The Pioneer Mom Lunchbox

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett
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Whenever we hit a figurative bump in the road on the many trips of my childhood, my mother would ask, “How did the pioneers do it?” It was her way of reminding us how hard our life was not, and it became a family catchphrase. Being a pioneer mom definitely wasn’t something I aspired to, comfort and ease being high on my list of necessities.

So how, this morning, did I reach the point where my son noted his pioneer-mom lunchbox? We were both tickled to realize today’s lunch was completely homemade: cookies, applesauce I canned last fall, and a sandwich of the bread I baked, the strawberry jam I froze last spring, and the cream cheese my son and I concocted yesterday.

Once in a while, I give my children a cream cheese-and-jam sandwich for lunch, a reminder of a favorite treat of my childhood. It was the obvious choice today, a celebration of our cream-cheese success. The cheese kick started earlier this year, when my son did his science fair project on which milk makes the best mozzarella cheese (a local dairy’s whole milk won, and he went all the way to the regional competition). Meanwhile, I’d been making ricotta cheese, and between the two of us, we had enough whey left to make huge batches of bread.

Then I checked out The Home Creamery, by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley, a basic primer on making soft cheeses, and I just had to make cream cheese. I know how to make many of the other recipes in the book, such as yogurt, creme fraiche, butter and buttermilk, but it had never occurred to me to make cream cheese. Good thing, because right now I”m hearing the siren song of almost 2 pounds of rich cream cheese in the fridge — along with some very pretty whey.

For most of us (including me), finding time to home-cook everything we eat sounds overwhelming. But all the pieces of today’s lunch got made in little snatches of time (except for the applesauce: Canning is easy, but hard to rush). Freezer jam comes together fast. Bread, kneaded in the mixer, requires I stay home for several hours, but there’s little hands-on work. Our cream cheese finished within 2 hours, most of which involved the cheese sitting, covered, in a pot (it did have to drain overnight in the fridge). And though I love making elaborate cookies, the lunchbox recipes get pulled from my fast-and-furious files.

You don’t have to go for the full-bore pioneer-mom lunchbox, but why not try for one or two elements of it? It’ll be a while, I think, before I’ll be able to boast such a lunch again (it’s been 10 years, and I’m quite sure that was my first), and of course, my pioneer credentials are deeply dented by my extravagant use of mixers and food processors. Given the kids’ reaction this morning, though, I think I can live on this glory for a good bit to come.

Recipe: Pecan Shortbread Circles

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