Recipes on the Oregon Trail
from Lansford Hastings' Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California,
published in 1845:
"In procuring supplies for this journey, the emigrant should provide himself with, at least, 200 pounds of flour, 150 pounds of bacon; ten pounds of coffee; twenty pounds of sugar; and ten pounds of salt."
As a homeschooling mom with two sons, we are participating in
an Internet experience of traveling the Oregon Trail
with the Westward Ho! Wagontrain of 2004.
In keeping within the available food lists of those pioneers, we are trying
various recipes that could have been cooked on the trail,
and will be adding to this page as we go.
If you have a recipe you have tried and wish to add it to this collection, please email me and I would happy to include it on this page.
Please read this article from the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center on the Oregon Trail History regarding the Material Culture of the Overland Emigrants at http://oregontrail.blm.gov/Pioneer_kitchen_implements.htm
What Kind of Supplies
The question is answered by the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center this way...
A variety of guidebooks, newspaper articles, and helpful tips in letters from friends or family who had already made the trip provided different lists about what and how much was essential to survive the five-month journey. The critical advice was to keep things as light as possible, and to take easily preserved staple foods. Supplies in each wagon generally had to be kept below 2,000 pounds total weight, and as the journey progressed and draft animals grew tired, many pioneers had to discard excess food and baggage. Items taken by nearly all wagon parties included flour, hard tack or crackers, bacon, sugar, coffee and tea, beans, rice, dried fruit, salt, pepper and saleratus (used for baking soda). Some also took whiskey or brandy, and medicines. Minimal cooking utensils included a cast iron skillet or spider, Dutch oven, reflector oven, coffee pot or tea kettle, and tin plates, cups, and knives, forks, spoons, matches, and crocks, canteens, buckets or water bags for liquids. A rifle, pistols, powder, lead, and shot were recommended for hunting game along the way, and for self-defense. Candles were used for lighting, as they were far less expensive and lighter than transporting oil, and several pounds of soap was included. Only two or three sets of practical, sturdy, and warm clothing of wool and linen had to last the wear and tear of the journey, and a small sewing kit for repairs was important. Basic tools such as a shovel, ax or hatchet, and tools to repair wagon equipment were essential. Bedding and tents completed the list of necessities. For most families, 1,600-1,800 pounds of their supplies would be food, leaving little space for other items. Although some people tried to include furniture, books, and treasured belongings, these were soon discarded. According to many accounts, the trail was littered with cast off trunks, bureaus, beds, clothing, excess food, and even cast iron stoves. Though prices and availability of goods varied from year to year, for most emigrants it cost a minimum of $600 to $800 to assemble a basic outfit of wagon, oxen, and supplies.
An article from the St. Joseph, Missouri Gazette dated March 19, 1847:
Mr. Editor; Subjoined you will find a list of the principle articles necessary for an outfit to Oregon
or California, which may be useful to some of your readers. It has been carefully prepared from correct information derived from intelligent persons who have made the trip.
[A Note about bacon: It needs to be noted that the bacon the pioneers carried in their wagons was not the nice plastic covered one pound packages of sliced bacon that we are used to picking up at the grocery store. It was more like what we might know of today as "salt pork". A heavily salted side or back portion of pork, fattier and unsmoked, preserved in a barrel of brine. A person could haul out a piece and cut off the amount of meat needed, replacing, and thus saving, the rest. This piece would often need to be soaked for a time to dissapate the saltiness before being sliced for frying or cut into chunks for soups or stews.]
Three months of clothing and other necessities for one man were listed in The Prairie Traveler - A Handbook for Overland Travelers published in 1859.
2 red or blue front button flannel overshirts
How ta Pack Yer Wagon
Have you ever helped your family pack for a weekend camping trip?
A typical wagon was about ten feet long and four feet wide... how
could everything a family would need to begin a new life in Oregon and the six
month trip it would take to get there get packed into this small space? Read this article: Inside a Pioneer Wagon, with
excerpt from real diaries.
Please note for the following recipes: The bold italic quotes are actual quotes from real Oregon Trail immigrants.
The plain italic quotes are of my own imagination, created by me as my character. Mary Power's journey on the Oregon Trail was somewhat harrowing, so my sons and I have decided to create for her a more favorable trip and outcome.
Since all recipes here will have been tried by our family, I am including their reactions and my opinions in [plain text within brackets] below the recipes.
Breakfasts"It takes much time to prepare a warm breakfast on these cold, nippy mornings... building to blaze the smoldering embers of last nightís fire. But the effort seems to set the soul in harmony with all of Godís creation. I have watched the children dance merrily to task and my good husbandís somber expression dissolve after a warm bowl of sweetened rice or mush."
Rice for Breakfast
Boil 1/2 cup of rice with 1 cup of water, or more, per serving desired. Cook
with much stirring until quite soft, which can take up to 1/2 hour. Serve in bowls with fresh milk and butter, topping
with sugar to taste.
1 cup cornmeal
Bacon n' Biscuits
"Had us a fine Trail breakfast this here mornin'... not too fussy neither! Fried up some bacon real crispy and served it up with cold soda biscuits to dip in the grease. Made the morning a little special since it's been 2 months, today!, since we left our home in Wisconsin - a little celebration - I warmed up a bit of maple syrup to dip the biscuits in also. Was good for a smile all 'round the fire and a good start to the day."
1 beaten egg
Fry up sum diced bacon to crispy and mix it into yer pancake batter and fry them up
right. Serve with yer regular fixin's.
Evening Meal Fixin's
Prepare 4 cups of beans by rinsing and placing in large pot, covering with
water and letting stand overnight for at least 12 hours. Drain, then place in pot with
1/2 lb. ham hock or 1/2 lb. bacon, covering with fresh water to simmer on low fire for 3 hours.
At start of 4th hour add these ingredients: 1/4 cup dark molasses, 2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cayenne,
1/2 tsp. ground pepper. Optional ingredients to add if you have them, and according to taste:
1 garlic clove, 1 tsp.
mustard, can chopped tomatoes. Stir and let simmer an additional hour, then serve. If additional
liquid is needed, use the water beans soaked in.
Take 1 lb. of flour, and mix it with milk enough to make a
stiff dough; dissolve in a little milk 1 tsp. carbonate of soda; add this to the paste with a teaspoon of salt.
Work it well together and roll it out thin; cut into round biscuits, and bake them in a
moderate oven. The yolk of an egg is sometimes added. (Sarah J. Jale, Mrs. Hales New Cookbook 1857)
1/2 cup molasses Apple Dumpling Soup 1 fresh apple or 1 apple's worth of rehydrated dried apple pieces Other Miscellany Vinegar Lemonade Mix 1 to 2 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar into a 12 oz. glass of water.
Stir in 2 Tablespoons of sugar or to taste, and Drink Up!
Apple Dumpling Soup
1 fresh apple or 1 apple's worth of rehydrated dried apple pieces
Mix 1 to 2 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar into a 12 oz. glass of water.
Stir in 2 Tablespoons of sugar or to taste, and Drink Up!
When you have traveled this Trail... if you'd like to do a unit study on the
Iditarod Trail of dog sled fame in Alaska, please check out my Study Outline web page at...