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.