Oregon Trail
Education Resource Guide

from the BLM National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, Oregon

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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."

'Halt of a Wagon Train' from printsoldandrare.com

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.

    Kitchen Implements   
and Storage Items

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   
Did the Pioneers Take?

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.
    The wagons should be new, made of thoroughtly seasoned timber, and well ironed and not too heavy; with good tight beds, strong bows, and large double sheets. There should be at least four yoke of good oxen to each wagon - one yoke to be consdiered as extra, and to be used only in cases of emergency. Every family should have at least two good milk cows, as milk is a great luxury on the road.
      The amount of provisions should be as follows; to each person except infants:
200 pounds of bread stuff (flour and crackers)
100 pounds of bacon
12 pounds of coffee
12 pounds of sugar
    Each family should also take the following articles in proportions to the number as follows:
From 1 to 5 pounds tea
From 10 to 50 pounds rice
From 1/2 to 2 bushels beans
From 1/2 to 2 bushels dried fruit
From 1/2 to 5 pounds saleratus
From 5 to 50 pounds soap
      Cheese, dried pumpkins, onions and a small portion of corn meal may be taken by those who desire them. The latter article, however, does not keep well.
      No furniture should be taken, and as few cooking utensils as are indispensably needed. Every family ought to have a sufficient supply of clothing for at least one year after their arrival, as everything of that kind is high in those countries. Some few cattle should be driven for beef, but much loose stock will be a great annoyance. Some medicines should also be found in every family, the kind and quantity may be determined by consulting the family physician.
      I would suggest to each family the propriety of taking a small sheet-iron cooking stove with fixtures, as the wind and rain often times renders it almost impossible to cook without them, they are light and cost but little. All the foregoing articles may be purchased on good terms in this place.
Kay Conn

[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
2 wool undershirts
2 paris of thick cotton drawers
4 pairs of wool socks
2 pairs of cotton socks
4 colored silk handkerchiefs
2 pairs of stout shoes for walking
1 pair of boots and shoes for hosemen
3 towels
1 gutta percha poncho
1 broad brimmed hat of soft felt
1 comb & brush
2 toothbrushes
1 pound of castile soap
3 pounds of bar soap for laundry
1 belt knife and small whetstone
1 coat and overcoat
Stout linen thread, large needles, beeswax, a few buttons, a paper of pins and a thimble with all the sewing products in a small cloth bag.

    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.

My husband's Grandma's mother came over the Oregon Trail as a child and she told of how her family would attach the butter churn to the side of the wagon. Each morning they would milk the cow and pour in the milk... by day's end, with the jolting and swaying of the wagon, they would have butter when they stopped for the evening without any labor of their own!

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.


"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.

[This recipe was met with the remark that it was awfully plain. But I think a hungry person on the trail would welcome it as mighty tasty.]

Cornmeal Mush

1 cup cornmeal
4 cups boiling water
1 tablespoon lard or butter
1 teaspoon salt
dried currents (raisins) optional
Put currents into water and bring to a boil. Sprinkle cornmeal into the boiling water stirring constantly, adding butter and salt. Cook for about 3 minutes, then portion into bowls. Can be topped with milk, butter, sugar or molasses.

[We tried this one sweetened with a drizzle of molasses first, but the boys didn't care for the strong taste. They liked it better just topped with sugar, and really enjoyed the raisins in it.]

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."

[This one was enjoyed so much in our house that it's been asked for since. Very filling!]


1 beaten egg
3/8 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 Tablespoon melted lard (vegetable oil)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 Tablespoon sugar

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Drop by tablespoon onto hot greased griddle or skillet. Fry on each side until browned, about 2 minutes. Serve with butter and syrup. Makes about 12 small cakes.

[This is a variation of our regular pancake, but has the cornbread taste. Has that little aftertaste of cornmeal. Pioneers used what they had to fill bellies... this is good.]

Bacon Pancakes

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.

[This is downright yummy!]

    Evening Meal Fixin's   

Trail Beans

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.

[This recipe is from a cowboy cookbook, and everyone in the family enjoyed them! Served it up with the following biscuits from the Resource Guide from Baker City.]

Soda Biscuits

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)

[Different in texture (heavier) than today's biscuits, but good with the beans! I baked them at 350*]


Molasses Pudding

1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
raisins, optional

Blend molasses and milk. Add in butter, baking soda, salt and mix well - butter will be chunky. Add in flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Add raisins of you like. Pour this thick dough into a buttered deep bread pan, spreading evenly. Put pan on top of pebbles in a large kettle of slow-boiling, shallow water. Liquid should only go half way up the sides of the pan. Cover and steam for 1 1/4 hours. Serve sliced, as is, or drizzled with syrup.

[This boiled pudding has the texture of cake. The boys ate it plain and enjoyed it, without knowing that the recipe said to top with syrup. The syrup adds sweetness. Although the pioneers didn't have ice cream on the trail, we thought a scoop of ice cream over the cake with a little syrup on top, would be mighty tasty!]

Apple Dumpling Soup

1 fresh apple or 1 apple's worth of rehydrated dried apple pieces
2 1/2 cups water
3/8 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Quarter fresh apple, core and slice thinly. Cut rehydrated apple pieces to bite-size. Combine apple slices with other ingredients into 2 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and cook for additional 5 minutes. While apple mixture is simmering, prepare dumpling mixture:
1/2 cup flour
1/8 cup cornmeal
1/8 cup sugar
pinch salt 1 egg
1/4 cup water

In a small bowl combine flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt. Add egg and mixture thoroughly, add water in gradually, stirring sparingly as over-working the dough will make it tough.

Drop dough onto simmering apple mixture by teaspoon. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 15 additional minutes. Do not remove cover during cooking. To serve, spoon some apple slices, juice and a couple dumplings into each bowl. Will serve 4 to 6.

[The recipe which this is from had 1 teaspoon of baking powder added to the dumplings, but since nothing I have read indicates that the emigrants had baking powder, I omitted it. This "soup" would have been a fun dish to serve for a special occassion on the trail, if apples and eggs were available. We enjoyed this very much.]

    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!

[Miss Virgina at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, Oregon told me that pioneers used vinegar for numerous reasons, one of which was to bring Vitamin C into their diets and that they would make "lemonade" with it. The boys, despite the sugar, still had trouble with the smell, but I actually found it a bit refreshing.]

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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...

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