“We sat down at the oil cloth-covered table. Mrs. Shimerda ladled meal mush out of an iron pot and poured milk on it. After the mush we had fresh bread and sorghum molasses, and coffee with the cake that had been kept warm in the feather comforter.”
Nowhere can you find the vivid, colorful, homey description of how the immigrants newly arrived to America lived on the Nebraska plains than in the writings of Willa Cather. Her bifocular study, love and observations of these settlers from Germany, Poland and Hungary (all referred to as Bohemians) gives us a flavor of the roots of the American Pioneer.
Willa Caller was born in the 1870’s in a small town in northern Virginia. In 1883 her parents took their four children and moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska.
My good friend, Margie Vuncannon, introduced me to Willa Cather’s writings a few years ago, knowing that my daughter-in-law Lynn is a native of Lincoln, Nebraska.
The opening quote is from “My Antonia”, a story centering on the Bohemians that lived near the Cather family. Many of these immigrants lived in caves, plastered with sod, and Willa Cather’s love and admiration for them drives through all her writings. Land, people, foods, and customs were all strange to these settlers. Willa Cather graphically portrays their struggle to adjust and understand the new ways.
The difficulty of communicating not only with English speaking people, but with each other was a challenge as each spoke a different language.
I was fortunate to visit Red Cloud (population: 1300) and was given a royal tour by one of the ladies who helped found the Willa Cather museum. I was shown the house where she lived, the church where the Cather family worshipped, and even a tour of the local cemetery. The pilgrimage by Europeans to Red Cloud number over 7000 yearly to honor Willa Cather. Scrapple is an ingenious food invented by the pioneers to extend pork by using cornmeal, which was plentiful and cheap.
2 lbs pork sausage
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal
pinch of salt
Brown well then drain the sausage in a large skillet. Combine the cream and 3 cups water and add to sausage. Heat to boiling. Add the corn meal slowly with the salt. Cook and stir for 5 minutes. Put into a greased 9x5x3 loaf pan that is lined with wax paper. Chill for one day. Slice and fry until brown (non stick skillet) on both sides. Serve hot with maple syrup and butter. “Father made it and we ate it all winter.”
I loved it in a sandwich.