The WHY and WHAT of Pioneer Recipes We Should Know How to Make

There’s been a topic pop up a lot over the last few years—pioneer recipes we should all know how to make. Intriguing, right?

Linda Loosli, of, reminds us that “Our pioneer ancestors didn’t have the ingredients we have today, so they had to make do with what they had. And make do is what they did for sure. Bellies always needed filling, and they had to be extremely creative and resourceful, as they were always dealing with limited access to any General Store.”

And what’s more, even when they got to their destination, it was typically months (or years in some cases) before regular food supplies or mercantiles were readily available to them.

So back to the subject of pioneer recipes we should all know how to make: First of all, WHY? We all have the “General Store” loaded and nearby. Right? Well maybe for now, but for how long? I don’t want to be a “Debby Downer,” but history shows us “no fair wind blows forever.” What IF we can’t run to the store when it’s time to make dinner? What IF, even if we could run to the store, the store shelves were empty? (Covid 19 gave us a teensy taste of what that’s like!) Or what IF our source of income went away?

Considering world events and the increase in natural disasters, maybe we ought to think about increasing our meal-making creativity so we can follow the lead of the pioneers and be more independent.

The WHY of knowing how to make pioneer recipes leads me to ask, have you ever wondered WHAT their go-to recipes were? Answers vary, depending on to whom you listen, but there is a fairly consistent consensus on a few things.

For instance, lump-free gravy shows up on almost all lists. As does a flaky baking powder biscuit. Food historians also include cornmeal Johnny Cakes and fluffy pancakes. And speaking of pancakes, potato pancakes are also at the top of the list.

Potatoes, flour (or wheat to make flour), and cornmeal were their staples. Salt, molasses, honey, and lard (rendered from pork) rounded out their bare necessities. And the luckiest wagon trains also had a few milk cows traveling with them.

We’d be smart to be sure we’ve got the same items in our pantries/food storage and that we’ve mastered the art of cooking basics.

In one of her preparedness articles, food storage mom, Linda, says this: “I feel strongly about learning to cook inexpensive meals because I believe hard times are coming. Please teach your family how to cook from scratch. Learning how to cook these pioneer recipes would be a great start, and may God bless this world.”

With that thought in mind, I’ll close with one of Linda’s pioneer recipes that we should all know how to make. I’ll bet you already know how to make this, so the challenge could be to think of creative ways to serve it.

Pioneer Johnny Cake

Yield: 4 servings


2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons molasses
2 eggs (optional for fluffy cake)

Combine the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk and molasses. Add eggs if desired. Cook in a hot greased cast iron pan for about 20 minutes on high heat.
Serve hot with butter, honey or jam. It could also be topped with warm applesauce and sweetened whipped cream. OR…? How would YOU serve this pioneer staple?

Recipe formatted with the Cook'n Recipe Software from DVO Enterprises.

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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