Eat Like A Pioneer for Pioneer Day!

Everyone knows about the Fourth of July, but here in Utah we also celebrate our State’s birthday on July 24- Pioneer Day, to be exact!

I am so impressed with the pioneers. Pioneers didn’t just come to Utah of course- they settled the whole west! But I think sometimes we forget just how much they sacrificed to settle new land. Obviously they didn’t have many of our modern-day conveniences, but they also went without many of their modern-day conveniences! Packing up a wagon to head west meant leaving lots of things behind- big furniture, animals, even some beloved heirlooms. It meant leaving the security of a well-plowed field. It meant leaving behind the convenience and reliability of a general store. If you didn’t take it with you- you wouldn’t have it. My planning-ahead personality gets all sorts of anxiety just thinking about this! Those pioneers were tough, and I’m grateful. Between my home and my ancestry, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the pioneers!

In honor of Pioneer’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the things they would have eaten. It all came down to using what you could and wasting nothing.

Game was obviously a big source of food. Big game like bears and buffalo, but also smaller game, like rabbits, squirrels, and quails were a source of food. They would cure the meat through smoke or salt to help it last for a longer amount of time- because they didn’t have refrigerators, and because there’s no guarantee when you’ll find more! They even ate more unique animals like beavers and turtles- it all came down to what was available!

When it comes to veggies, squashes and tubers like potatoes and turnips were a huge source of nourishment. These are hardy vegetables that can grow on the plains and can be stored for months (when done properly), making them a great source of food for the pioneers! Corn was also frequently planted, due to its hardiness. I kind of love the concept of people planting seeds and leaving them behind for others to enjoy. Talk about making the world a better place!

When they weren’t traveling across the plains, they could afford a little more luxury. Dried fruit, applesauce, chicken, eggs, milk, butter, cream- farm food! They ate a lot of carbs, because they were working hard all day! They needed the fuel to keep them energized! Cornmeal, potatoes, beans, rice, and bread of different kinds were staples.

Stews were also a go-to meal because it was a great way to use up veggies and things that might go bad. When you’re self-sufficient in the way the pioneers were, you did not let anything go to waste!

I really admire how the pioneers could make so much from so little. We have so many conveniences today- many young newlyweds don’t know how to do simple things in the kitchen, like boiling an egg or baking bread. It’s an important skill to have, even amidst all the luxury we enjoy. It’s definitely something I want to keep improving in myself!

I’ve included a few recipes down below that you can try if you’d like to feel like a real pioneer. The first is 101 Year Old Pastry- which is a pie crust that was used for savory and sweet pies alike. The second is hardtack- a pioneer staple! It’s tasty, hearty, and lasts a while- perfect for hiking and backpacking trips nowadays! The final recipe is Velvet Chicken Soup- a hearty stew full of veggies! I hope you enjoy!

101-Year-Old Pastry

Can be used for sweet or savory dishes

2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup lard or shortening
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon vinegar
cold water

Cut shortening into flour and salt. Beat egg lightly in a 1 1/2-cup measure; add vinegar and fill cup with cold water. Add just barely enough liquid to dry ingredients to hold dough together—about 4 tablespoons—reserving remaining liquid for next batch of pastry. Handle dough as little as possible. Roll out into pastry and use as desired. Makes two 9-inch pie shells.


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Pioneer Hardtack

4 cups flour (white, whole wheat, graham, rye, barley, or any combination of flours you like)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups buttermilk, yogurt, cream, or sweet milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 400° and measure into large bowl.

2. Mix well and form dough into a ball, then divide dough and roll out a small portion (about the size of a tennis ball) at a time.

3. Roll dough on lightly floured surface as thin as you can. The thinner you roll it, the better the hardtack will taste.

4. Sprinkle rolled-out dough lightly with salt if you wish, cut to any shape desired, and place pieces close together on greased cookie sheet.

5. Bake until edges begin to brown. Remove cookie sheet from oven, turn hardtack over, and bake until it is crisp and dry and lightly browned.

6. As soon as the hardtack is baked, put on rack to cool. Store hardtack in airtight container, and it will stay fresh as long as it is kept dry.

This pioneer hardtack is delicious served plain or with jam, peanut butter, cheese, meat spreads, or whatever you like. Try seasoning the crackers by adding onion powder, cheese, barbecue sauce, bacon bits, herbs, or spices to the dough.


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Velvet Chicken Soup

3 or 4 pounds chicken
3 quarts cold water
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white peppers or 6 peppercorns
1 small onion, choppped
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 cups rich milk or cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon butter
2 eggs, well beaten

Thoroughly clean chicken and cut into pieces. Put in covered kettle with cold water and salt. Bring to boil quickly and simmer until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from stock and remove meat from bones (saving meat to use in croquettes, pie, etc.) Return bones to soup stock and add peppercorns (or white pepper), chopped onions, and chopped celery. Simmer together until a little more than a quart of stock remains in pan; strain, cool, and remove all fat. Add rich milk or cream, bring to a boil, and thicken with cornstarch that’s been mixed smooth with a little cold water. Add butter and season to taste. Beat eggs with a little cream. Pour 1 cup soup over egg mixture, stirring well, then pour egg-soup mixture back into soup, stirring constantly, and cook 2 minutes. Serve hot in soup dishes, adding bite-size croutons if desired.

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    Camille Hoffmann
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
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