- Popular New England middle class recipes
- Frontier American foodways
- Lewis & Clark's provisions & recipes
- Wagon train cookery
- California Gold Rush fare
- Pony Express rider meals
- Slave subsistence
Frontier American foodwaysEarly frontier cooking was greatly influenced by place and season. Indigenous plants and animals supplied much of the food. Think: Buffalo & squirrel. Other provisions (flour, dried beans, coffee, sugar, etc.) were stocked at points of origin and resupplied along the way. The first pioneers in most places ate by campfires. By necessity, foods were cooked by very simple methods. Dutch ovens, frying pans, boiling pots, and roasting spits were typically employed. As settlements grew, so did the range of cuisine. Why? Improvements in housing and transportation enabled a greater variety of food to be prepared in more traditional ways.
- Canada/Upper Canada Village: What did pioneers eat?
- Indiana: Dietary Patterns in the Early Midwest
- Missouri: Food on the Frontier
- Nebraska: What's for lunch? & watermelons
corn bread, potato bread, muffins (wheat, fruit), rusk, sally lunn
MEAT, FOWL & FISH
roasts (beef, mutton, pork), ham, turkey, venison, goose, duck, cod, halibut, shad, mackerel
meat & vegetables pies, stew, hash, veal cutlets, rare bit, beef alamode
succotach, boiled onions (with cream sauce), spinach (with hard boiled egg slices on top), potatoes (boiled, fricasseed), corn pudding, peas (with butter), boiled cauliflower, stewed carrots.
fruit pies, cheesecake, puddings (these were the steamed British type, as in plum pudding), custards & creams (lemon, orange), spice cakes, sugar cookies, ice cream. NO CHOCOLATE.
hot chocolate, coffee, tea, fruit wines and cordials, ale, shrub, Madeira, rum.
* NOTE: All of these vegetables are period correct, but some of them would have been hard to come by in the winter months. Although available, tomatoes were still "suspect"[the nightshade connection] in the early 1800s. Potatoes and aubergine (eggplants) followed the same pattern. By 1853 these foods were common.
Recommended reading (with recipes)
- Cookery of the Prairie Homesteader /Louise K. Nickey
- Food on the Frontier: Minnesota Cooking 1850-1900 /Marjorie Kriedberg
- Kentucky Housewife /Lettice Bryan, 1839 (recently reprinted by Image Graphics)
- The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories /Barbara M. Walker
Provisioning Lewis & Clark's expedition was a complicated work in progress. Commercial supplies were heavy and there was a limit to how much could be transported at any given time. Initial Philadelphia edibles were restocked by St. Louis & local town/fort grocers. Local bartering opportunities (eggs, flour, coffee) were regularly engaged and highly prized. Hunting (animals large & small), fishing, and foraging (nuts, berries, vegetables, fruit) provided much needed fresh foods. Sometimes the expeditioners had plenty to eat. Other times they endured days of hunger. Portable soup was purchased in mass quantities to stave off hunger.
"When Lewis leaves for St. Louis, he has with him all the food items he intends to order in the East. From what he's not carrying, it's obvious that he has full confidence that he can get anything and everything he needs either on the way. or from the military commissaries during the upcoming winter, as suggested by Jefferson. Here is his shipping list, annotated with what he actually obtains: Provisions and Means of Subsistence. 3 bushels of Allum or Rock Salt (Lewis did not buy this.) 6 Kegs of 5 Gallons each making 30 Gallons of rectified spirits as used for the Indian trade (Lewis actually buys 30 gallons of Strong Spt. Wine.) 6 Kegs bound with iron Hoops (These become the kegs to hold the 'Spt. Wine'.) 150 lbs. Portable Soup (Lewis is delivered 193 pounds.) Spices assorted.
"The few spices Lewis actually purchases are not ujsed in cooking and are never mentioned as seasonings for anything; they are from a druggist along with the Expedition's other medical goods: '2 oz. Nutmegs--75 cents; 2 oz, Cloves-31 cents; and 4 oz Cinnammon-20 cents.' Mostly forgotten is the 1800s use of spices as curatives: cinnamon bark relieves diarrhea and nausea and is useful for digestive problems; cloves have anticeptic and anti-parasitic properties and also act as a digestive aid; nutmeg or mace is a tonic. what is 'Strong Spt. Wine'? Brandy is a fine example. Since this purchase is obtained from David Jackson, druggist, we can carry this supposition one step further. Brandy has a long tradition of being a medication. Lewis' bill for thirty gallons is $70, approximately $0.47 a bottle (in today's 750ml size). As it is considerably more expensive than whiskey later purchased in St. Louis for an exquivalent of $0.25 per bottle.
"Finally there is 'Portable Soup.' For the Corps of Discovery this is an emergency ration. Lewis has become aware of this dried soup and writes to General William Irvine concerning it on April 15, 1803, Israel Whelan for the United States writes payment for '193 lbs. of Portable Soup at 150 cents (for a total of) $289.50.' The 150 pounds of ordered soup has turned into a billable 193 pounds of delivered soup. Francois Baillet, the cook/provisioner, is probably the person who packs the finished product into the separately ordered tin cannisters.
"In the end, the Expedition's edible provisions from Philadelphia are tallied at $360 for soup and liquor. This is just the start of the food shopping; the bulk of the prepared provisions will be obtained in St. Louis: TWO TONS for the winter at Camp River Dubois, and EIGHT TONS taken with the Expedition when they leave in May 1804--altogether costing more than $2,000."
---Feasting and Fasting With Lewis & Clark: A Food and Social History of the Early 1800s. Leandra Zim Holland [Old Yellowstone Publishing:Emigrant MT] 2003
[NOTE: This book is THE best source for L&C provisioning overview (items/sources/prices) arranged by trip segments. Your local public librarian will help you obtain a copy.]
Additional notes. courtesy of the US National Park Service.
Complete list of L&C equipment with prices here (start on p. 95)Recommended reading (with modernized recipes for today's cooks)
- Cooking on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Mary Gunderson (grades K-2)
- The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark: Recipes for an Expedition. Mary Gunderson
- The Lewis & Clark Cookbook. Leslie Mansfield
- Lewis & Clark: Saltmakers of Seaside. Molly Huffman
"In 1840 there were only 150 Americans in Oregon. Then "Oregon Fever," the lure of a new frontier, began the move westward for New Englanders, Southerners, and even settlers in the Missour and Missisppi valleys. During the next 20 years, tens of thousands of settlers came over the Oregon trail to the Pacific Northwest. They settled in the fertile valleys to begin a frontier experience, adapting their recipes to the ingredients of the region. After clearing land and building homes, the pioneers planted corps and fruit orchards. The trek to Oregon over the Oregon Trail is considered to be the largest and longest migration by land in the history of mankind. Most immigrants brought little more than the clothes on their backs with them on the difficult journey. Those who brought cattle and other farm animals lost most of their stock, including animals needed to pull their wagons. In spite of having to travel light, some immigrants succeeded in bringing cows, pigs, chickens, seeds, and tree-root stocks to start their farms. Although game and wild plants could be relied upon to provide some nourishment along the way, the covered wagons were loaded with enough food to last the journey. Food for the trip had to be compact, lightweight, and nonperishable. Each family brought along such staples as flour, sugar, cornmeal, coffee, dried beans, rice, bacon, and salt port. Some also brought dried fruit. Mealtime on the Oregon Trail was goverened by the sun. Breakfast had to be completed by 4 a.m. so that the wagon train could be on its way by daybreak. Beans, cornmeal mush, Johnnycakes or pancakes, and coffee were the usual breakfast. Fresh milk was available from the dairy cows that some families brought along, and pioneers took advantage go the rough rides of the wagon to churn their butter. "Nooning" at midday meant stopping for rest and a meal. Little time could be spent preparing the noonday meal, since the wagon train could only travel by daylight. Usually a piece of meat was fried over the camp fire. Longer-cooking stews were left for the evening meal. The women made bread dough while riding in the wagons and timed the rising so that it would be ready to bake when evening camp was made. "
---Taste of the States: A Food History of America. Hilde Gabriel Lee [Howell Press:Charlottesville VA] 1992 (p. 241-2)
Randolph B. Marcy's A Handbook for Overland Expeditions was considered by many as THE manual for westward migration. Originally published in 1859, it contained practical advice on everything from route selection and wagon packing to emergency medicine (rattlesnake bites) and dealing with Native Americans. Marcy [1812-1887] was a captain of the U.S. Army. Prior to the Civil War he served in the West, forging new trails and escorting wagon trains. That made him an expert in stores and provisions. In his own words:
"Supplies for a march should be put up in the most secure, compact, and portable shape. Bacon should be packed in strong sacks of a hundred pounds to each; or, in very hot climates, put in boxes and surrounded with bran, which in a great measure prevents the fat from melting away. If pork be used, in order to avoid transporting about forty per cent. Of useless weight, it should be taken out of the barrels and packed like bacon; then so placed in the bottom of the wagons as to keep it cool. The pork, if well cured, will keep several months in this way, but bacon is preferable.
"Flour should be packed in stout double canvas sacks well sewed, a hundred pounds in each sack. Butter may be preservd by boiling it thoroughly, and skimming off the scum as it rises to the top until it is quite clear like oil. It is then placed in tin canisters and soldered up. This mode of preserving butter has been adopted in the hot climate of southern Texas, and it is found to keep sweet for a great length of time, and its flavor is but little impaired by the process. Sugar may be well secured in India-rubber or gutta-percha sacks, or so placed in the wagon as not to risk getting wet.
"Dessicated or dried vegetables are almost equal to the fresh, and ar put up in such a compact an portable form as easily to be transported over the plains. They have been extensively used in the Crimean war, and by our own army in Utah, and have been very generally approved. They are prepared by cutting the fresh vegetables into thin slices and subjecting them to a very powerful press, which removes the juice and leaves a solid cake, which, after having been thoroughly dried in an oven, becomes almost hard as a rock. A small piece of this, about half the size of a man's hand, when boiled, swells up so as to fill a vegetable dish, and is sufficient for four men. It is believed that the antiscorbutic properties of vegetables are not impaired by dessication, and they will keep for years if not exposed to dampness. Canned vegetables are very good for campaigning, but are not so portable as when put up in the other form. The dessicated vegetables used in our army have been prepared by Chollet and Co. 46 Rue Richer, Paris.
"There is an agency for them in New York. I regard these compressed vegetables as the best preparation for prairie traveling that has yet been discovered. A single ration weights, before boiling, only an ounce, and a cubic yard contains 16,000 rations. In making up their outfit for the plains, men are very prone to overload their teams with a great variety of useless articles. It is a good rule to carry nothing more than is absolutely necessary for use upon the journey. One can not expect, with the limited allowance of transportation that emigrants usually have, to indulge in luxuries upon such expeditions, and articles for use in California can be purchased there at less cost than that of overland transport.
"The allowance of provisions for men in marching should be much greater than when they take no exercise. The army ration I have always found insufficient for soldiers who perform hard service, yet it is ample for them when in quarters. The following table shows the amount of subsistence consumed per day by each man of Dr. Rae's party, in his spring journey to the Arctic regions of North America in 1854: "Pemmican. 1.25 lbs
Biscuit. 0.25 lbs
Edward's preserved potatoes. 0.10 lbs
Flour. 0.33 lbs
Tea. 0.03 lb
Sugar. 0.14 lb
Grease or alcohol, for cooking. 0.25 lb
"This allowance of a little over two pounds of the most nutritious food was found barely sufficient to subsist the men in that cold climate. The pemmican, which constitutes almost the entire diet of the Fur Company's men in the Northwest, is prepared as follows: The buffalo meat is cut into thin flakes, and hung up to dry in the sun or before a slow fire; it is then pounded between two stone and reduced to a powder; this powder is placed in a bag of the animal's hide, with the hair on the outside; melted grease is then poured into it, and the bag sewn up. It can be eaten raw, and many prefer it so. Mixed with a little four and boiled, it is a very wholesome and
exceedingly nutritious food, and will keep fresh for a long time.
"I would advise all persons who travel for any considerable time through a country where they can procure no vegetables to carry with them some antiscorbutics, and if they can not transport dessicated or canned vegetables, citric acid answers a good purpose, and is very portable. When mixed with sugar and water, with a few drops of the essence of lemon, it is difficult to distinguish it from lemonade. Wild onions are excellent as antiscorbutics; also wild grapes and greens. An infusion of hemlock leaves is also said to be an antidote to scurvy.
"The most portable and simple preparation of subsistence that I know of, and which is used extensively by the Mexicans and Indians, is called "cold flour." It is made by parching corn, and pounding it in a mortar to the consistency of coarse meal; a little sugar and cinnamon added makes it quite palatable. When the traveler becomes hungry or thirsty, a little of the flour is mixed with water and drunk. It is an excellent article for a traveler who desires to go the greatest length of time upon the smallest amoung ot transportation. It is said that half a bushel is sufficient to subsists a man thirty days
"Persons undergoing severe labor, and driven to great extremities for food, will derive sustenance from various sources that would never occur to them under ordinary circumstances. In passing over the Rocky Mountains during the winter of 1857-8, our supplies of provisions were enterely consumed in eighteen days before reaching the first settlements in New Mexico, and we were obliged to resort to a variety of expedients to supply the deficiency. Our poor mules were fast failing and dropping down from exhaustion in the deep snows, and our only dependence for the means of sustaining life was upon these starved animals as they became unserviceable and could go no farther. We had no salt, sugar, coffee, or tobacco, which, at a time when men are performing the severest labor that the human system is capable of enduring, was a great privation. A decoction of the dried wild or horsemint, which we found abundant under the snow, was quite palatable, and answered instead of coffee. It dries up in that climate, but does not lose its flavor. We suggered greatly for the want of salt; but, by burining the outside of our mule steaks, and sprinkling a little gunpowder on them, it did not require a very extensive stretch of the imagination to fancy the presence of both salt and pepper. We tried the meat of horse, colt, and mules, all of which were in a starved condition, and of course not very tender, juicy, or nutritious. We consumed the enoumous amount of five to six pounds of this meat per man daily, but continued to grow weak and thin, until, at the expiration of twelve days, we were able to perform but little labor, and were continually craving for fat meat.
"The allowance of provisions for each grown person, to make the journey from the Missouri River to California, should suffice for 110 days. The following is deemed requisite, viz. 150 lbs of flour or its equivalent in hard bread; 25 lbs. Of bacon or pork, and enough fresh beef to be driven on the hoof to make up the meat component of the ration; 15 lbs. of coffee, and 25 lbs. of sugar; also a quantity or saleratus or yeast powders for making bread, and salt and pepper.
"These are the chief articles of subsistence necessary for the trip, and they should be used with economy, reserving a good portion for the western half of the journey. Heretofore many of the California emigrants have improvidently exhausted their stocks of provisions before reaching their journey's and, and have, in many cases, been obliged to pay the most exorbinant prices in makign up the deficiency. It is true that if persons choose to pass through Salt Lake City, and the Mormons happen to be in an amicable mood, supplies may sometimes be procured from them; but those who have visited them well know how little reliance is to be placed upon their hospitality or spirit of accomodation.
"I once traveled with a party of New Yorkers en route for California. They were perfectly ignorant of every thing relating to this kind of campaigning, and have overloaded their wagons with almost every thing except the very articles most important and necessary; the consequence was, that they exhausted their teams, and were obliged to throw aways the greater part of their loading. They soon learned that Champagne, East India sweetmeats, olives, etc. etc. were not the most useful articles for a prairie tour."
---A Hand-Book for Overland Expeditions. Randolph B. Marcy, Captain U.S. Army, [Harper & Brothers:New York] 1859 (p. 30-37)
[NOTE: This book has been republished as The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions [Corner House:Williamstown MA] 1968. Your librarian will be happy to help you obtain a copy.]Recommended reading:
- Bacon, Beans, and Galantines. Joseph R. Conlin
---provisions, cooking methods, and diary excerpts. Excellent bibliography.
Was there cold storage?
Most of what we read about USA wagon train food concentrates on provisioning (food availability) and cooking (building fires, cooking utensils & methods). We find zero information on wagon train folks chilling/cooling foodstuffs. Indeed, the idea of transporting chilled foods from one place to another is a relatively modern concept. Think: scotch plaid Thermos picnic coolers circa 1950s. Sharing notes on popular items we consider "refrigerator" items today.
- Ice & snow: Natural cooling agents were found in the higher elevations. They were used immediately. It is possible chunks of ice were stored in straw-insulated crates, but this would have added alot of extra weight to the wagon and made the oxen work harder. Probably not worth the effort. Also note: some natural ice & snow did not have a pleasant taste.
- Butter: "[Lucy] Cooke does not say how long butter lasted or how she kept it fresh, but that must have been a problem since the emigrants traveled during the summer months. A makeshift ice box was worthless; any food in it would soon be swimming in warm water. The best procedure was to follow Eliza Leslie's directions to back butter down tightly in a jar and preserve it under a brine of 'fine salt dissolved in water.'" ---Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail. Jacqueline Williams [Universtiy Press of Kansas:Lawrence] 1993 (p. 119)
- Ice cream: Made & consumed immediately: "Ice cream desserts were also featured at several of the holiday celebrations. Taking advantage of the snow in the mountains, ingenious cooks sweetened milk, packet it into containers, and froze the concoction in makeshift ice cream machines." ---Wagon Wheel Kitchens (p. 176)
- Milk: Fresh from the cow or canned (Borden's).
- Meat: Smoked, jerked, potted, salted for preservation. Otherwise consumed immediately.
- Eggs: Consumed immediately or pickled.
Pork, 11 cents/lb
Bacon, 12 1/2-15 cents/lb
Salt beef, 8 1/2-9 cents/lb
Hard bread, 9-10 cents/lb
Beans, 10 1/2cents/quart
Rice, 8-10 cents/lb
Coffee, 12 1/2 (Rio) to 18 (Java) cents/lb
During the last week bushels of little wheat has come in and prices have ranged a cent or two lower They are now quoted at 63@65 cents. In our next we expect to be able to quote higher prices, as the foreign demand is disclosing an urgentness that must have a stimumlating effect on the American grain markets.
Whitefish, 3.20/half barrel
Table salt, 20-25 cents/sack
Brown sugar, 7-9 cents/lb
White sugar, 10-14 cents/lb
Molasses, 40-50 cents/gallon
Vinegar (cider), 25 cents/gallon
Dried apples, 9 cents/lb
Meat (per cwt, 100 pounds)
Beef, 2.50-3.00/cwt (live weight)
Veal calves, six weeks old, 3.00/cwt
---SOURCE: Weekly Wisconsin Patriot. February 9, 1861 (p. 7)
How much would these provisions cost today?Very doable, but not as easy at is seems. This assignment is one of those tasks that appears simple: compare prices then & now. In reality, the task before you is more complicated. For starters, 19th century America (all 100 yars) witnessed the beginnings of a new monetary system, fledgling prosperity, rampant inflation, the Civil War, the Industrial revolution and massive wealth accumulation. Also, prices are determined by supply and demand. Plentiful New England eggs fetched far different prices from their rare commodity counterparts along the Oregon Trail. Prices, in this context, can take two meanings:
- If you were outfitting a 19th century American westward wagon, how much money would that be in *today's* dollars?"
This requires you find today's retail prices for everything on the list. Keep in mind some items (coffee, wool) are actually cheaper today than back in the 19th century. Some items (wagons) might be really hard to find. Some items (butter, pillows) were generally made at home and/or bartered back then. If you want a Conestoga wagon today, you will either have to make it yourself or commission a craftsman. Of course, it is possible you could find one on EBay.
Current food prices
Excellent excuse for a little primary supermarket research or use national average data .
Current clothing/household goods prices
US Dept. of Agriculture (& meat industry assoiations) report this data. Prices are not reported by animal, but by age & weight of animal. In addition to finding out price per 100 weight, you'll need to get the average weight of a marketable/grown animal. General encyclopedias may be useful here. Get out your calculators!PERIOD RECIPES
- Great Western Cook Book . Anna Maria Collins 
- Emigrant Housekeeper's Guide to the Backwoods of Canada . Catherine Parr Trail 
- Pioneer birthday cake (Texas, 1851)
- Utah bound! --food, recipes & cooking methods of westward-bound wagon trains circa 1847
- Sourdough bread. favorite of the California 49ers
- Old West Baking Book. Lon Walters
---modernized recipes with history notes
California Gold Rush
The foods and recipes of Gold Rush California were as diverse as the people who lived in that place and time. It was a convergence of cultures (Anglo-American, Spanish, Chinese, Mexican etc.) and economic status: sparkling rich to dirt poor. Folks venturing into towns could sample the finest Victorian fare or drink themselves into oblivion on cheap whisky. Camp fare was similar to what the pioneers ate on the Oregon trail: belly-filling foods made with local ingredients (freshly shot game, fruits & vegetables) and store-bought provisions (coffee, beans & bacon). As time progressed, so did the food. Sourdough bread was a staple of the forty-niners. Hangtown fry was the culinary icon.
"With the discovery of gold, California. abruptly changed character. The territory had launched itself upon an agricultural career, but with the gold strike California's farms were abandoned, and so were its towns. As ships from the East Coast reached California, their crews promptly deserted and went gold hunting too; by July 1850, the harbor of San Francisco was clogged with five hundred vessels becalmed for want of crews. San Fransico was promoted from a small village named Yerba Vueina, "good herb," for a local plant with a mint-like flavor, to a thriving, bustling metropolis of 25,000 citizens, mostly miners. In 1849, eighty thousand new gold seekers entered California. Three-quarters of the gold hunters were Americans, bringing with them Anglo-Saxon eating habits destined to overwhelm Spanish-Mexican ideas. The same phenomenon already encountered on a frontier inhabited by a society with no women in the kitchen was now repeated, strengthening the American tendency to neglect culinary niceties: women made up only eight percent of California's new population, and in the mining areas only two percent. The successful prospectors were heavy spenders; they had to be when it came to food, which was outrageously expensive. Since nobody in California wanted to raise it, everything had to be imported. Nevertheless, for unsuccessful, or not yet sucessful prospectors, San Francisco developed, in the 1850s, relatively modest hotels and boarding houses, whose prices were reasonable in their context. Everybody sat down at a common table, and the food was hearty. Meanwhile, for epicurians among those who had struck it rich, a surprising number of French restaurants were opened. The first important one was named Le Poulet d'Or. For the moment, the spectacular potentiality of California as a grwoer of food was neglected. Its new-found riches served chiefly, in this domain, to further developments of Oregon as a food-supplying state, catering to the California gold-rush population."
---Eating in America: A History. Waverley Root & Richard de Rochemont [William Morrow:New York] 1976 (p. 176-7)
"Hundreds of the accounts of westward migration speak either of near-starvation or of having to make do with whatever might be at hand. A forty-niner, writing in his journal, described a meeting with another wagon train: "Their sugar, rice, beans & flour were also out & they had been living on nothing but hard tack & coffee, & coffee and hard tack. They had no shot guns and & of course took no game. This reconciled us, I assure you, & we censured ourselves for our past time growling, & find, instead of suffering, we have been feasting." His group, in fact, had been varying a diet of salt pork with "Jack Ass" rabbits on which, the journal says, "we fared sumptuously."
---American Heritage Cookbook and illustrated History of American Eating & Drinking. [American Heritage Publishing Co. New York] 1964 (p. 57)
" 'A party recently left Joe's store at Mormon Bar for the Valley, and a friend of the Star furnishes the following statistiics-- showing the amount of "the necessaries of life" which is required for an eight day's trip in the mountains: