Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
There is a bit of a romantic fantasy about what it must have been like for the pioneers who traveled out west more than a hundred years ago. The idea of land that stretches on for miles without a single building or road was both exciting and frightening to them.
However, they had the skills they needed to fend for themselves without the conveniences of big cities. If a major collapse happens, it will be the people with those kinds of skills who make it.
If we ever find ourselves in a world that resembles the pioneer days (no electricity, no running water, etc.), people will have to learn how to cook all over again. Cooking over a fire is a lot different than cooking in the microwave or on an electric stove. Certain meals and recipes are going to require a little tweaking.
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Back in the pioneer days, their recipes were very simple. They didn’t have specialty grocery stores filled with hard-to-find ingredients or things that didn’t store well. They had pantry items and prepared everything from scratch. The lucky pioneers had access to fresh milk and eggs. The unlucky did without.
Pioneers relied a great deal on Dutch ovens to cook their meals on the trail. Recipes didn’t involve specific temperatures. Rather, it was just a matter of putting ingredients into the Dutch oven and letting it cook over a fire.
In this article, I’m going to share some simple recipes from those days. You may want to familiarize yourself with these recipes so you can cook meals when there isn’t any electricity and you only have the ingredients you’ve been stockpiling.
Keep in mind, the staples in a pioneer diet are a bit different than they are for us today.
1. Corn Dodgers
These are essentially round bits of cornbread that can be eaten on the move or served with stew or chili.
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Get your Dutch oven nice and hot.
- Use a saucepan to cook cornmeal, butter, salt, sugar, and milk.
- Remove from heat and let sit for about five minutes.
- Mix in the baking powder.
- Use a tablespoon to drop spoonfuls of the mix into the Dutch oven.
- Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the edges are brown.
2. Corned Beef
This isn’t something you cook, but without refrigeration, salting meat was the only way to really preserve it. The corned beef can then be used in a variety of recipes.
- 10 pounds of beef
- 2 cups salt
- 2 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoon saltpeter
- 1 tablespoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon of cloves
- Combine the salt and remaining ingredients in a small bowl.
- Rub the mixture into the beef.
- Allow the meat to sit for 10 days, making sure to turn the meat daily.
3. Cornmeal Mush
Easy breakfast that will stick to the ribs and keep everyone full until the midday meal.
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 tbsp lard
- 1 tsp salt
- Dried currants
Put the currants in the boiling water and let cook for a few minutes. Add in the cornmeal and keep stirring to keep it from clumping. Add in the lard and salt and continue to stir for about three minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
You can add butter and molasses for flavor.
4. Cured Bacon
Cured bacon was an essential food for the pioneers as they traveled out west, often carrying hundreds of pounds worth of it in their wagons. In order to ensure that the meat would not go bad under the sun, it would first be cured and then packed in a barrel to stop the fat from melting.
- Brown Sugar
- Mix the saltpeter, sugar, and molasses together in a bowl to form a brine
- Sprinkle salt over your ham
- Pour your brine cure over your ham before placing it into the barrel to cure.
- Give the meat at least four weeks to cure all the way
When the time comes to cook bacon, just cut the ham pieces into smaller strips.
5. Hasty Pudding
Also known as Indian pudding, hasty pudding was in use for hundreds of years by the pioneers and the people who came before them and served as a predecessor for the pudding that we’re used to today.
- Water (3 cups worth)
- Salt (half teaspoon)
- Cornmeal (half cup)
- Pour the salt in with the water
- Boil the salted water over a medium to high flame
- Continue to stir with a spoon so clumps of salt will not form
- Now add in your cornmeal, doing so with a steady flow
- Continue to stir for around twenty minutes until the mixture has been cooked
6. Jerky Gravy
Gravy can be poured over soda biscuits, potatoes or even cornbread to help make a meal a little heartier and flavorful.
- Jerky chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Heat grease and add jerky until it is nice and crispy.
- Remove the chunks of jerky.
- In a small bowl, combine the milk and flour to form a paste.
- Pour the paste into the grease and slowly stir until smooth.
- Add back in the jerky bits and season to taste.
7. Mormon Johnnycake
A take on the standard pancake, but made with cornmeal for a fluffy, filling addition to a soup or stew.
- 2 cups cornmeal
- ½ cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 tablespoon molasses
- 2 eggs (optional)
- Mix dry ingredients and then add in the milk and molasses.
- Eggs can be added to make the Johnnycake a little fluffier.
- Pour batter into a greased 9” pan and cook over high heat for about 20 minutes.
8. Potato Cakes
Potato cakes were essentially the predecessor to modern-day pancakes, and the pioneers relied on them extensively just like they did the cured bacon.
- 6 potatoes (ensure they are grate and peeled first)
- Salt (two tablespoons)
- Milk (half cup)
- Eggs (two)
- Flour (one cup’s worth)
- Wash your potatoes by rinsing underwater.
- Mix the flour, eggs, milk, and salt together in a bowl.
- Take a mid-sized spoonful of the mixture and pour into a pan.
- Add shortening to the mixture if you so desire.
- Cook the cakes as if they were pancakes and become golden brown on both sides.
9. Soda Biscuits
Quick and easy and can be eaten alone or dipped in a little grease for flavor. Dipping the biscuits in syrup is also a way to add a little sweetness to a breakfast meal.
- 3 1/3 cups of flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- Pour the flour into a bowl and slowly add one tablespoon of milk at a time to form a stiff dough.
- In a small dish, dissolve the baking soda in about a tablespoon of milk.
- Mix it into the dough.
- Add salt and mix again.
- Roll out the dough until it is nice and thin.
- Cut circles out of the dough.
- Cook in a Dutch oven or standard oven until the sides are brown and the biscuits are no longer doughy.
10. Spotted Pup
Rice with some sweet flavoring can be served as breakfast, dessert or dinner.
- Cooked rice
The amount of rice you cook will depend on the number of people you are feeding.
- Put the rice in a Dutch oven and add in the rest of the ingredients to taste.
- Heat until the eggs are cooked thoroughly.
Some of these recipes will take practice. You’ll have to be familiar with your Dutch oven, cook things slightly longer or shorter, and increase or decrease ingredients to improve the taste.
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If you want to learn more about pioneer skills and recipes, watch the video below.
I noticed a lot of Saltpetre in these recipes. Were these taken from a prison kitchen or were the pioneers just OK with not having sex?
Most corn in the USA is GMO.
These recipes are full of bad nutrition. There are healthy alternatives to all these pioneer recipes. Food value is lacking in most. Good nutrition is part of my prepping. Relying on cheap carbs is not sustainable and in my prepping none of these foods will be found, except maybe a rice pudding for dessert!
In the bacon recipe I think that ham might be a typo. Wouldn’t they start with some kind of raw pork? Do you happen to know which cut is used for that?
Larry Morgan says
in item #8 potatoes were left out of the mixture in the directions. Potato pancakes are always better when cooked with the ingredients. Sorry for being so picky.
Big Tee says
Anyone know where to get saltpeter?
Michael Palmer says
Never did see saltpeter in the grocery store on any shelves anywhere.
Its potassium nitrite. Some butchers sell it as pink stuff. (Its usually pink.) its added as a preservative. Its not really needed if you smoke the meat. Its more to help preserve the pinkish color. People are ised to meat being pink or red when its really brown.
How long does corned beef last?
As an added treat cook the cornmeal mush a bit to the thick side but be sure the cornmeal is cooked thru. Put into a bread pan and let it cool and solidify. Tip it out, slice and fry with a bit of oil, lard or bacon grease until golden brown. Eat with some syrup.
Tab J FLEMING says
One of my all time favorites with fresh side pork and sunny side eggs
Elbert Jones says
Zombies? The only one I know lives at 1600 Penn. Ave in D.C.Plus the cult members who support him.
Lana Ivanova says
Dumb arse, it is the one trying to get n that’s the creep!
Cee cee says
Are you still proud of Old Creepy Joe? E erything he has touched has. Been an abysmal failure …but hey, at least you got orange and bad out. Huh?
Kieran Roberts says
If you are referring to whom I think you are referring to, he sounds as if he is suffering from the after effects of a stroke.
First time I’ve posted. Alan, I think you are worried. You have stepped up posting articles. You have done such a great job helping us all get started. I am spending all next week canning—I am worried, too.
Bemused Berseker says
A good practice/practical sessions for the Olde Tyme Cooking Extravaganza is when you go camping. Instead of the usual array of canned and freeze dried foods, take along the ingredients for making at least one meal (more if you’re getting proficient), to try Slumgullion Stew or any of the recipes the author gave. Instead of a package of stew meat, try it with a pound of jerky, dried beans, carrots, potatoes and so forth. Remember you’re going to need to start soaking these victuals long before you’re ready to eat them. Have a griddle or frying pan! Flatbread or Tortillas can be made on site. It does take some practice to get the bread thin enough to cook evenly, but it’s also an experience for youngsters to learn as it only requires flour or cornmeal, water and a little salt for the dough. Oatmeal (yes you can use bland rolled oats, but for a robust flavor, try using pinhead Oatmeal, also known as Steel Cut, instead), left over from B-Fast can be grilled for Oatcakes. Add a little sugar for a sweeter treat.
Over the last 40 years since I began teaching my children these skills, I’m now teaching my Grandkids the same. We save the milk we brought with us for drinking, but for cooking, we almost exclusively use powdered milk in the recipes we’ve looked up or dreamed up. It turns the family get-a-way time into a survival lesson. For us adults, it gives us a chance to put into practice the skills our ancestors relied on daily to keep their bellies from grumbling.
Most of these are assuming we’ll have milk…. gulp… better go get a cow! We just won’t name her Steak 🙂
Jeanette Bk says
I was thinking the same thing. Even if I wasn’t allergic to milk, where would we get it and how could we store it?
Goat milk works well, especially if you are allergic to cows milk. Goats survive where cows die.
Margaret Irene Moon says
That is some good advise. I am 78 and raised on a farm ,had some city life now I live at the EDGE of a small town. GOT A YEAR ROUND CREEK, My vegetables like that and the water from my rain barrels.
There’s milk that doesn’t have to be refrigerated until it’s open.
Powdered milk and or milk in shelf stable boxes
LoL Prolly wasn’t that easy moving the fam from VA to OR when these recipes were created.
They had to take at least A cow or goats and a half dozen chickens for milk and eggs. No Walmarts along the way.
What has become a 2 day trip with food and fuel at every exit used to be a 6 month journey into the unknown.
You can also can butter, milk & cheese! Google it because there are lots of recipes out there.
surviving the next Zombie attack will involve a lot more than knowing how to cook. there are so many things one can learn just from knowing the basics. The food you have on hand will not last long. you need to gather from other resources. If you have a gun and ammunition that’s a start. a little .22 rifle will bring in lots of food and ammo will not take up a lot of space or cost you an arm and a leg. If you play the guitar this is nice, the strings make a great snare for small game such as rabbits and even squirrels. A small bow saw will cut wood for fires to keep warm and to cook food over. Be sure to keep some fishing line and a few hooks in your kit too. In the dead of winter if you are forced outside a place to sleep will be had to find. Push leaves in a pile to sleep on a 4″ layer will keep the cold off and then cover your self with more leaves and pine needles. Nuts of all kinds will take the place of protein. even acorns roasted are good to eat. Larger game such as deer will provide days of meals find a culvert and string wire and hang the meat on the down side of the wind burn wood such as oak to smoke the meat. Chicken wire will keep critters away from it. In warm months fruit and berries will fill your stomach. as far as drinking water keep a few large bottles of bleach on hand. a gallon of water can be treated with by boiling for 3-5 minutes then add 1/2 teaspoon of bleach. here I go, giving a preview of my next book. happy survival.
I agree with everything you mention except for 1 chicken wire raccoons nails can break chicken wire best to keep in hand would be rabbit wire its more Sturdier and your rabbits and chickens would be more safer…
Margaret Irene Moon says
This woman knows what she is talking about. Thanks again
Open or unopened, bleach ha a fairly short shelf lifeI. Read up on use of bleach for water purification. University of Washington has some great articles on this subject.
Stock powdered milk
Pioneers – or Settlers – were in fact SURVIVALIST’s. They fine tuned the lifestyle they lived daily and sorted out the glitches, problems and foreseeable events which might, if not prepared to face, would cause them death, destruction and ruination. This required knowledge and paying attention to those who had already blazed a trail previously. However – there were no guarantees. Women and children died frequently. Men and boys too died or were seriously hurt or crippled. It was a rough haul and danger lurked everywhere if ALL weren’t paying heed and supporting one another.
Knowing and Borrowing from history and handed down accounts regarding the pioneering settlers lives we can today prepare to face increadable odds against us. We currently don’t have to face hostile Native American Tribes or Mexican Commenchero Bandits. But we face a different enemy of the PREPPER Survivalist – The Deaded Unknown ZOMBIE forces which could be Thugs, Waring gangs, Pyschopaths, Sociopaths,City and Urban savage roving gangs, an Enemy Army, our own militiary forces, a new deadly fascist government or the Vampiric Clintons.
Luckily for us, we can also access the world’s best military’s and their training information, weapons, equipment and supply surplusage. While a Sharps Rolling Block Long Barrel Rifle would drop a buffalo or an whopping Indian on horseback at 500 yards in 1850, isn’t nice that we get to chose from a miriad of modern weapons that surpass the Sharps old school technical achievent. There is a weapon to suit every person for whatever purpose today. And they’re affordable. For now.
Also while this particular article about Pioneering Cooking on the trail or home cooking and the seven recipes therein – I’d behoove the prepper to learn everything about minimalist cooking and preserving and canning. MRE’s are not meant to survive on for a long duration. Freeze Dried -Dehydrated foods also are not meant to be eaten in perpetutiy. Bush meat cooked over a firepit is an option – but real homestyle cooking using supplies from a well planned and equally well supplied pantry, is what homelife is all about isn’t it. Today we over-eat – and what we eat is unhealthy and loaded with toxic chemicals and non food fillers, flavor enhancers and preservatives. Nearly everything is hallow calories consisting of fats, sugars and salt. The food we eat today, would make a Pioneer family vetch and gag and they most likely would immediately spit it out and issue some epithet. Can’t say that I would blame one bit. I mean, come on now, a HOT POCKET or a Triple Big Mack, Fries and a Shake? Might as well eat right out of garbage can.
Learn to cook well… and learn how to cook the way out forefathers and great grandmothers did. You can do it.
Margaret Irene Moon says
I agree . Problem Most of todays people don’t want to learn an they will be the first to want help.