Christmas fare on the homestead

The early Scandinavian settlers in our area would have celebrated, as many still do, having dinner and opening presents under the tree

Donalda Diary

The early Scandinavian settlers in our area would have celebrated, as many still do, having dinner and opening presents under the tree on Christmas Eve. I remember my mother making aebleskiver and other Danish delights in preparation for the big meal. We had turkey but that is definitely a North American tradition. In the Old Country goose was a staple for Christmas dinner.

The early homesteaders to the Donalda area had to make do with what they could hunt. Ole Broughton, in his “Observations on early days in the Norbo (Donalda) District” about life around 1906, stated, “The meat course on our first Christmas dinner was prairie chicken and jack rabbit delectable viands.” This made me wonder what a prairie chicken looked like and how much of a meal one could get out of one or two.

The greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) is a member of the grouse family. In size their bodies are 42 – 46 cm. (16 – 18 in.). This North American species was once abundant but has become extremely rare or extinct over much of its range due to habitat loss. The hen can lay seven to 17 eggs, which she incubates for 23 to 26 days. See: http://www.registrelepsararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=35.

Although it is still found in a few Midwestern U.S. states, the bird has apparently not been seen in Canada since the early 1990s. In 1900, by contrast, it was estimated that there were at least a million prairie chickens in Canada. The grasslands were ideal habitat but with the transformation of the landscape in the last century, the natural grasslands and with it the prairie chicken have disappeared. Even by the 1940s, Broughton mentioned the sharp-tailed grouse, relative to the prairie chicken, was scarce.

There was other wildlife that could be added to the Christmas fare in the early homesteading period. If prairie chickens could not be had, ducks and geese might fill the bill. And the produce of the farm stored in root cellars augmented the meal.

Merry Christmas to everyone and a Happy New Year! The Donalda Museum is closed for the holidays from December 20 to January 4, re-opening on January 5.

Happy Birthday wishes this week go out to: Bryce Schweer, Christy Schoettler, Larry Ross, Robert Bowles, Timothy Swaren, Drew Rouse, Melinda Bernard, Jeanne Pearson, and John MacNeil. If we have missed anyone, best wishes all around.