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Mormon Pioneer Cooking

Their hardships and struggles of cooking "on the trail".

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Illinois, 1846

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ETHNIC COOKING 

The Mormon exodus from Illinois to Utah brought members of the church from the United States and around the globe together to search for a place where they could be free to believe as they wished. This search brought together the people of many ethnic groups and the cooking traditions of each.

 

They brought with them the cooking traditions and methods of food preparation they had grown up with; they brought different tastes and different foods. Often a wealthy woman in her own country, she was now thrust into a foreign culture, enduring a lifestyle far from what she was accustomed.

 

Many times, ingredients for cherished recipes could not be found in this new country, and Mormon cooks had to make do with what they could find. Sometimes a lot of ingenuity was required of a Mormon cook. Using the fruits of this land, they tried to cure any homesickness by preparing the recipes of their old country.

 

                                                             GERMAN SLAW

1 sm. head cabbage

2 med. onions, sliced

1 ½ tsp. salt

½ cup sugar

1 tsp. celery seed

½ cup oil

½ cup vinegar

1 tsp. dry mustard

 

Shred cabbage and add onions. In saucepan combine salt, sugar, celery seed, oil, vinegar and mustard. Bring to a full rolling boil and pour over cabbage and onion. Stir well. Let stand 4-6 hours before serving.

 

PRESERVING AND DRYING 

Following the directions of Brigham Young, the pioneers dried beef, pork, apples, peaches, beans, and pumpkin. Brigham expected to find an abundance of wildlife and wild food in the land they would be crossing, so they prepared only basic food items in advance. The pioneers succeeded in living off the land, eating wild game, fish, fruits and vegetables. The food they prepared in advance was high in nutritional value, providing the needed variety to make meals tasty as well as satisfying.

 

The packing of food for traveling was nearly as important as what was packed. The food containers had to be sturdy, small, compact, waterproof, lightweight and easily secured. Dried fruits and vegetables kept in bags traveled much better than foods in crocks or jars, so they were much preferred over canned or pickled foods.

 

The pioneers took advantage of every opportunity to preserve food along the trail. Occasionally, they would experience a surplus of wild food. At these times, they would preserve the food so it could be used in case of a shortage later.

 

A pioneer’s recorded journal entry stated: “We had some of their meat. It was fine. We could cut it in slices, salt it, string it on sticks and jerk it over the fire to let it dry. It was sweet and good. We were in a wild country.”

 

The pioneers dried meats, fruits and vegetables along the trail. At times, fruits would be made into jams, jellies, cider and fruit butter. Although dried fruits and vegetables traveled best, jams and jellies satisfied the sweet tooth and gave the pioneers the extra boost of energy they often needed to complete a hard task on the trail.

 

                                                      CURED HAM AND BACON

Salt, water, fresh ham, fresh bacon

 

1 ¾ pounds salt to 1 gallon water for hams and 2 pounds salt to 1 gallon water for bacon. Let soak in crock for 1 week. String and smoke about a week or more.

 

 

                                                           DEER MINCEMEAT 

3 pints cooked deer meat

9 pints apples

1 ½ cup raisins

1 pint vinegar

1 pint molasses

3 pints sugar

3 tsp. cinnamon

3 tsp. ground cloves

2 tsp. nutmeg

6 tsp. salt

1 lb. margarine

 

Grind meat, apples and raisins. Place all ingredients in large cooking pot; cover. Cook over low heat until apples are transparent. Put in jars and seal.

 

 

COOKING ON THE TRAIL 

Perseverance and tenacity were the essence of the Mormon pioneer woman. Rain or shine, twice each day she started her campfire and baked, cooked, roasted and broiled enough food to satisfy whomever was under her care.

 

During the years on the Mormon Trail, the cooks managed to feed their people on little more than the bare necessities. Gravy and sourdough were the food staples of the pioneers. Nearly all the travelers’ meals could be prepared using the bake oven, and gravy was always made to complement what was cooked. Gravy served as added nutrition, but mostly it served as a filler when other food was not available. Sourdough was so precious to the pioneer cook, she often slept with her sourdough starter so the yeast action would not be killed by the cold.

 

The pioneers used what food they found along the trail, and discovered that many items that otherwise seemed inedible became tasty on an empty stomach. Wild game, fish, turtles, fruits, and wild vegetables were usually available throughout the spring and summer months. The supplies they brought along served them well, but for a health diet, wild food was essential.

 

The majority of the pioneers traveled in the spring and summer and did not encounter food shortages. However, the people who stayed through the first winter on the Trail at Winter Quarters suffered through the long, harsh Nebraska season with very little food other than what they had brought along. The pioneers ate a “nauseating” diet of corn bread, salt bacon, and milk for weeks on end, and lost nearly 600 people because of the meager food rations.

 

In later years, the pioneers planted crops in the spring upon leaving their wintering grounds. These crops fed those who would come in the fall to stay the winter.

 

Even through the hard times, the pioneers maintained hope for a good life in their new land. Following Brigham Young’s encouragement to keep their fine things instead of trading them for food, the pioneers made willow baskets and washboards for trade, preserving their finery for their new life in the Salt Lake Valley.

 

                                                       PLATTE RIVER TURTLE STEW

                                                                     

2 lbs. turtle meat

2 bay leaves

1 cup celery

1 onion

1 Tb. Parsley

Pepper

2 tsp. salt

2 Tb. Flour

3 Tb. Chicken fat or lard

Water

2 Tb. Vinegar

Flour

½ cup condensed milk

  

Combine in kettle, the following:  Cut up turtle meat (snapping turtle is the best), bay leaves, celery, onion, parsley, pepper, salt, flour and chicken fat or lard. Add water to barely cover and boil until tender. You may have to add more water before meat is tender. When tender, add vinegar. Make a paste of flour and water. Add to stew. Gradually add condensed milk. Stir in liquid and boil another 3 to 5 minutes.

 

END OF THE TRAIL

Brigham Young told the Saints: “The first duty of a saint when he comes to this valley, is to learn how to grow a vegetable; after which he must learn how to rear pigs and fowl, to irrigate his land, and to build his house. The rest will come in time.”

 

After enduring the journey where fresh food was a rarity, the pioneers made it their goal to fill every stomach full of fresh, well-prepared food. They planted gardens, raised animals and grew crops. Each year saw more and more land under cultivation, providing plenty of food for the newly arrived emigrants.

 

During the first few years, the women cooked outdoors using bake ovens or iron kettles. They had no control over the weather; they learned to make the best with what they had and took advantage of every cooking opportunity. For this, their training on the trail served them well. They used the precious few cooking utensils they had managed to bring with them. Items such as milk pans, brass buckets and iron pots had served them well during the journey, and continued to for years, until they could trade or buy from other settlers traveling West.

 

Not only were new cooking utensils scarce, many spices and sugars the pioneers were accustomed to could not be found or grown in the Salt Lake Valley. Again, the pioneers improvised, using nutmeg, molasses, and honey for sweetening. Because of this talent and perseverance, it was not long before the Mormon women became known as the best cooks in the West.

                                                        

                                                   DAYBREAK DROP DOUGHNUTS 

2 eggs

½ cup milk

¼ cup shortening

½ cup sugar

1 tsp. nutmeg

2 cup flour

1 Tb. Baking powder

 

Heat a large amount of shortening in frying pan. Mix together eggs, milk and shortening. Add sugar, nutmeg, flour and baking powder. When well mixed, drop by teaspoon into hot grease. Fry until brown, turning over once. Remove from grease and roll in sugar and cinnamon.

 

 

NEW RECIPES FROM OLD FAVORITES  

Many years have passed since the advent of the Mormon Trail. As times change, so do styles and techniques related to food preparation.

 

Cooks are using conventional ovens rather than Dutch ovens, are cooking indoors rather than exposed to the elements and are using modern-day refrigeration rather than cellars. Times have definitely changed, and cooking has changed with it.

 

Although cooking techniques and daily activities have changed, traditional recipes remain important to modern-day Mormons. Many traditional recipes maintain important roles in holiday and celebration meals. Recipes have been handed down through generations and have been changed to fit cooking standards of the time. Just as food was important to the pioneers for energy and nutrition, the same food is used today in remembrance of those who traveled the Mormon Trail, forging a new life for the people of the LDS church.

 

                                                                                                                                                                             

CHOCOLATE FRIED PIES

 

1 recipe biscuit dough

3 Tb. Cocoa

2 Tb. Butter, melted

1 ½ cup sugar

2 Tb. Oil

 

Make your favorite biscuit recipe (2 cups of flour). Let the dough rest at room temperature at least 2 hours. Divide dough into 8 parts; form into balls; flatten and roll out into circles, about 1/8 inch thick. Mix the cocoa, melted butter and sugar together, divide evenly over the circles. Fold the dough over to make half circles. Pinch the edges together. Press pattern along the edges with a fork. Preheat oil in a large skillet, medium heat; brown each pie on both sides. Add more oil as needed. Serve warm or cold.

 

PIONEER HOME REMEDIES  

Early Mormon medicinal practices embraced two similar philosophies: Thompsonian medicine and faith healing. Thompsonian medicine was developed by Samuel Thompson, who promoted the use of herbs, hot baths and dietary moderation. This type of medicine was practiced by several who were closely associated with Joseph Smith.

 

Faith healing among Mormons originated with Brigham Young. Brigham instructed the people when their children were sick that “instead of calling for a doctor, you should administer to them by the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, and give them mild food and herbs and medicine that you understand.

 

While keeping both Thompsonian and faith healing practices in mind, the pioneers dealt with medicine the best way a migratory group could; they packed only the herbs and solutions that would travel well without taking up too much room, and relied on the land to supply the rest. Guided by their faith and intuition, they began the journey that taught them more than they could have ever imagined.

 

Often, new cures had to be found for ailments the pioneers had not encountered before they departed on the Trail. At times, the plants, herbs and other ingredients comprising the supposed cure seemed even more harmful than the ailment it was designed to remedy. Ingredients such as garlic, coal, castor oil, turpentine and kerosene were quite common in cures.

                                                             

EYE AILMENTS

Put a few droops of castor oil in eye.

 

                                                              EYEWASH 

Gun powder dissolved in water for eyewash.

 

                                                                  FEVER 

Boil two roots of wild ginger in a cup of water; strain and drink.

 

                                                                 HICCUPS 

Hiccup can usually be stopped very quickly by taking a teaspoonful of granulated sugar and vinegar. If it does not give relief, repeat the dose.

 

                                                             INFECTION

For drawing out infection on burns, use raw grated potatoes.

 

                                                         SCRAPES AND ABRASIONS 

Smear rabbit fat over raw areas.

 

                                                                BEE STINGS

Put mud or red clay on area.

  

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