October 14, 2010
Food in Hoosier Literature and Poetry: Gene Stratton-Porter
Food in Hoosier Literature and Poetry: Gene Stratton-Porter

(Photo by stu_spivack)

Gene Stratton-Porter  (1863-1924)  – Born near Lagro in Wabash County, Ind., Geneva Grace Stratton became an author, amateur naturalist, and wildlife photographer.  She wrote best-selling novels and well-received columns in national magazines.  After marrying Charles D. Porter, the couple built a rustic home near Geneva, Ind., and named it “Limberlost.”  Gene spent time here, exploring the nearby Limberlost Swamp where she set two of her novels and many of her works of natural history.  

A Girl of the Limberlost (1909) – The story focuses on Elnora Comstock, a poor 16-year-old girl who lives with her widowed mother Katherine Comstock on the edge of the Limberlost Swamp.  It follows her as she becomes entranced with the natural environment of her home, collecting and selling moths that inhabit the swamplands, and as she deals with the challenges of life while demonstrating courage and resourcefulness in pursuing her dreams.    

Chapter IX – Wherein Elenora Discovers a Violin, and Billy Disciplines Margaret

            From the first week she had been received and invited with the crowd of girls in her class, and it was their custom in passing through the business part of the city to stop at the confectioners’ and take turns in treating to expensive candies, ice cream sodas, hot chocolate, or whatever they fancied. When first Elnora was asked she accepted without understanding. The second time she went because she seldom had tasted these things, and they were so delicious she could not resist. After that she went because she knew all about it, and had decided to go.

            She had spent half an hour on the log beside the trail in deep thought and had arrived at her conclusions. She worked harder than usual for the next week, but she seemed to thrive on work. It was October and the red leaves were falling when her first time came to treat. As the crowd flocked down the broad walk that night Elnora called, “Girls, it’s my treat to-night! Come on!”

            She led the way through the city to the grocery they patronized when they had a small spread, and entering came out with a basket, which she carried to the bridge on her home road. There she arranged the girls in two rows on the cement abutments and opening her basket she gravely offered each girl an exquisite little basket of bark, lined with red leaves, in one end of which nestled a juicy big red apple and in the other a spicy doughnut not an hour from Margaret Sinton’s frying basket.

            Another time she offered big balls of popped corn stuck together with maple sugar, and liberally sprinkled with beechnut kernels. Again it was hickory nut kernels glazed with sugar, another time maple candy, and once a basket of warm pumpkin pies. She never made any apology, or offered any excuse. She simply gave what she could afford, and the change was as welcome to those city girls, accustomed to sodas and French candy, as were these same things to Elnora surfeited on popcorn and pie. In her room was a little slip containing a record of the number of weeks in the school year, the times it would be her turn to treat and the dates on which such occasions would fall, with a number of suggestions beside each. Once the girls almost fought over a basket lined with yellow leaves, and filled with fat, very ripe red haws. In late October there was a riot over one which was lined with red leaves and contained big fragrant pawpaws frost-bitten to a perfect degree. Then hazel nuts were ripe, and once they served. One day Elnora at her wits’ end, explained to her mother that the girls had given her things and she wanted to treat them. Mrs. Comstock, with characteristic stubbornness, had said she would leave a basket at the grocery for her, but firmly declined to say what would be in it. All day Elnora struggled to keep her mind on her books. For hours she wavered in tense uncertainty. What would her mother do? Should she take the girls to the confectioner’s that night or risk the basket? Mrs. Comstock could make delicious things to eat, but would she?

            As they left the building Elnora made a final rapid mental calculation. She could not see her way clear to a decent treat for ten people for less than two dollars and if the basket proved to be nice, then the money would be wasted. She decided to risk it. As they went to the bridge the girls were betting on what the treat would be, and crowding near Elnora like spoiled small children. Elnora set down the basket.

            “Girls,” she said, “I don’t know what this is myself, so all of us are going to be surprised. Here goes!”

            She lifted the cover and perfumes from the land of spices rolled up. In one end of the basket lay ten enormous sugar cakes the tops of which had been liberally dotted with circles cut from stick candy. The candy had melted in baking and made small transparent wells of waxy sweetness and in the centre of each cake was a fat turtle made from a raisin with cloves for head and feet. The remainder of the basket was filled with big spiced pears that could be held by their stems while they were eaten. The girls shrieked and attacked the cookies, and of all the treats Elnora offered perhaps none was quite so long remembered as that.

            When Elnora took her basket, placed her books in it, and started home, all the girls went with her as far as the fence where she crossed the field to the swamp. At parting they kissed her good-bye. Elnora was a happy girl as she hurried home to thank her mother. She was happy over her books that night, and happy all the way to school the following morning.

                        [New York:  Grosset & Dunlap, 1909.]

Gene Stratton-Porter

(Photo by bobosh_t)

Posted In: Miscellaneous

One response to “Food in Hoosier Literature and Poetry: Gene Stratton-Porter”

  1. Megan says:

    Girl of the Limberlost is my favorite book of all time and was my introduction to Gene Stratton-Porter. I now am an avid reader and collector of her books. Thanks for reminding me of my love for this Hoosier author!

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