to keep the fire going in a hearth to cook and keep warm all winter.

706119-R1-051-24_026 (2)   Tangen

By the 1870s and in 1900, most houses were heated by wood or coal-burning stoves. The stoves gave off a lot of heat into the room, but there might still have been a cold draft around the outside of the room, next to the walls. Our houses in 2015 have thick foam or fluffy fiberglass in between the walls to keep the wind out. In the 1800s, most houses did not have any insulation to keep out the wind. Here at the museum, the snow this month has made everything very sloppy.

1900During the last snow storm at the 1900 era Farm, we were grateful for the big pine trees on the west side of the house. The trees kept the snow from drifting in too deep. You can see the line of pine trees in the snow in this photograph taken out of the pantry window.out the pantry window

The snow made it harder to carry water and food to our animals. The cows didn’t seem to mind the snow much though!


The orchard and the windmill were pretty in the snow and ice.

windmill  trees

Many people in the 1870s and 1900s looked forward to snow. Kids and adults loved to go sleigh riding and sledding in the winter. It was a fun way to meet your friends and a fast way to travel. Sleighs pulled by horses could skim over the snow much easier than pulling a wagon along muddy roads. Sleds in 1900

Farm kids might make their own sleds in the year 1900, or they could buy them from a mail-order catalog. The Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog had simple sleds to sell for 50 cents! A really lucky kid might be able to buy a fancy sled for $2.00.

The big hill in the town of Walnut Hill would make for some great sledding! town

Can you imagine walking to school in snow like this? Farm kids in the 1800s might walk a mile or more to their one-room school houses–even on a snowy day! school house

Going shopping in a little town could be a snowy adventure in 1875! Storekeepers would have to shovel their doorways and walks by hand. No snow-blowing machines back then! The shops in Walnut Hill were covered in snow last week. It’s a good thing the General Store would sell fur mittens and strong shovels! We hope you are enjoying the snow this month! We’re looking forward to spring . . .

General Store  Drug Store  Millinery

Winter Food for the Pioneers

cold pioneersDuring the winter months, pioneers in Iowa did their best to keep warm. They would keep the fire in their log homes going all day and wear warm clothes made of flannel and wool. But what did they eat? Iowa is too cold in the winter to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, so pioneers needed to find a way to make their crops from the summer last through the winter months. Here are a couple of ways they could do that: picklingPickling: Pickling means placing something in vinegar and spices to make it last longer. The vinegar helps stop germs from getting to the food and making it rotten. The pickles we see at the store are pickled cucumbers, but you can pickle almost anything, such as peppers, nuts, melons, cherries, and tomatoes. Can you guess what pioneers called pickled tomatoes? Ketchup! We still eat pickled tomatoes today! dryingDrying: Pioneers would hang food up to dry. Taking the moisture out of the food helps make it last longer. Pioneers would string foods up close to the fire where the heat from the fire would help dry them out, or they could place some food outside, and the heat from the sun would dry things out.  Some foods pioneer could dry include apples, pumpkins, pears, and grapes. Dried grapes are called raisins! root cellarRoot cellar: A root cellar is like a man made cave. Pioneers would dig into the side of a hill, and place some foods like root vegetables, underground. beets carrotsRoot vegetables are foods where people eat the part that grows under the ground such as potatoes, carrots, beets, and onions. The root cellar would stay about 50-60 degrees all year round, keep the vegetables from getting too hot or too cold. Pioneers would start preserving their food as soon as possible in the summertime to make sure they had plenty to eat during the winter. They would store these foods upstairs in their attics or keep them in the root cellar. applesYou can try these food saving ideas at home now! With an adult’s help, you can try drying apple slices. Cut two or three large apples into very thin slices and let the slices soak in a mixture of 3 or 4 cups of water and a half cup of lemon juice. Adults can do the slicing while kids help mix the water and lemon juice. The lemon juice helps keep the apples from turning brown. The pioneer  would not have had lemon juice–so you can skip this step if you want. Lay the apple slices out onto cookie sheets or baking racks. In the fall and winter, you can put the apple slices into your modern oven. Bake them for 1 hour at 200 degrees and then flip them apple slices over. Then bake them 1 to 2 hours more at 200 degrees. Sometimes a really juicy apple can take even a bit longer. The finished apple should be leathery–kind of like a raisin. Let the slices cool and then store them in an airtight container or bag. On a really sunny day, you can dry apples without the oven. Set your trays of apple slices in a very sunny place and lay cheesecloth over the slices to keep the bugs off of them. The apples may have to be in the sun for a day or two to dry completely. (If you are drying the apples outside in the sun, bring them in at night and put them out again the next day.)

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

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.