Can you imagine what it was like to live on the Oregan trail, cooking pioneer recipes every day? Some have a romantic fantasy about cooking over an open fire, but those times were also scary. You usually cooked over an open fire with wildlife all around. Families had to cook enough for their entire family. Pioneer life wasn’t always easy, even once they made it to their final destination.
These pioneers had skills that most people don’t have anymore. What would happen if tomorrow the world had no more electricity or running water? People would have to learn how to cook from scratch. Cooking dinner over a fire is a lot different than cooking with an electric stove or microwave. You’d have to figure out how to tweak recipes and meals.
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Pioneer recipes are simple. They didn’t have websites and specialty stores to help them find certain ingredients, and many components we regularly use nowadays don’t store very well. Everything was prepared from scratch. Some had access to fresh milk and eggs daily, but some did not.
Most of these recipes use Dutch ovens. You put all the ingredients in the Dutch oven and let it cook over a fire. Recipes didn’t need a specific temperature or require you to know exactly when it’s finished.
Here are ten recipes that were commonly used during the pioneer days. They’re all easy to make and they all taste great.
Corn dodgers are small cornbread pieces that you can eat as a snack or serve with stew or thick soups. They’re delicious, perfect for dipping into gravy or even syrup. Kids love corn dodgers.
- 2 Cups Cornmeal
- 2 TBSP Butter
- 1 TBSP Sugar or Molasses
- ½ TSP Salt
- 2 Cups Milk
- 1 Tsp Baking Soda
Mix all of the parts, aside from the baking soda, in a hot Dutch oven. Let the butter melt, and once all of the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, remove it from the heat. Let it stand for a few minutes and mix in the baking powder.
Using a large tablespoon, drop spoonfuls of the mix into another hot Dutch oven or skillet. Cook these spoonfuls until the edges turn brown in the melted butter.
Doesn’t the name cornmeal mush sound delicious? Nowadays, anything named mush doesn’t seem so appealing, but cornmeal mush was an easy breakfast for pioneers to make. It’s hardy and keeps you feeling full until the next meal.
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 TBSP lard
- 1 TSP salt
- Dried Currants
First, put the currants in the boiling water, letting them cook for several minutes. Next, put in the cornmeal and frequently stir to stop the cornmeal from clumping together. Add in the lard and salt, stirring for three minutes.
Now, remove from heat and serve. Add butter and molasses for flavor. If you prefer, you can let it sit at room temperature until it becomes semi-solid (like in the picture below). Then you can slice it up.
As you can imagine, refrigeration wasn’t possible on the trail out West. Bacon was an essential meat during this time. A family of four used around 400 pounds – seriously – of bacon! Instead of refrigerating or freezing the meat, pioneers had to cure the pork meat to ensure it lasted until they reached their new home.
Pioneers packed bacon in a barrel with bran, so the extreme heat experienced on the prairie wouldn’t meat the fats. Here’s a simple recipe that pioneers might have used years ago.
- 1 pound brown sugar
- 1 Pint molasses
- 1 TSP Saltpeter
- 8 Quarts (a peck) of salt
- 5 Gallons Water
- 5 Pounds Pork Meat
First, mix the pound of brown sugar, a pint of molasses, and saltpeter to create the cure. Saltpeter is potassium nitrate that can be used to preserve meat. Sprinkle the salt over the meaty side of the pork meat and add the cure mix.
Put the pork meat into a tight barrel. Put the hams first, pork shoulders next, and middlings last. Then, pour the brine over the meat. The pork meat needs four to seven weeks in the brine. Then, you can slice and cook the bacon as your family needs.
Everyone needs a bit of dessert, even the pioneers on the trail. Apples are one of the few fruits that could have survived that long journey westward. Fried apples are perfect for breakfast, dessert, or both.
- 4 Slices of Bacon
- 6 to 8 Granny Smith Apples
First, fry the slices of bacon in a Dutch oven, and then remove the bacon from the pan. Peel and slice up the Granny Smith apples. Put the apples in the bacon grease in the Dutch oven. Cover the oven with a lid, letting the apples cook down, but you don’t want them to become mush.
Serve the fried apples with butter or cream and crumbled up bacon. Delicious!
Sometimes, meat was in short stock while on the range, but the protein was needed. The jerky gravy could be added over soda biscuits, potatoes, or cornbread to make a meal heartier.
- Chopped Jerky
- Salt and Pepper
In a cast iron pan, heat grease and add the jerky into the pan until it’s nice and crispy. Remove the chunks of jerky. Then, in a small bowl, combine the milk and flour to form a paste. Put the paste into the grease and stir slowly until smooth. Add the jerky bits back in and season to your taste preferences.
Cornmeal was such an important, versatile staple that pioneers took with them everywhere. You can find similar recipes that make tortillas. Johnnycakes were created with corn because it was so plentiful.
- 2 Eggs
- 2 Cups Buttermilk
- 2 TBSP Molasses
- 2 Cups Cornmeal
- ½ Cup Flour
- 1 TSP Salt
- 1 Tsp Baking Powder
- 2 TBSP Butter or Lard
In a bowl, beat the two eggs, then add in the buttermilk and molasses. Add the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking soda. Then, melt the butter or lard in the hot cast iron pan. Pour the batter into the Dutch oven and bake it until its cooked all the way through.
Pork and Mormon Gravy
Some of the best recipes came from necessity. Pork and Mormon gravy are some of the best examples of this, and it’s quite a tasty dinner. You can serve this dinner with potatoes and cornbread.
- 8 Thick Slices of Bacon or Side Pork
- 4 TBSP Fat Drippings
First, fry the eight slices of side pork or bacon in a cast iron pan until crisp. Set the meat aside but keep it warm. Then, measure out four tablespoons of the fat drippings and put it back into the pot. Add flour and mix, letting it brown a bit. Then, pour in the milk and stir well to scrape up the yummy bits of meat.
Keep it on low heat and continue to stir until a creamy, delicious gravy is created. Serve with the meat and potatoes or biscuits.
Potatoes were an essential staple crop for pioneers. They store for months, and if you cure them, they last even longer. You wouldn’t find pioneers without potatoes in their pantry or wagon. Potato cakes are similar to our pancakes nowadays.
- 6 Potatoes
- 2 TBSP Salt
- A ½ cup of milk
- Two eggs
- 1 cup flour
- Lard or butter
First, wash and peel six potatoes, then grate them. Put these grated potatoes into a bowl and add the salt, milk, eggs, and flour. Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly.
Spoon this mixture into melted lard or butter. Cook the cakes until golden brown on both sides. Serve with dinner or some gravy.
Quick Fried Doughnuts
Doughnuts are the perfect snack for pioneers. You can make them over an open fire, and kids love them. They’re a great dessert, and you can serve them with fried apples.
- Lard, Butter, or Grease
- 1 Pound Flour
- 1 TSP Salt
- 1 Tsp Baking Soda
- ½ TSP Nutmeg
- ½ Pound Butter
- 2 Egg Yokes
First, put a cast iron pan or Dutch oven over top of a hot fire and start melting the fat of your picking. The pot should be half full of fat.
Then, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, beat the half a pound of butter to creamy and add in the flour. Separate the yokes from the eggs and add the yokes to the creamed butter and flour. Separately, beat the egg whites to a stiff froth and set them aside.
Now, mix the flour and sugar to make a soft dough. Add the stiffened egg whites. Roll out the paste, cut out circles, and put them in the melted fat to fry the doughnuts.
Serve with fried apples, molasses, syrup, or eat plain. Delicious!
Biscuits were a must-have with meals. They can be eaten alone or dipped in grease for flavor. Dip your biscuits in syrup for some sweetness. Soda biscuits were one of the easiest recipes to make.
- 3 ½ cups flour
- 1 TSP baking soda
- 1 TSP salt
Put all of the flour into a bowl and slowly add one tablespoon of milk at a time until you form a stiff dough. In a separate dish, dissolve the baking soda in another tablespoon of milk and then mix it back into the batter. Then, mix in the salt and roll out the dough. Make sure it’s nice and thin. Cut circles out.
Place the biscuits in a Dutch oven until the sides are brown. Make sure the biscuits no longer feel doughy.
So there you have it! If you try any of these pioneer recipes, leave a comment and let us know how it turned out.
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