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Pioneer Recipes of the California Trail

Pioneer Recipes that Survived the California Trail - Claire Winson - Ask A Prepper

Guide books of the day varied, but an accepted recommendation for provisions, per adult, for the four- six month trip was:

•150 pounds of flour (some guides recommended 200 lbs);

•20 pounds of corn meal;

•50 pounds of bacon;

•40 pounds of sugar;

•10 pounds of coffee;

•15 pounds of dried fruit;

•5 pounds of salt;

•half a pound of saleratus (sodium bicarbonate);

•2 pounds of tea;

•5 pounds of rice;

•15 pounds of beans.

Dried fruit such as peaches and apples were also included as a source of Vitamin C and to prevent scurvy (dried fruit takes up less space, is lighter, and lasts longer than fresh varieties).

Spices and condiments such as sugar, mustard, cinnamon, nutmeg, vinegar and pepper were often included.

Preservation & Preparation

Pioneers knew the benefits of drying food; dehydrated vegetables kept most of their nutrition and helped pioneers pack light. To prepare, vegetables were squeezed to remove the liquid and then baked for several hours until rock hard. Water added to a fist-sized portion of dried vegetables and cooked could feed four adults.

Bacon or ham would be kept in bran-filled barrels at the bottom of the wagons in an attempt to keep the sun from melting the fat (barrels would be traded for sacks along the way). Eggs could be kept in a similar fashion, nestled in corn meal; the meal could then be baked into cakes or biscuits.

Sample Meals

Pioneer days started early, and breakfast wasn’t too far off what we might eat today. Well-preserved ham or bacon and coffee were staples alongside corn porridge or Johnnycakes (made by adding boiling water to corn meal mixed with a bit of salt and sugar in a pan).

Buffalo meat was made into a high energy survival food (pemmican); thin flakes of buffalo (or the lean meat of any large game animal) was hung up to dry in the sun or by a slow fire, then pounded between two stones until ground to a powder. This powder was then mixed with an equal amount of melted grease. Pemmican could be eaten raw, with added dried berries that had also been crushed into powder, or mixed with flour and boiled. It was a highly nutritious meal that reportedly could be kept for up to 10 years.

Bread was baked fresh each day (likely made from white, whole wheat, corn or rye flour). Wheat could be hand-milled (ground) between two stones and then the coarse bran could be removed or sieved out.

Basic biscuits could also be made with the flour, along with saleratus, salt, bacon grease, water, and then cooked on the open fire. Saleratus (baking soda’s precursor) produced carbon dioxide gas in dough which acted as a rising agent, and was first packaged in small envelopes and sold from about 1840-1860. Pies and cakes, made with fruit collected along the way mixed with a little sugar, would also have been baked alongside the trail (though probably not fancy by any stretch).

“Mush and milk” was a simple but popular porridge served at supper, made from cornmeal and may have been sweetened with sugar. When we are preparing for survival mode it’s hard to look beyond the basic, staple, necessities. But, like the pioneers, an “emergency situation” is also about prepping for a long term change, simplifying, learning about substitutions and being aware that our own meal times may be more than survival but also about connection. This is something we can learn a lot about from these earlier settlers who dared to go beyond the barrier of the Cascade Mountains.

Enjoy Your Recipe,


Bravo Echo Out

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