This month we decided to highlight the “Little House” books on “Reading and Refreshments.” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tales of frontier life are perfect stories for families to read out loud together: however, we chose to delve further into the extended “Little House” collection, and go back to the lifetime of Laura’s great-grandmother Martha Morse, who was the youngest daughter of a laird in the Scottish Highlands, but ended up marrying a blacksmith and immigrating to America.
All the additional series that have been written about previous generations of the Little House family are worth reading, but the Martha stories, which were written by Melissa Wiley, are particularly enjoyable. Probably this is because Martha is the most similar to Laura: a lively, outspoken girl, with a great love of the outdoors and a decided distaste for sewing. The setting in the Scottish Highlands also adds the intrigue of a foreign country to the loving family life that we expect to find in a Little House story. In the third Martha book, Down to the Bonny Glen, the reader is treated to a description of a traditional Scottish “penny wedding,” an old folk tale, and Martha’s amusing efforts in the kitchen on Handsel Monday, the one day of the year when the family of the house cooked breakfast for the servants, rather than the other way around.
In this volume, Martha has been deemed old enough to have the services of a governess to instruct her in the art of becoming a young lady. However, the first governess, Miss Norrie, is a failure. She is a fluttering, anxious woman, who dislikes living in the remote valley of Glencaraid and who does not comprehend Martha at all.Miss Norrie said she had never in her life seen someone whose hair ran as wild as Martha’s. “But I suppose it’s to be expected,” she always added, “when one insists upon dashing about out-of-doors in all weathers without benefit of hat nor bonnet!” Miss Norrie did not approve of allowing young ladies to spend too much time out-of-doors. Miss Norrie, it seemed to Martha, did not entirely approve of her. – Down to the Bonny Glen
After some unfortunate occurrences involving silk embroidery thread and the flax harvest, Miss Norrie is discharged, and Martha is free to enjoy herself once more—or at least until another governess is found for her.
When Miss Lydia Crow arrives at Glencaraid, Martha is at first afraid that this new governess will be even worse than Miss Norrie.Martha’s heart was squeezed so tight it felt like a stone inside her chest. She realized for the first time that she was afraid. She was afraid that the arrival of this straight-backed, parasol-wielding person might mean an end to fun, forever. – Down to the Bonny Glen
Happily, first appearances are deceiving, and Miss Crow and Martha become the best of friends. Miss Crow appreciates the beauty and grandeur of Glencaraid, and thinks that a morning walk along the shores of Loch Caraid is an important part of the day. Even lessons become fun, when they involve reciting poetry and listening to Miss Crow read aloud Shakespeare’s plays!“So, Miss Martha,” [Kenneth] said slyly. “How do you pass your days, now the flax season is past?” He had heard the flax-bundling story somewhere—Uncle Harry most likely, or Grisie—and had relentlessly teased Martha about it ever since. “Miss Crow and I are reading the plays of Shakespeare,” she said, refusing to rise to the bait. “We’re doing King Lear now. I’m learning bits of it by heart.” “Och, Lear, is it? A favorite of mine. Isna it a bit much for a delicate wee lass, though, all that death and tragedy?” “Nay,” said Martha firmly. “I love it. Only I wish that Cordelia had a bit more backbone to her.” “Martha favors the outspoken characters,” said Miss Crow, smiling. “There’s a surprise,” quipped Kenneth. Grisie giggled. – Down to the Bonny Glen
Martha certainly is an outspoken character, and you’ll definitely find yourself favoring her!
To go along with the story, we suggest making Martha’s favorite: currant cakes. A recipe, updated from a Scottish cookery book written in 1840, is included below.“Your own currant bushes, how splendid! I suppose Cook makes currant cakes now and then?” “Och, all the time!” Martha said. “Whenever I ask her. They’re me favorite.” “Mine, too,” smiled Miss Crow. She did not remind Martha to say “my favorite” instead of “me.” That was the third thing Martha liked about her new governess. – Down to the Bonny Glen
And remember, if you decide to hold your own “Reading and Refreshments,” please let us hear about it! Tell us how your family enjoyed the book and whether or not you made the treat to go with it. If you can, send us a photograph as well. You can contact us at email@example.com.
The next installment of “Reading and Refreshments” will be coming out in December.
Adapted and modernized from Mrs. Dalgairn’s The Practice of Cookery
Ingredients:4 oz. all-purpose flour
Scant ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
Few gratings of fresh nutmeg
4 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 oz. granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 eggs, well beaten
1 teaspoon rosewater (you could also use lemon or almond extract, if you can’t find rosewater)
4 oz. dried currants
1. Butter 18 cups of a mini-muffin tin. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Combine the flour and cinnamon in a small bowl, and pass a fresh nutmeg over a rasp grater (Microplane) a few times to add a little freshly ground nutmeg to the mixture. Set aside.
3. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and light.
4. Add the granulated sugar.
5. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly mix in the beaten eggs, adding them a few spoonfuls at a time and letting each addition become fully absorbed before adding the next.
6. Once all the egg is mixed in, add the rosewater. The mixture will be very light and pale yellow.
7. Toss the currants with the dry ingredients, and add the mixture to the beaten butter and eggs.
8. Once the dry ingredients have been incorporated, increase the mixer’s speed to medium and beat for 10 minutes, pausing the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
9. The finished batter should be thick, smooth, and quite light.
10. Fill each greased muffin cup with 2 tablespoons of the batter.
11. Sprinkle the top of each cake with a little granulated sugar.
12. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cakes are risen and lightly browned around the edges.
13. Let cool in the pan for two minutes, then remove to a wire rack.
Yield: 18 miniature cakes