Two things I like are historical books about the old west and cookbooks. Lucky for me, I discovered both in one when I found LOG CABIN COOKING: PIONEER RECIPES AND FOOD LORE by Barbara Swell.
You've gotten your family moved clear across the country (a four to six month trip via covered wagon) and now you've set up house in a hand-hewed log cabin. Along one wall is a fireplace, used for heating and lighting as well as for cooking. Swell tells us, “Kettles were hung on poles built into the fireplace. Other foods were prepared in the coals or on pots over the coals. The lucky family had an oven for bread baking built into the hearth. A fire was built up in the oven and allowed to burn down, then the ashes were swept out and the bread was put in to bake.”
The pioneer cook had to ‘make-do’ with what she had on hand. Few cooks had measuring instruments, so they became good at ‘eyeballing’ amounts of ingredients needed, the textures and the appearance of food in various states. Swell goes on to say, “Notice how a teaspoon of salt looks and feels in your hand. Feel the weight of a cup of sugar. Notice the texture of a medium batter. What does soft butter, the size of an egg look like? Taste your food as you go along, adjust seasoning when needed.”
On page nine of LOG CABIN COOKING, Swell gives a pioneer cook’s measurements for ingredients:
1 Tbs (heaped) = size of a hickory nut
2 Tbs (heaped) = size of an egg (1 stick)
4 Tbs (heaped) = one teacup (2 sticks)
1 pound butter = 2 teacups well packed (4 sticks)
FLOUR, MEAL, SUGAR, COFFEE
5 Tbs sifted flour or meal (heaped) = one teacup
1 Tbs sugar (heaped) = one ounce
7 Tbs granulated sugar (heaped) = one teacup
1 pound coffee = two teacups (heaped)
1 pound sifted flour = 4 teacups (level)
8 oz = one teacup
When we want to make a yeast bread, we usually just reach for that little low packet of yeast, but commercial yeast and baking powder did not become popular until the late 19th century. So, what was the pioneer cook suppose to use instead? Saleratus, or baking soda as it’s known today, could be combined with sour milk to produce the carbon dioxide needed to rise breads. In addition, “homemade baking powder was by combing saleratus with cream of tartar and corn starch.”
Reading for pioneer recipes? Remember, many of the recipes Swell shares are ‘inexact’, so you have to refer to her measurements given above when making these recipes.
2 cups flour
4 Tbs shortening (size of an egg)
¾ tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup sweet milk
Cut shortening into flour, salt, and baking powder. Add milk, roll out on a floured board and cut into shapes. Bake on a greased sheet in hot (450°) oven until browned.
Boil 2 cups water, add ½ tsp salt, and sprinkle in cornmeal slowly until mush becomes thick. Eat warm with butter and honey or molasses or put in bread pan and chill until set. Slice and fry in frying pan with a bit of butter until crisp on both sides, then serve with maple syrup or honey.
Since many cooks were illiterate, they would remember recipes by setting them to rhyme.
JOHNNY CAKE IN RHYME
Two cups Indian (cornmeal), one cup wheat;
One cup good eggs that you can eat.
One-half cup molasses too,
One big spoon sugar added thereto;
Salt and soda, each a small spoon.
Mix up quickly and bake it soon.
From: My Folks Come in a Covered Wagon
This is a fruit coffee cake that tastes great and is a snap to make.
2 Tbs. butter
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 cups berries, any kind
Melt butter in iron skillet. Stir dry ingredients together and add milk, mixing until no lumps remain. Pour into skillet with melted butter. Sprinkle berries over the top and cook at 350 ° oven for about 35-40 minutes. Sugar sprinkled on top before baking adds a great touch.
MOCK PECAN PIE (OATMEAL PIE)
Here’s a modern version of a tasty, economical mock pecan pie. This is REALLY good.
½ cup sugar
¾ cup old fashion oats (not quick cooking)
¾ cup dark corn syrup
¾ cup coconut
2 Tbs. melted butter
Combine ingredients and pour into an unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350° until it looks done. The oats will be on top. The pie will look brown and bubbly.
Available at Barnes and Noble.
Just a note: aside from purchasing this book and loving it, I have no connection whatsoever with the author.
Anna Kathryn Lanier
Romance Author, A GIFT BEYOND ALL MEASURE
Romance Author, A GIFT BEYOND ALL MEASURE
Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester