What did early Americans eat for lunch?
This is the second of three articles on food and the Oregon Trail. What would you pack for a trip along the Oregon Trail? The lengthy Oregon Trail journey typically began in April. Those who started later may not have been able to cross the Rockies, Sierras, and Cascades before the onset of winter snows.
- On the trail, emigrants traveled in groups of covered wagons for safety and support.
- The initial days of trail cooking were an eye-opening and difficult new experience.
- Some pioneer women brought their iron ovens from home, but these heavy and wood-intensive appliances were frequently abandoned along the trail.
Dutch ovens and reflector ovens were more useful equipment. A Dutch oven is a covered cast-iron pot. A reflector oven, also known as a tin kitchen, resembled a large can with one side open to receive direct heat from the fire and the other side reflecting heat to the cooking surface at the bottom of the can.
Mastering the use of these tools on an open fire required considerable trial and error. At Job Carr Cabin Museum, children can play with cast iron pots and pans by the fireplace while pretending to cook. Finding potable water was a daily necessity. Despite the fact that the Oregon Trail often followed rivers, sometimes the rivers became sluggish and muddy.
Frequently, pails of water scooped from water sources contained layers of mud and silt. Pioneers utilized cornmeal to filter out mud as best they could, but inevitably, a great deal of mud was consumed. Helen Carpenter, a pioneer, recorded in her trail journal that the pioneers became “immune to what would kill ordinary mortals.” 5 If there was no water available, the travelers “drycamped,” or ate dry food and drank nothing.
- This circumstance did nothing to boost the travelers’ spirits.
- Good fuel was essential for campfire cooking.
- If wood was abundant, it could be gathered during travel breaks; however, it was most efficient for the pioneers to collect fuel as they traveled each day.
- After reaching the western plains, where trees were scarce, the Overlanders resorted to collecting dry buffalo dung for fuel.
Although unpleasant to consider, the “chips” ignited easily and burned efficiently. If the chips were extremely dry, odor was minimal. Anyone who has attempted to start a fire in the wilderness knows how difficult it is. Pioneers attempted numerous techniques, including using flint and steel and directing sunlight through a glass.
- The earliest versions of matches had to be kept extremely dry and had a tendency to explode, earning them the nickname “lucifers.” In this video, Living History Performer Karen Haas describes what it was like to travel on the Oregon Trail, including how to build a campfire with buffalo chips.
- Women awoke before dawn and began the day by rekindling the campfire from the previous night.
They roasted green coffee beans in a spider (frying pan), ground them in a coffee grinder, and then brewed them in water over an open flame. If the unthinkable occurred and coffee ran out, the pioneers would drink corn or pea brew.6 Breakfast included something warm, such as cornmeal mush, cornmeal cakes (” Johnny Cakes”), or rice, in addition to coffee or tea.
- Typically, there was freshly baked bread or cookies.
- The bread was baked by placing the dough in a dutch oven.
- For more even cooking, the oven was then placed on the fire embers and the lid was stacked with hot coals.
- On the menu could also be baked or simmered beans prepared the night before.
- Bacon was consumed multiple times per day.
Helen Carpenter, an emigrant, remarked, “One does like a change, but the only alternative to bread and bacon is bacon and bread.” 7 Bacon must have been smoked prior to the journey in order to preserve it and “eliminate its tendency to walk in insect form.” 8 Despite precautions, a great deal of bacon went bad, and large chunks of it were dumped along the trail, causing a great deal of concern but also a slight sense of relief.
- If a dairy cow traveled with the family, its milk was collected and placed in a churn that was attached to the wagon so that the rocking motion of the wagon would transform the milk into butter.
- Early in the morning, the leftovers from breakfast were packed and the pioneers set out on the trail.
- Students sampled homemade butter during a Job Carr Cabin Museum excursion.
The target daily distance was 15 to 20 miles. The travelers would stop for a “nooning” rest and meal around noon. Options for lunch could include leftovers from breakfast, cold beans with bacon, bread and crackers, rice, and dried beef. The travel day concluded in the early evening.
- The dinner menu was similar to that of breakfast and lunch (beans again! ), but it could also include fresh buffalo or antelope meat or prairie chickens if the hunt was successful.
- Utilizing their ingenuity and the available resources, pioneer women prepared unique foods to alleviate the monotony of the diet.
The family must have enjoyed pumpkin and apple pies, wild strawberry dumplings, molasses pudding, potato pudding, cakes, ginger bread, and vinegar lemonade. The weather greatly affected the pioneers’ eating habits. For instance, if it was raining so heavily that it was impossible to build a fire, hardtack was the meal.
- On the trail, hardtack was one of the least preferred foods.9 Made with flour and water, shaped into biscuits, and baked, it had a long shelf life but lacked flavor.
- By dunking the tough biscuit in coffee, the flavor would be enhanced and the texture would become softer.
- Bakken, Gordon Morris and Brenda Farrington.
Women’s Encyclopedia of the American West. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2003. Crewe, Sabrina and Michael V. Uschan. The trail to Oregon.2005, Gareth Stevens Publishing, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Fanselow, Julie. Second edition of Traveling the Oregon Trail 2001. Guilford, CT: Falcon.
- The name Gunderson is Mary.
- Oregon Trail Cooking,
- Mankato, Minnesota: Blue Earth Books, year 2000 She is Loretta Frances Ichord.
- Skillet Bread, Sourdough, and Vinegar Pie: Pioneer Era Cooking 2003: Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press.
- Isaacs, Sally Senzell.
- The trail to Oregon.2004: Chicago, IL: Heinemann Library.
St. Joseph Missouri Gazette.19 March 1847 letter to the editor from Kay Conn. cited at http://personal.my180.net/thesmiths/oregontrailrecipes.html. The Whitman Mission National Historic Site is a national historic site. Mike Dedman is a National Park Ranger and Education Specialist.
- A collection of recipes from the Oregon Trail.
- Internet: www.nps.gov/whmi Whitman, Narcissa, as seen in her letters (as cited at http://oregontrail101.com/00.ar.whitman1.html) Williams, Jacqueline.
- Food on the Oregon Trail provided by Wagon Wheel Kitchens.1993, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas.
Regarding the author: As a Sacramento, California-based freelance writer, Nancy Flagg volunteered with the Job Carr Cabin Museum. After seeing our advertisement for a volunteer writer, she visited the museum’s website and was intrigued by the log cabin, Job Carr’s role in Tacoma’s history, and the museum’s evident community and staff support.
Americans had access to a greater variety of foods due to the increasing availability of canned goods, refrigerated railroad cars, and manufactured dairy products. In 1860, they purchased five million tins of food, the greatest quantity in the West. The majority of Americans enjoy cheese, purchasing factory-made products rather than making it at home.
In the East, however, many believed canned goods to be unhealthy, and women viewed their use as evidence that a woman lacked cooking skills. Breakfast was typically a hearty and substantial meal. Even in the city, Americans continued to fortify themselves for a day of hard labor. Americans of the middle class consumed steak or pork, eggs, fried potatoes, fruit pie, pancakes, and coffee.
In colder climates, porridge gained popularity. Different regions of the United States had their own variants of pancakes, including buckwheat cakes, rice cakes, corn cakes, griddle cakes, buttermilk cakes, sourmilk cakes, flapjacks, slapjacks, hominy cakes, fritters, and waffles.
Some families consumed doughnuts, which were solid forms as opposed to the round items with holes that became popular in the latter part of the century. While children frequently drank milk, tea, and hot chocolate at breakfast, coffee remained the most popular morning beverage. The majority of Americans, if possible, returned home around noon or 1 p.m.
for lunch, which they called “dinner.” Due to the large quantity of food served and the fact that much of it was fried in butter, lard, or bacon grease, dinner was typically a heavy meal. The dinner meal typically consisted of meat and potatoes. Typically, supper was served between 6 and 7 p.m.
What foods were served in saloons?
OLD WEST SALOON FARE Western-style saloon fare “In 1865, a restaurant owner in Chicago could still serve wild boar’s steak, boned wild turkey, quail patties, aged bear’s paws in burgundy sauce, ragout de coon, and squirrel pie. While frontiersmen enthusiastically approved of this fare, foreigners frequently complained that in the absence of ice, the meat was generally in an advanced state of decomposition, with its flavor masked by spicy sauces and pepper.
Clientele endured. Both the English and French lamented the lack of fresh food. To the disgust of the foreigners, coffee was frequently a mixture of brown bread, acorns, dandelion roots, barley, and snuff. From 1860 onward, food in remote locations became more standardized. A tin cup and plate were filled with coffee, “sowbelly,” bread, and syrup for breakfast.
Both lunch and dinner consisted of bread and steak, with the steaks typically being overcooked and rock-hard. Lamb fries and Rocky Mountain oysters.slightly shirred in the pan or roasted in the ashes of a campfire until they “popped” were regarded as delicacies.
- The taste of rattlesnake meat was compared to that of chicken white meat by some.
- In certain regions of the Southwest, the only vegetables besides corn and squash were dried, pale beans known as Arizona strawberries.
- Some people claimed that western saloon food consisted only of sourdough biscuits, beans, beef, and bacon (the “Basic Four B’s”) ” (“overland trout” in cowboyese).
Occasionally, wild onions were served as a side dish “against scurvy.” The principal grievance of travelers was the dearth of vegetables. Coffee was the ubiquitous beverage.” Westerners ate for sustenance, not pleasure. Food was simply Food. One traveler from California remarked, “We are now prepared to replenish our inner man.” Conveniently located for those who wish to imbibe.
The breakfast announcement has been made. We take seats at the table. A sufficient amount of beans, pork, and flapjacks are served to us on tin plates. We are handed pea tea, which the landlord calls coffee with a strong emphasis. Help yourselves to whatever other items are within reach. There is no need for spices, sauces, or seasonings to enhance their flavor.
Our appetites require no nourishment. The condiments with the most flavor are the least nutritious’. By European standards, table manners were abhorrent. The speed with which food was consumed astounded the foreigner. At saloons that were also stagecoach stations, with only a limited time available for a stopover, it was every man for himself.
The guests rushed the buffet-style table, elbowing and trampling each other as they devoured everything in sight in record time. Things were no different on the northwest coast: ‘They breakfast in the middle of the night, dine when they aught to be breakfasting and take supper when they should be dining; and the “feed” is most distasteful-all noise, dirt, grease, mess, slop, confusion, and disorder; chunks of meat of all kinds and no flavor, placed in plates, and “sot” on the table; and before you have time to look at your meat, a piece of very flat pie, with a doughy crust, and dried fruit inside is placed under your nose, on the same plate with your meat.
Men pick their teeth with forks and jackknives, gobble down gallons of water, and “slide.” This is Oregon’s fashion.” Sudden wealth from gold and silver resulted in a sudden transformation. It first appeared in California. In 1850, Bayard Taylor wrote, “it was not uncommon to see a group of these men, who had never before considered luxury beyond a good beefsteak and a glass of whiskey, drinking champagne at ten dollars a bottle, eating tongue and sardines, or warming in the smoky campfire their tin cans of turtle soup and lobster salad.”,
In the 1880s, when the cattle trade flourished in Montana, cowboy Teddy Blue wrote: “Talking about food, do you know what the first thing a cowpuncher ordered when he arrived in town? Celery and oysters. And eggs. Those things were what he didn’t have and what drove him insane. With the arrival of the railroads, not only oysters suddenly became available in Sheridan, Wyoming, Miles City, Montana, and Virginia City, Nevada.
Gambling and concert saloons as well as hotel bars offered their affluent clientele upscale fare printed on equally upscale menus, frequently in broken French.