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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Diet of the pioneers

A typical emigrant wagon set off for the west with provisions of flour, sugar, bacon, salt pork and beef jerky, beans, lard, spices, dried fruit, rice, and perhaps even a keg of pickles (a popular and tasty choice for warding off the dangers of malnutrition.)

Trail cooks were not well trained and the food often consisted of barely warm beans or tough stew served with sourdough biscuits.

Friendly Native Americans taught pioneers crossing the American desert how to cook insects.

Some pioneers fried Rocky Mountain locusts in oil until crisp then seasoned them with salt.

Once they had set up a home most pioneers obtained their fresh meat such as venison, wild turkey, squirrel or fresh fish by hunting. However, once game was killed, it almost immediately had to be prepared or preserved. In summer months, meat could go bad in an afternoon.

In the Mid West corn was the most commonly used dietary ingredient. Corn meal in varying forms was the basis of many meals such as "hoe-cake", which was meal plus a shortening of bear grease, butter or lard, baked flat on a board.

One basic food source for almost every settler was the "kitchen garden." Frontier families brought seeds with them to their new homes, or bought them from the general store once they arrived on the frontier. A spring garden would be planted containing peas, and radishes, later in the summer beans, pumpkins and squash would be grown.

Lack of supplies and cash led to a great deal of improvising as women tried to cook familiar recipes with unfamiliar materials. Instead of lemon, vinegar would be used and treacle stood in for sugar.

Fur traders and trappers when necessary could survive for days on berries and tubers. However they mainly ate meat which came from hunting large game animals such as antelope, buffalo and deer. Small game was less important because it was seldom worth the effort. The meat was roasted or boiled or sometimes even eaten raw, boiled or roasted. Beaver tail was considered a delicacy.

Source Food For Thought by Ed Pearce

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