What Did the Pioneers Eat?

Your ancestors may have been among the pioneers who traveled across the United States in search of a place to call home. They didn’t have the luxuries of refrigeration, a set place to make a meal, or the ubiquitous fast food places that we see when we travel today. What did the pioneers eat?

Dictionary.com defines the word “pioneer” as: “a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.” This description would fit the more than 400,000 people who traveled on the Oregon Trail in the mid-19th century.

Hardtack goes back to the Ancient Romans. It was also given to soldiers during the Civl War. The pioneers ate hardtack because it was something that would last for a long time without rotting. Hardtack is a plain, flour and water biscuit. The American Table states that the dryness of hardtack “sucks any moisture out of your mouth”. “The heavy wafer in your hand feels just as heavy in the stomach.” The Washington Post reported that one way to make hardtack more palatable was to soak it in coffee before trying to eat it.

Cornmeal Mush was another staple eaten by the pioneers. It was selected because it did not spoil or turn sour. To make it, they started with parched corn, which was made by putting corn kernels in the sun to dry. The dried corn was smashed in a motor until it was the consistency of corn meal. The corn meal was then heated and served. Sometimes, it was served with milk.

Bacon was one of the only meat staples that the pioneers ate. It could be cured, and that helped it to travel well. Randolph B. Marcy reported in The Prairie Traveler in 1859 “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.”

Another option was for pioneers to hunt for their own meat. After killing an animal, the pioneers had to butcher it themselves. They skinned it, cleaned it, and cut it into chunks. The pioneers used salt as a way to preserve the meat for a long period of time. The salt had to be scrubbed off before it was cooked.

Related Articles at FamilyTree.com:

* Photos of Pioneer North Dakota

* Database of Mormon Pioneers

* Early Oregon ‘Go-West’

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