Wilder Wednesday – Party Time

Wilder Wednesday posts are inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie book series.

The table was set prettily with Ma’s best white cloth and the blue pitcher full of flowers. The benches were drawn up on either side of it. Shiny tin cups were full of cold, creamy milk from the cellar, and the big platter was heaped with honey-colored vanity cakes.
The cakes were not sweet, but they were rich and crisp, and hollow inside. Each one was like a great bubble. The crisp bits of it melted on the tongue.
They ate and ate of those vanity cakes. They said they had never tasted anything so good, and they asked Ma what they were.
“Vanity cakes,” said Ma. “Because they are all puffed up, like vanity, with nothing solid inside.”
There were so many vanity cakes that they ate till they could eat no more, and they drank all the sweet, cold milk they could hold. Then the party was over.   ~On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Do you like a good party? If so, you’re not the only one. Laura Ingalls Wilder did, too. In fact, she was quite imaginative with her party ideas.

Sometimes Laura made a party of regular club meetings. At one such occasion, she held an “international luncheon” and served whale meat sandwiches, home-made cheese, French-style strawberry preserves, candy from Switzerland, bread and butter sandwiches, and coffee.*
I had never heard of “French-style” preserves, so I looked it up online. Evidently, that means no pectin was used; just berries and sugar, and possibly a little water.

jam2
I’m pretty sure the whale meat and Swiss candy were compliments of Rose. Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was an international traveler and writer. I’ll have posts on her in the future.

rose

Rose Wilder Lane

At another meeting, Laura held a gypsy-themed party. The local newspaper reported that “Gypsy costumes and customs prevailed…A gypsy tent and camp fires, fortune tellers, ghosts and ghost stories, and outdoor and indoor sports contributed to the pleasures of the evening.” Of course, “appropriate refreshments were served.”**
I wonder what refreshments would be appropriate to a gypsy-themed party?

Both of those parties were thrown for a meeting of the Justamere Club, a club that Laura helped establish in 1919. They met monthly in members’ homes on a rotating basis and discussed cultural interests such as literature, music, and art. The official song of the club was written by Laura. It was titled “We Are All Good Friends,” and was set to music by Jean Jacques Marquis Du Chatelard Chateau, a friend of Rose’s who had visited Mansfield the previous fall. Laura served as the group’s President in 1921. She was very active in this club, and when it was her turn to host, Laura often made a real party of it.

Another organization Laura belonged to also inspired a party: the Order of the Eastern Star. Here’s the newspaper account of a surprise party Laura held for that group:

1917 oes party

Again, I wonder about the food. (Do you get the feeling that I love good food? You’d be correct!) The colors of the Star are blue, yellow, white, green, and red. Blueberries are the first thing to come to my mind for the blue, but this party was held in January; Laura probably did not have fresh berries. Perhaps she had some preserved, French-style. What foods would you use to fill the bill?

In 1920, Laura threw a birthday party for Rose—even though Rose was in Europe. Other than the guest of honor, it had all the things parties normally have: food, music, fellowship. Photos of Rose placed all around the room constituted the decoration. The main events of the evening were reading letters Rose had written to Laura describing her travels, and writing letters to Rose. Laura packaged all the messages together and sent them as a Christmas gift to her daughter.****
I never would have thought of having a party for someone who wasn’t there, but Laura could always come up with an idea for a party.

I opened this post with a quote from On the Banks of Plum Creek. Laura was asked many times about vanity cakes, but she said she never learned how to make them. Never fear, however; some kind soul in De Smet concocted a recipe for us to try. I haven’t attempted these; have you?

vanitycake

If you could go to one of Laura’s parties, which one would it be? Does it inspire you to have a party of your own?

*1-12-1922 issue of the Mansfield Mirror, Mansfield MO
** 9-29-1921 issue of the Mansfield Mirror, Mansfield MO
***1-11-1917 issue of the Mansfield Mirror, Mansfield MO
****12-2-1920 issue of the Mansfield Mirror, Mansfield MO

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jan on December 9, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    I was wondering if you might know what the word Justamere means? I have seen the Justamere Club mentioned several times in reference to one of the study/cultural groups Laura helped organize/attend and I would love to know its meaning/origin to understand why Rose chose that particular name for this group. Thanks for your help in advance.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Jan on December 9, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Could it be a play on words as in “just a mere” club?

    Reply

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