Posts Tagged ‘Laura’

Wilder Wednesday: Drinking from the Saucer

Eliza Jane was more bossy than ever. She said Almanzo’s boots made too much noise. She even told Mother that she was mortified because Father drank tea from his saucer.

“My land! how else would he cool it?” Mother asked.

“It isn’t the style to drink out of saucers any more,” Eliza Jane said. “Nice people drink out of the cup.”

“Eliza Jane!” Alice cried. “Be ashamed! I guess Father’s as nice as anybody!”

Mother actually stopped working. She took her hands out of the dishpan and turned round to face Eliza Jane.

“Young lady,” she said, “if you have to show off your fine education, you tell me where saucers come from.”

Eliza Jane opened her mouth, and shut it, and looked foolish.

“They come from China,” Mother said. “Dutch sailors brought them from China, two hundred years ago, the first time sailors ever sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and found China. Up to that time, people drank out of cups; they didn’t have saucers. Ever since they’ve had saucers, they’ve drunk out of them. I guess a thing that folks have done for two hundred years we can keep on doing. We’re not likely to change, for a new-fangled notion that you’ve got in Malone Academy.”

That shut up Eliza Jane.

~From Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

 This was the first, and for a long time, only, reference to drinking from a saucer that I’ve ever come across. Mother Wilder’s history was a bit faulty: Europeans first explored China in the 1516, when the Portuguese explorer (and cousin of Columbus) Rafael Perestrello landed on the southern coast of mainland China and traded in Guangzhou. I think what Mother Wilder had in mind was the United East Indian Company, a Dutch-chartered trading company that had a trade monopoly with China in the 1600s.

 Another reference to drinking from the saucer can be found in Tom Brown’s School Days, a British novel written by Thomas Hughes in 1857:

“Well, I wish I were alongside of him,” said Tom. “If I can’t be at Rugby I want to be at work in the world, and not dawdling away three years at Oxford.”

“What do you mean by ‘at work in the world’?” said the master, pausing, with his lips close to his saucerful of tea, and peering at Tom over it.

“Well, I mean real work; one’s profession; whatever one will have really to do, and make one’s living by. I want to be doing some real good, feeling that I am not only at play in the world,” answered Tom, rather puzzled to find out himself what he really did mean.

“You are mixing up two very different things in your head, I think, Brown,” said the master, putting down his empty saucer, “and you ought to get clear about them.”

 Cups and saucers have been used since the Middle Ages, and I could find no definitive answer about whether they drank from the saucer as well as the cup, or when that habit began. But it certainly was common in Russia and Scandinavia for many years. In fact, in Sweden, they not only sipped from the saucer after purposely overfilling the cup, but sipped the beverage through a lump of sugar held in the front teeth, a custom called “dricka på bit” or “drink with a lump.” While there are people who remember their elderly, usually rural, ancestors drinking this way, it seems to have fallen out of favor in the 20th century. It was still a common enough practice in 1914 to be portrayed in a painting by Konstantin Makovsky.


Drinking from the saucer was not confined to Europe. There is a story that when Thomas Jefferson returned from France to find Congress organized into two parts, he asked George Washington why there needed to be a Senate. Washington answered with another question: “Why do you pour tea into your saucer?” Jefferson answered, “To cool it.” “Just so,” responded Washington, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.” See, the Federal Convention felt that the members of the House were too emotional, so the Senate was formed to have “cooler heads” prevail. This story is anecdotal, but does show that using the saucer to cool the tea was a familiar custom here in America.

I’ll leave you with a poem by John Paul Moore:

 Drinking From The Saucer

I’ve never made a fortune,
And I’ll never make one now
But it really doesn’t matter
‘Cause I’m happy anyhow

As I go along my journey
I’m reaping better than I’ve sowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

I don’t have a lot of riches,
And sometimes the going’s tough
But with kin and friends to love me
I think I’m rich enough

I thank God for the blessings
That His mercy has bestowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

He gives me strength and courage
When the way grows steep and rough
I’ll not ask for other blessings for
I’m already blessed enough

May we never be too busy
To help bear another’s load
Then we’ll all be drinking from the saucer
When our cups have overflowed


Wilder Wednesday – How ‘Bout Them Apples

Wilder Wednesday posts are inspired by the Little House series of books.

“Pie!” said Pa, and, “Apple pie!” said Mr. Boast. “Jumping Jehoshaphat, I wish I’d known this was coming!”
Slowly they each ate a piece of that apple pie, and Pa and Mr. Boast divided the one piece left over.
“I never hope to eat a better Christmas dinner,” said Mr. Boast, with a deep sigh of fullness.
By the Shores of Silver Lake ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

The above pie was made from dried apples found in the surveyor’s house, but did you know that Pa later grew apples and plums on his farm in De Smet? On the 7th of May, 1886, Pa listed “apple trees, bearing; plum tress bearing small fruit in abundance, about 6000 fruit trees” as improvements to his homestead. Fruit trees generally have to be at least four or five years old to begin bearing, so Pa had been raising these trees for a few years.

pa hs proof

Laura and Almanzo had an apple orchard, too, on their farm, Rocky Ridge, in Mansfield. When they purchased the farm, there were “800 apple trees on it growing in nursery rows. Two hundred had been set out the spring before…”*

With lots of work and care, seven years later the Wilders had beautiful, delicious apples. Almanzo said that “my Ben Davis are different from any I have ever seen in being better colored and flavored and in the texture of the flesh.”* Most of the apples grown on Rocky Ridge were the Ben Davis variety; some were Missouri Pippin.

AJ apple

Almanzo in front of one of his apple trees.

At one time, Ben Davis apples were among the most popular grown in the US, but it more for the advantage of growers and sellers than consumers, since they were usually considered to be a dry and flavorless variety. There was even a joke that if you put Ben Davis apples in a cider press, “the Davies would soak up the cider.” However, it was a hardy breed with a long growing season. In addition, they were thick-skinned and did not show bruising as much as other varieties after shipping.


Ben Davis variety of apple

Although Almanzo seemed extra proud of his Ben Davis apples, it was his Pippins that won a prize at the Wright County Fair in 1922.

1922 10 19 pippin

Pippins are a lighter fruit than many other apple varieties. They are crunchy, juicy, and slightly sweet.


Missouri Pippin variety of apple

Almanzo claimed to be a novice orchard man when he acquired the apple orchard on Rocky Ridge, but he evidently had some experience with them. This quote is from Farmer Boy:
The apples were ripe. Almanzo and Royal and Father set ladders against the trees, and climbed into the leafy tops. They picked every perfect apple carefully, and laid it in a basket. Father drove the wagonful of baskets slowly to the house, and Almanzo helped carry the baskets down cellar and lay the apples carefully in the apple-bins. They didn’t bruise one apple, for a bruised apple will rot, and one rotten apple will spoil a whole bin.

Apples were eaten fresh, made into sauce, or baked into pies. Apple pie is something that I loved growing up, when all I had was what my mom made. Since then, I’ve tasted many, many versions of the all-American dessert, but none come close to Mom’s. In honor of Pa and Almanzo, here is her recipe, which has also won at the county fair.

Mom’s Sky-High Apple Pie

For the pastry: Refrigerate all ingredients, and the mixing bowl, pastry cutter, and mixing spoon for at least 2 hours before beginning. (I’ve learned that cold ingredients are key to a light, flaky crust.)
3 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 T. sugar
½ c. shortening (or lard)
½ c. butter
1 egg, beaten and halved
1 T. lemon juice
1/3 c. ice water

Mix the dry ingredients. Cut into shortening and butter until mixture resembles peas. Stir in ½ egg and lemon juice. (Reserve remaining egg for glazing the top crust before baking.) Sprinkle with water, using just enough to cause dough to stick together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. When ready to use, divide in half and roll out. Line a large pie plate with one crust. (Hint: to prevent a doughy bottom crust, you can pre-bake the bottom for about 5 minutes before filling. This isn’t usually done with fruit pies, but it does make a difference.)

For the filling:
8 c. apple slices – different apple varieties produce different tastes. Granny Smiths are tart; I prefer McIntosh, Gala, or Pippins (Laura would approve).
1 ½ T. lemon juice
1 c. sugar
½ c. instant oats
1 egg
2 t. cinnamon
¾ t. nutmeg
⅓ c. butter
extra 1 T. milk, sugar and cinnamon
Combine everything but the butter and extras, and pour into the bottom crust you’ve prepared. Dot generously with butter. Top with remaining crust, fluting edges to seal. Slit top crust to vent. Mix the reserved ½ egg with extra 1 T. milk and use to glaze the crust, then sprinkle lightly with extra sugar and cinnamon.
Place pie on a thin, foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for an hour. Let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing. Best with ice cream!

*A.J. Wilder, “My Apple Orchard,” Missouri Ruralist, June 1, 1912. (Note: the byline on this article is A.J. Wilder. Most LIW scholars agree that Laura actually wrote it. I remain unconvinced.)