The pioneers’ recipes were not ones that came from being able to shop at a large grocery store, where you can buy virtually anything.
Their recipes – or “receipts” as they were called back then — were born out of necessity, having one pot and one skillet plus the need to use ALL of the leftovers from previous meals.
You see, when they set out in a wagon to cross the seemingly endless prairie, it was decision time. They had to decide what they were going to take with them and what they were going to leave behind.
They had to take all the tools to build a log cabin. They had to take all the hardware to build their cabins as well. They had to take nails, hinges, screws, wire and everything else. There was nowhere to just stop and buy it.
So, the wagon was packed to the brim. Every square inch was accounted for, and then some.
Many had one or two cast iron pots and one or two skillets or frying pans — and that was it.
The recipes that were their favorites were ones that fed everyone, and were easy to make even if you were short a couple of different ingredients each time you made it.
Most of the time, they were cooking over an open flame. So, things that had gravy or liquids such as soups and stews were a favorite. The reason: the heat of open flame cooking is unpredictable. You had to be sure you didn’t burn the food. Oils were scarce. So, liquids, soups and gravies were far more tolerant of erratic heat sources, and they burned a lot less.
Ready to learn how to look like the pioneers? Here are a few of their favorite recipes that you can make in your cabin or modern-day homestead:
(Do remember, these recipes were their optimal recipe. Most of the time they were lacking one or more ingredients and therefore had to substitute or leave it out.)
1. Creamy Chicken Soup
- 4 pounds of chicken (can be made with three pounds if need be).
- 3 quarts of creek or well-temperature water (room temperature is find if you’re in a modern home).
- 1 tablespoon salt.
- 6 peppercorns (or 1/4 teaspoon of black or white pepper).
- 1 medium onion finely chopped.
- 2 cups whole milk (can be substituted with cream).
- 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon of butter (not needed if using cream).
- 2 eggs beaten well.
Cut the cleaned, deboned chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Put your chicken and the bones into your pot with your water and salt. Bring it to a boil and then slow boil it until the chicken is tender.
Remove the chicken bones and use them for bone meal, dog food, compost and other uses.
Add in your peppercorns and onions. Let it slow boil for 10 minutes.
Put your milk or cream and cornstarch into another pot or skillet. Let it come to a slow boil and stir until it’s nice and thick. Add your butter if you’re using it, and season it to taste with whatever you have (that’s really how they did it).
Slowly add your well-beaten eggs into the milk and cornstarch. Stir until mixed and smooth.
Pour the cornstarch mixture into the soup kettle and stir until it’s well-mixed. Then, stir and cook for two more minutes and serve.
2. Fat Pork and Mormon Gravy
The settlers very often made what’s called Mormon gravy, named after Mormon missionaries who made it as a staple.
It’s simple and yes, it’s a heart attack waiting to happen. But, man, oh man, does it taste good.
- 8-10 thick slices of fatty pork or thick cut bacon strips.
- 6 tablespoons of meat drippings.
- 4 tablespoons of flour.
- 2 cups of whole milk.
- Salt and pepper.
Cook your meat in a cast iron (preferably) frying pan until crisp on both sides.
Measure out your six tablespoons of drippings from the drippings in the pan, and pour the rest in your drippings saver container for other foods later.
With your measured drippings, stir in your flour and milk, and keep stirring until it’s thick and smooth.
Serve your meat with the gravy poured over it or over the top of biscuits or bread.
3. English Whirligig
This was traditionally made with black currents. However, it can be made with nearly any tart berries or even fruit such as cranberries or sour apples.
- 2/3 cup of honey.
- 2 tablespoons of flour.
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.
- 1/2 teaspoon of grated nutmeg.
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- 1 cup of hot water.
- 3 cups of black currants (you may substitute other tart berries or fruits).
Add your honey, flour, spices and your salt into your hot water. Stir until they are all well dissolved. Then cook this mixture until thick. Be sure to stir often.
Put your currents in a frying pan and cover it with the thick mixture. Cook it on a rack above the coals for 20 minutes.
Let cool so that it is nice and firm. Then dish it up.
The pioneers would sometimes make a topping for this of whipped cream if it was a birthday or holiday. However, most of the time they ate it as described above.
4. Potato Pancakes
There are a number of recipes around for these. But this is the true settlers/pioneers recipe as it was brought over by a settler from Austria who became rather famous for them in what would later become Kansas City, Missouri.
- 6 large potatoes.
- 2 teaspoons salt.
- 3/4 cups of whole milk.
- 2 eggs.
- 1 cup of flour.
- Lard that has been pre-strained of any pieces.
If you want them with the skins on the potatoes as most pioneers ate them, then wash them and grate them to a medium-sized shredding. If you want them skinless, peel them and grate them.
Mix them with your salt, eggs, milk and flour.
Spoon the mix into the hot lard in a frying pan. They will flatten out by themselves. If not, flatten them a bit.
Fry until they are golden brown on both sides.
Much of the time, the pioneers didn’t have the luxury of eating what they wanted when they wanted it. They ate what they had.
If a family had a ton of blackberries nearby, then they would have several blackberry recipes they would use all the time. The same would go with any food that was plentiful, whether it was deer, carrots or cherries.
Each of the above recipes were favorites that the pioneers brought over with them from their old countries. They had to adapt them to what was available. But, they stayed as true to them as possible.
We certainly hope you enjoy them.
Have you ever cooked any survival recipes? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: