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  • Frontier American foodways

    Early frontier cooking was greatly influenced by place and season. Indigenous plants and animals supplied much of the food. Think: Buffalo & squirrel. Other provisions (flour, dried beans, coffee, sugar, etc.) were stocked at points of origin and resupplied along the way. The first pioneers in most places ate by campfires. By necessity, foods were cooked by very simple methods. Dutch ovens, frying pans, boiling pots, and roasting spits were typically employed. As settlements grew, so did the range of cuisine. Why? Improvements in housing and transportation enabled a greater variety of food to be prepared in more traditional ways.

    Sample bill of fare for middle-class home meals: 1853
    In the days before home freezers and rapid transit, suggested family menus were grouped by season and presented for each day. Breakfast would have been served between 8-9AM. Dinner would have been the main meal of the day, served sometime between noon and three. Tea would have been a light meal (at that time this meal was often called supper) before retiring.

    "Bill of Fare. Winter.

    Breakfast. Corn bread, cold bread, stew, boiled eggs.
    Dinner. Soup, cold joint, calves' head, vegetables.
    Dessert. Puddings, &c.
    Tea. Cold bread, milk toast, stewed fruit.

    Breakast. Hot cakes,cold bread, sausages, fried potatoes.
    Dinner. Soup, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, boiled ham, vegetables.
    Dessert. Pie &c.
    Tea. Corn bread, cold bread, stewed oysters.

    Breakfast. Hot bread, cold bread, chops, omelet.
    Dinner. Boiled mutton, stewed liver, vegetables.
    Dessert. Pudding, &c.
    Tea. Hot light bread, cold bread, fish, stewed fruit.

    Breakfast. Hot cakes, cold bread, sausages, fried potatoes.
    Dinner. Soup, poultry, cutlets, vegetables.
    Dessert. Custards and stewed fruit.
    Tea. Corn bread, cold bread, frizzled beef, stewed fruits, or soused calves' feet.

    Breakfast. Hot bread, cold bread, chops, omelet.
    Dinner. Soup, fish, roast mutton and currant jelly, vegetables.
    Dessert. Pudding, &c.
    Tea. Hot light bread, cold bread, stewed fruit.

    Breakfast., Hot bread, a nice hash, fried potatoes.
    Dinner. Soup, roast veal, steaks, oyster pie, vegetables.
    Dessert. Custards.
    Tea. Corn bread, cold bread, stewed oysters.

    Breakfast. Cold bread, croquets, omelet.
    Dinner. Roast pig, apple sauce, steaks, vegetables.
    Dessert. Pie, jelly.
    Tea. Cold bread, stewed fruit, light cake."
    ---Cookery As It Should Be: A New Manual of the Dining Room and Kitchen, by A Practical Housekeeper and Pupil of Mrs. Goodfellow [Philadelphia:Willis P. Hazard] 1853 (p. 310)

    Selected recipes listed in this book:

    pepper pot, pea, clam (broth and with cream), oyster, beef, veal or mutton broth (with vegetables)
    corn bread, potato bread, muffins (wheat, fruit), rusk, sally lunn
    roasts (beef, mutton, pork), ham, turkey, venison, goose, duck, cod, halibut, shad, mackerel
    meat & vegetables pies, stew, hash, veal cutlets, rare bit, beef alamode
    succotach, boiled onions (with cream sauce), spinach (with hard boiled egg slices on top), potatoes (boiled, fricasseed), corn pudding, peas (with butter), boiled cauliflower, stewed carrots.
    fruit pies, cheesecake, puddings (these were the steamed British type, as in plum pudding), custards & creams (lemon, orange), spice cakes, sugar cookies, ice cream. NO CHOCOLATE.
    hot chocolate, coffee, tea, fruit wines and cordials, ale, shrub, Madeira, rum.

    *NOTE: All of these vegetables are period correct, but some of them would have been hard to come by in the winter months. Although available, tomatoes were still "suspect"[the nightshade connection] in the early 1800s. Potatoes and aubergine (eggplants) followed the same pattern. By 1853 these foods were common.

    Recommended reading (with recipes)

    Lewis & Clark's provisions and recipes

    Provisioning Lewis & Clark's expedition was a complicated work in progress. Commercial supplies were heavy and there was a limit to how much could be transported at any given time. Initial Philadelphia edibles were restocked by St. Louis & local town/fort grocers. Local bartering opportunities (eggs, flour, coffee) were regularly engaged and highly prized. Hunting (animals large & small), fishing, and foraging (nuts, berries, vegetables, fruit) provided much needed fresh foods. Sometimes the expeditioners had plenty to eat. Other times they endured days of hunger. Portable soup was purchased in mass quantities to stave off hunger.

    "When Lewis leaves for St. Louis, he has with him all the food items he intends to order in the East. From what he's not carrying, it's obvious that he has full confidence that he can get anything and everything he needs either on the way...or from the military commissaries during the upcoming winter, as suggested by Jefferson. Here is his shipping list, annotated with what he actually obtains: Provisions and Means of Subsistence. 3 bushels of Allum or Rock Salt (Lewis did not buy this.) 6 Kegs of 5 Gallons each making 30 Gallons of rectified spirits as used for the Indian trade (Lewis actually buys 30 gallons of Strong Spt. Wine.) 6 Kegs bound with iron Hoops (These become the kegs to hold the 'Spt. Wine'.) 150 lbs. Portable Soup (Lewis is delivered 193 pounds.) Spices assorted.

    "The few spices Lewis actually purchases are not ujsed in cooking and are never mentioned as seasonings for anything; they are from a druggist along with the Expedition's other medical goods: '2 oz. Nutmegs--75 cents; 2 oz, Cloves-31 cents; and 4 oz Cinnammon-20 cents.' Mostly forgotten is the 1800s use of spices as curatives: cinnamon bark relieves diarrhea and nausea and is useful for digestive problems; cloves have anticeptic and anti-parasitic properties and also act as a digestive aid; nutmeg or mace is a tonic...what is 'Strong Spt. Wine'? Brandy is a fine example...Since this purchase is obtained from David Jackson, druggist, we can carry this supposition one step further. Brandy has a long tradition of being a medication...Lewis' bill for thirty gallons is $70, approximately $0.47 a bottle (in today's 750ml size). As it is considerably more expensive than whiskey later purchased in St. Louis for an exquivalent of $0.25 per bottle.

    "Finally there is 'Portable Soup.' For the Corps of Discovery this is an emergency ration...Lewis has become aware of this dried soup and writes to General William Irvine concerning it on April 15, 1803, Israel Whelan for the United States writes payment for '193 lbs. of Portable Soup at 150 cents (for a total of) $289.50.' The 150 pounds of ordered soup has turned into a billable 193 pounds of delivered soup. Francois Baillet, the cook/provisioner, is probably the person who packs the finished product into the separately ordered tin cannisters.

    "In the end, the Expedition's edible provisions from Philadelphia are tallied at $360 for soup and liquor. This is just the start of the food shopping; the bulk of the prepared provisions will be obtained in St. Louis: TWO TONS for the winter at Camp River Dubois, and EIGHT TONS taken with the Expedition when they leave in May 1804--altogether costing more than $2,000."
    ---Feasting and Fasting With Lewis & Clark: A Food and Social History of the Early 1800s, Leandra Zim Holland [Old Yellowstone Publishing:Emigrant MT] 2003
    [NOTE: This book is THE best source for L&C provisioning overview (items/sources/prices) arranged by trip segments. Your local public librarian will help you obtain a copy.]

    Additional notes, courtesy of the US National Park Service.
    Complete list of L&C equipment with prices here (start on p. 95)

    Recommended reading (with modernized recipes for today's cooks)

    Westward ho! Wagon train cookery

    "In 1840 there were only 150 Americans in Oregon. Then "Oregon Fever," the lure of a new frontier, began the move westward for New Englanders, Southerners, and even settlers in the Missour and Missisppi valleys. During the next 20 years, tens of thousands of settlers came over the Oregon trail to the Pacific Northwest. They settled in the fertile valleys to begin a frontier experience, adapting their recipes to the ingredients of the region. After clearing land and building homes, the pioneers planted corps and fruit orchards...The trek to Oregon over the Oregon Trail is considered to be the largest and longest migration by land in the history of mankind...Most immigrants brought little more than the clothes on their backs with them on the difficult journey. Those who brought cattle and other farm animals lost most of their stock, including animals needed to pull their wagons. In spite of having to travel light, some immigrants succeeded in bringing cows, pigs, chickens, seeds, and tree-root stocks to start their farms...Although game and wild plants could be relied upon to provide some nourishment along the way, the covered wagons were loaded with enough food to last the journey. Food for the trip had to be compact, lightweight, and nonperishable. Each family brought along such staples as flour, sugar, cornmeal, coffee, dried beans, rice, bacon, and salt port. Some also brought dried fruit. Mealtime on the Oregon Trail was goverened by the sun...Breakfast had to be completed by 4 a.m. so that the wagon train could be on its way by daybreak. Beans, cornmeal mush, Johnnycakes or pancakes, and coffee were the usual breakfast. Fresh milk was available from the dairy cows that some families brought along, and pioneers took advantage go the rough rides of the wagon to churn their butter. "Nooning" at midday meant stopping for rest and a meal. Little time could be spent preparing the noonday meal, since the wagon train could only travel by daylight. Usually a piece of meat was fried over the camp fire. Longer-cooking stews were left for the evening meal. The women made bread dough while riding in the wagons and timed the rising so that it would be ready to bake when evening camp was made..."
    ---Taste of the States: A Food History of America, Hilde Gabriel Lee [Howell Press:Charlottesville VA] 1992 (p. 241-2)

    Randolph B. Marcy's
    A Handbook for Overland Expeditions was considered by many as THE manual for westward migration. Originally published in 1859, it contained practical advice on everything from route selection and wagon packing to emergency medicine (rattlesnake bites) and dealing with Native Americans. Marcy [1812-1887] was a captain of the U.S. Army. Prior to the Civil War he served in the West, forging new trails and escorting wagon trains. That made him an expert in stores and provisions. In his own words:

    "Supplies for a march should be put up in the most secure, compact, and portable shape. Bacon should be packed in strong sacks of a hundred pounds to each; or, in very hot climates, put in boxes and surrounded with bran, which in a great measure prevents the fat from melting away. If pork be used, in order to avoid transporting about forty per cent. Of useless weight, it should be taken out of the barrels and packed like bacon; then so placed in the bottom of the wagons as to keep it cool. The pork, if well cured, will keep several months in this way, but bacon is preferable.

    "Flour should be packed in stout double canvas sacks well sewed, a hundred pounds in each sack. Butter may be preservd by boiling it thoroughly, and skimming off the scum as it rises to the top until it is quite clear like oil. It is then placed in tin canisters and soldered up. This mode of preserving butter has been adopted in the hot climate of southern Texas, and it is found to keep sweet for a great length of time, and its flavor is but little impaired by the process. Sugar may be well secured in India-rubber or gutta-percha sacks, or so placed in the wagon as not to risk getting wet.

    "Dessicated or dried vegetables are almost equal to the fresh, and ar put up in such a compact an portable form as easily to be transported over the plains. They have been extensively used in the Crimean war, and by our own army in Utah, and have been very generally approved. They are prepared by cutting the fresh vegetables into thin slices and subjecting them to a very powerful press, which removes the juice and leaves a solid cake, which, after having been thoroughly dried in an oven, becomes almost hard as a rock. A small piece of this, about half the size of a man's hand, when boiled, swells up so as to fill a vegetable dish, and is sufficient for four men. It is believed that the antiscorbutic properties of vegetables are not impaired by dessication, and they will keep for years if not exposed to dampness. Canned vegetables are very good for campaigning, but are not so portable as when put up in the other form. The dessicated vegetables used in our army have been prepared by Chollet and Co., 46 Rue Richer, Paris.

    "There is an agency for them in New York. I regard these compressed vegetables as the best preparation for prairie traveling that has yet been discovered. A single ration weights, before boiling, only an ounce, and a cubic yard contains 16,000 rations. In making up their outfit for the plains, men are very prone to overload their teams with a great variety of useless articles. It is a good rule to carry nothing more than is absolutely necessary for use upon the journey. One can not expect, with the limited allowance of transportation that emigrants usually have, to indulge in luxuries upon such expeditions, and articles for use in California can be purchased there at less cost than that of overland transport.

    "The allowance of provisions for men in marching should be much greater than when they take no exercise. The army ration I have always found insufficient for soldiers who perform hard service, yet it is ample for them when in quarters. The following table shows the amount of subsistence consumed per day by each man of Dr. Rae's party, in his spring journey to the Arctic regions of North America in 1854:

    "Pemmican.....1.25 lbs
    Biscuit.....0.25 lbs
    Edward's preserved potatoes....0.10 lbs
    Flour.....0.33 lbs
    Tea.....0.03 lb
    Sugar.....0.14 lb
    Grease or alcohol, for cooking.....0.25 lb
    "This allowance of a little over two pounds of the most nutritious food was found barely sufficient to subsist the men in that cold climate. The pemmican, which constitutes almost the entire diet of the Fur Company's men in the Northwest, is prepared as follows: The buffalo meat is cut into thin flakes, and hung up to dry in the sun or before a slow fire; it is then pounded between two stone and reduced to a powder; this powder is placed in a bag of the animal's hide, with the hair on the outside; melted grease is then poured into it, and the bag sewn up. It can be eaten raw, and many prefer it so. Mixed with a little four and boiled, it is a very wholesome and exceedingly nutritious food, and will keep fresh for a long time.

    "I would advise all persons who travel for any considerable time through a country where they can procure no vegetables to carry with them some antiscorbutics, and if they can not transport dessicated or canned vegetables, citric acid answers a good purpose, and is very portable. When mixed with sugar and water, with a few drops of the essence of lemon, it is difficult to distinguish it from lemonade. Wild onions are excellent as antiscorbutics; also wild grapes and greens. An infusion of hemlock leaves is also said to be an antidote to scurvy.

    "The most portable and simple preparation of subsistence that I know of, and which is used extensively by the Mexicans and Indians, is called "cold flour." It is made by parching corn, and pounding it in a mortar to the consistency of coarse meal; a little sugar and cinnamon added makes it quite palatable. When the traveler becomes hungry or thirsty, a little of the flour is mixed with water and drunk. It is an excellent article for a traveler who desires to go the greatest length of time upon the smallest amoung ot transportation. It is said that half a bushel is sufficient to subsists a man thirty days

    "Persons undergoing severe labor, and driven to great extremities for food, will derive sustenance from various sources that would never occur to them under ordinary circumstances. In passing over the Rocky Mountains during the winter of 1857-8, our supplies of provisions were enterely consumed in eighteen days before reaching the first settlements in New Mexico, and we were obliged to resort to a variety of expedients to supply the deficiency. Our poor mules were fast failing and dropping down from exhaustion in the deep snows, and our only dependence for the means of sustaining life was upon these starved animals as they became unserviceable and could go no farther. We had no salt, sugar, coffee, or tobacco, which, at a time when men are performing the severest labor that the human system is capable of enduring, was a great privation...A decoction of the dried wild or horsemint, which we found abundant under the snow, was quite palatable, and answered instead of coffee. It dries up in that climate, but does not lose its flavor. We suggered greatly for the want of salt; but, by burining the outside of our mule steaks, and sprinkling a little gunpowder on them, it did not require a very extensive stretch of the imagination to fancy the presence of both salt and pepper. We tried the meat of horse, colt, and mules, all of which were in a starved condition, and of course not very tender, juicy, or nutritious. We consumed the enoumous amount of five to six pounds of this meat per man daily, but continued to grow weak and thin, until, at the expiration of twelve days, we were able to perform but little labor, and were continually craving for fat meat.

    "The allowance of provisions for each grown person, to make the journey from the Missouri River to California, should suffice for 110 days. The following is deemed requisite, viz.: 150 lbs of flour or its equivalent in hard bread; 25 lbs. Of bacon or pork, and enough fresh beef to be driven on the hoof to make up the meat component of the ration; 15 lbs. of coffee, and 25 lbs. of sugar; also a quantity or saleratus or yeast powders for making bread, and salt and pepper.

    "These are the chief articles of subsistence necessary for the trip, and they should be used with economy, reserving a good portion for the western half of the journey. Heretofore many of the California emigrants have improvidently exhausted their stocks of provisions before reaching their journey's and, and have, in many cases, been obliged to pay the most exorbinant prices in makign up the deficiency. It is true that if persons choose to pass through Salt Lake City, and the Mormons happen to be in an amicable mood, supplies may sometimes be procured from them; but those who have visited them well know how little reliance is to be placed upon their hospitality or spirit of accomodation.

    "I once traveled with a party of New Yorkers en route for California. They were perfectly ignorant of every thing relating to this kind of campaigning, and have overloaded their wagons with almost every thing except the very articles most important and necessary; the consequence was, that they exhausted their teams, and were obliged to throw aways the greater part of their loading. They soon learned that Champagne, East India sweetmeats, olives, etc., etc., were not the most useful articles for a prairie tour."
    ---A Hand-Book for Overland Expeditions, Randolph B. Marcy, Captain U.S. Army, [Harper & Brothers:New York] 1859 (p. 30-37)
    [NOTE: This book has been republished as The Prairie Traveler: A Handbook for Overland Expeditions [Corner House:Williamstown MA] 1968. Your librarian will be happy to help you obtain a copy.]

    Recommended reading:

    Was there cold storage?
    Most of what we read about USA wagon train food concentrates on provisioning (food availability) and cooking (building fires, cooking utensils & methods). We find zero information on wagon train folks chilling/cooling foodstuffs. Indeed, the idea of transporting chilled foods from one place to another is a relatively modern concept. Think: scotch plaid Thermos picnic coolers circa 1950s. Sharing notes on popular items we consider "refrigerator" items today.

    How much did this cost?

    How much would these provisions cost today?
    Very doable, but not as easy at is seems. This assignment is one of those tasks that appears simple: compare prices then & now. In reality, the task before you is more complicated. For starters, 19th century America (all 100 yars) witnessed the beginnings of a new monetary system, fledgling prosperity, rampant inflation, the Civil War, the Industrial revolution and massive wealth accumulation. Also, prices are determined by supply and demand. Plentiful New England eggs fetched far different prices from their rare commodity counterparts along the Oregon Trail. Prices, in this context, can take two meanings:



    California Gold Rush

    The foods and recipes of Gold Rush California were as diverse as the people who lived in that place and time. It was a convergence of cultures (Anglo-American, Spanish, Chinese, Mexican etc.) and economic status: sparkling rich to dirt poor. Folks venturing into towns could sample the finest Victorian fare or drink themselves into oblivion on cheap whisky. Camp fare was similar to what the pioneers ate on the Oregon trail: belly-filling foods made with local ingredients (freshly shot game, fruits & vegetables) and store-bought provisions (coffee, beans & bacon). As time progressed, so did the food.
    Sourdough bread was a staple of the forty-niners. Hangtown fry was the culinary icon.

    "With the discovery of gold, California...abruptly changed character. The territory had launched itself upon an agricultural career, but with the gold strike California's farms were abandoned, and so were its towns. As ships from the East Coast reached California, their crews promptly deserted and went gold hunting too; by July 1850, the harbor of San Francisco was clogged with five hundred vessels becalmed for want of crews. San Fransico was promoted from a small village named Yerba Vueina, "good herb," for a local plant with a mint-like flavor, to a thriving, bustling metropolis of 25,000 citizens, mostly miners. In 1849, eighty thousand new gold seekers entered California...Three-quarters of the gold hunters were Americans, bringing with them Anglo-Saxon eating habits destined to overwhelm Spanish-Mexican ideas. The same phenomenon already encountered on a frontier inhabited by a society with no women in the kitchen was now repeated, strengthening the American tendency to neglect culinary niceties: women made up only eight percent of California's new population, and in the mining areas only two percent. The successful prospectors were heavy spenders; they had to be when it came to food, which was outrageously expensive. Since nobody in California wanted to raise it, everything had to be imported. Nevertheless, for unsuccessful, or not yet sucessful prospectors, San Francisco developed, in the 1850s, relatively modest hotels and boarding houses, whose prices were reasonable in their context. Everybody sat down at a common table, and the food was hearty. Meanwhile, for epicurians among those who had struck it rich, a surprising number of French restaurants were opened. The first important one was named Le Poulet d'Or...For the moment, the spectacular potentiality of California as a grwoer of food was neglected. Its new-found riches served chiefly, in this domain, to further developments of Oregon as a food-supplying state, catering to the California gold-rush population."
    ---Eating in America: A History, Waverley Root & Richard de Rochemont [William Morrow:New York] 1976 (p. 176-7)

    "Hundreds of the accounts of westward migration speak either of near-starvation or of having to make do with whatever might be at hand. A forty-niner, writing in his journal, described a meeting with another wagon train: "Their sugar, rice, beans & flour were also out & they had been living on nothing but hard tack & coffee, & coffee and hard tack. They had no shot guns and & of course took no game. This reconciled us, I assure you, & we censured ourselves for our past time growling, & find, instead of suffering, we have been feasting." His group, in fact, had been varying a diet of salt pork with "Jack Ass" rabbits on which, the journal says, "we fared sumptuously."
    ---American Heritage Cookbook and illustrated History of American Eating & Drinking, [American Heritage Publishing Co.: New York] 1964 (p. 57)

    " 'A party recently left Joe's store at Mormon Bar for the Valley, and a friend of the Star furnishes the following statistiics-- showing the amount of "the necessaries of life" which is required for an eight day's trip in the mountains:
    8 lbs potatoes.
    1 bottle whiskey.
    1 bottle pepper sauce.
    1 bottle whiskey.
    1 box tea.
    9 lbs onions.
    2 bottles whiskey.
    1 ham.
    11 lbs crackers.
    1 bottle whiskey.
    1/2 doz. sardines.
    2 bottles brandy, (4th proof.)
    6 lbs sugar.
    1 bottle brandy, (4th proof.)
    1 bottle pepper.
    5 gallons whiskey.
    4 bottles whiskey. (old Bourbon)
    1 small keg whiskey.
    1 bottle of cocktails , (designed for a "starter.")
    From Hutchings' California Magazine, 1860'"
    ---ibid (p. 59)

    Retail food prices , 1849. Compare with Australia's gold rush [Ballarat, Victoria] & Klondike gold [Alaska].


    "No characteristic of gold rush California is so well known as the astronomical prices at which everything seemed to sell. Beefs seven or eight dollars a head in February 1848, sold for twenty-five to one hundred dollars by the summer. A year later, "little of it was to be had, and then only jerked, at correspondingly high prices." Flour, eight dollars a barrel before Marshall's discovery, soared by the summer of 1849 to fifty dollars in San Francisco and eighty-five at Sutter's Fort. The year 1849 also saw bay oysters and eggs available from established californios going at a dollar apiece. In Sacramento potatoes and onions sold at a dollar and a half a pound, and in the mines at least a few of those changed hands for a dollar each, "entirely out of reach as an article of food." In Placerville a plain slice of bread sold for a dollar, a buttered one for two. The Sonora hospital counted out five dollars in gold dust for each six-ounce bottle of lime juice that was purchased. Canned fruits were marked up 2000 percent over retail rates on the eastern seaboard. For dinner at Sacramento on Christmas day, 1849, Catherine Haun paid two and a half dollars for a grizzly bear steak and another dollar for a side of cabbage...Almost all the forty-niners expressed bemusement that vegetables should sell by the pound rather than by the bushel...On September 21, 1849...Dr. Charles Frederick Winslow wrote to associates back east...'Canistered provisions and vegetables and all sorts of fruit are first rate but very expensive in this country.' Flour came from Oregon and Australia. Chile sent beans, China sent rice. Argentina shipped jerky...In July 1850 a ship arrived from Boston loaded with ice that sold for eighty cents a pound...As early as January 1, 1850, well-intergrated grocery companies like Warren & Co. tacked broadsides on pines and oaks of the Sierra slope to announce the opening of such emporia as "the Excelcior tent at Mormon Island." Inside...included 'Pork, Flour, Bread, Beef, Hams, Mackeral, Sugar, Molasses, Coffee, Teas, Butter & Cheese, Pickles, Beans, Peas, Rice, Chocolate, Spices, Salt, Soap, Vinegar, &c,' as well as 'Every variety of Preserved Meats and Vegetables and Fruits [more than eighty different kinds], Tongues and Sounds; Smoked Halibut, Dry Cod Fish; Eggs fresh and fine; Figs, Raisins; Almonds and Nuts; China Preserves, China Bread and cakes; Butter Crackers, Boston Crackers, and many other very desirable and choice bits. No doubt the prices at the Excelsior were as fabulous as those already described. The California dream was, after all, a fortune overnight...Therein lies the clue to the nature of the retail economy of 1849 that is too little recounted in the histories. The provisions market on the California frontier--and on other metal mining frontiers to follow--was not characterized so much by dizzying high prices as by a crazy instability. Prices of every edible from wheaten flour and salt pork to oranges and canned caviar did not start at sky-high levels and only eventually decline to merely high levels. From the beginning they swung widly from absurdly high to (for the merchants) dishearteningly low."
    ---Bacon, Beans, and Galantines: Food and Foodways on the Western Mining Frontier, Joseph R. Conlin [University of Nevada Press:Reno] 1986 (p. 90-95)

    Our research indicates fresh fruits and vegetables were highly prized by some, but not all, miner diners. Local historians generally agree the first commercial enterprises in mining towns centered on food: saloons, makeshift restaurants, boarding houses, and grocery stores. One of the passages below describes a miner who decided his fortune would be better made in fruits and vegetables. The evidence we examined suggests fresh fruits and vegetables (local grown, in season only) were sold both indoors (grocery stores) and outside (fresh from the farm, off a wagon). We find no evidence supporting actual stands/structures constructed specifically for this purpose. Wagons full of fresh produce might have gathered at the edge of town, in sort of farmer's market style. Baskets/crates of fresh produce might have been available both inside and outside grocery stores, depending upon space availability. Not that it would have been any cooler in those days! Then, as today, farmers markets sometimes also sold home-made fresh baked goods and preserves.

    "It is a common misconception about the history of American food habits that we only recently began to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. In part this error is due to the fact that it was indeed just yesterday, after the discovery of vitamins early in the present century, that professional dieticians began to tout them. During the decades just before the discovery of vitamins...the same professionals crusaded against fruit and vegetable eating, particularly among the poor, because fruit and vegetables were a relatively expensive way to fuel up in calories. But the generation of 1849 was not burdened by the counsels of professional dieticians. They made do with their mothers' judgement...Among foods 'discovered' by Americans of the post-World War I period that were common fare during the 1840s were broccoli and artichokes. Other vegetables, of which there are numerous off-handed recipes in the cookbooks and references in the market reports were asparagus, lima beans, haricot or string beans, cucumber, eggplant, mushrooms, okra, rutabagas, salsify, and spinach, as well as tomatoes. It is true that our forebears were inclined to cook their vegetables into a sodden mess, but eating greens and other vegetables raw seems not to have been uncommon. Indeed, whereas the typical European salad of the time was made up exclusively of greens (dressed with oil and vinegar), the common American salad was adventurous by comparison, 'composed' of a variety of vegetables and dressed with sweetish mayonnaise-based liquor much like the substance contemporary bottlers sometimes label 'French Dressing.' The most strident warning against eating 'too many juicy vegetables, such as melons, salads, radishes, etc.' found in the literature of the gold rush is in a traveler's manual written in German...The there were the preserved vegetables and fruits, the supernumerary varieties of preserves, conserves, pickles, relishes, catsups, 'sasses,' jams, and jellies...Commercially preserved foods were making their appearance in 1855, the Mills B. Espy Company of Philadelphia was annually canning twenty thousand pounds of cherries, ten thousands pounds of strawberries, and four thousand bushels of pears, tomatoes, and peaches. The California market for these goods proved to be one of the most lucrative..."
    ---Bacon, Beans, and Galantines, Joseph R. Conlin [University of Nevada Press:Reno] 1986 (p. 15-17)

    "...George Perasich's store on Carson Street [Carson City, NV] [sold] apples, bananas, oranges, berries, nuts as well as celery, lettuce...The fresh fruits and vegetables were received daily during their seasons from tropical, California, and local Nevada sources."
    ---Bacon, Beans (p. 79) [NOTE: this text captions an itemized grocer store bill of sale dated May 1, 1877.]

    "In September 1849 [Edward Austin] wrote his brother to send him seeds for radishes, early cabbage, and head cabbage, early white turnip...'curley lettuce,' carrots, beets, squash, melon, spinach, peas of several varieties, celery, and other garden truck. Overly impatient, he wrote again within a few weeks to say: 'I am not too sanguine when I say I can get off of 10 acres of land at the present prices of vegetables 80,000$.'"
    ---Bacon, Beans (p. 93)

    "[1883] Fresh vegetables from the valley of the Carson are brought daily in their season to the mines...on the market stands of Virginia City...strawberries, apricots, pears, peaches, grapes, apples, figs and all other products of the luxuriant gardens and vineyards which are the boast of the Pacific seaboard cover the counters of the open stalls in luscious heaps."
    ---Bacon, Beans (p. 103)


    Food historians confirm average '49ers did not cook. These male-dominated make-shift communities were served by a variety of inexpensive public eateries.

    "Neither Kenoffel's Spokane Cafe nor Truax's English Kitchen claimed, as so many miners' restaurants did, to be the "one and only," the old original "Delmonico's of the West," "only beter." Like the large majority of mining camp eating houses, they unpretentiously provided ordinary everyday all-American meals fo bacons and eggs, soups, stews, steaks, roast beef, chops, potatoes, --and almost always oysters, of course--and the like for reasonable prices. There never was a day on which an argonaut could not get a substantial fill in San Francisco for a dollar. A full meal in Virginia City could run as little as fifty cents, one dollar for both breakfast and dinner if paid in advance. In rawer camps like Telluride, one-dollar to two-fifty-a-plate was the list price...Saddle Rock Restaurant advertised a dinner for a quarter. The mining towns teemed with cheap eateries. In fact, San Francisco and the rawest camps of the Sierra slope teammed with homey eating houses (or tents). They were "numerious, plentious, inviting and even cheap." Restaurants were among the very first businesses at the scene of every strike. Keeping a public tables was one of the first nonmining occupations to be found in a hundred "No Name cities." A "restaurant rush" followed closely on--when it did not lead in!-- the provisions rush. There are more than a few examples of "starving" forty-niners and Pike's Peakers who allayed their famine not by grubbing on wild plants, snaring beasts, seeking charity, or by fortuitiously buying a sack of flour, but by throwing their weary legs under a table at a not-too-distant restaurant. The reason for this is not obscure. In a society in which domestic cooking remaied woman's work, the first flood of population in every mining region was overwhelmingly male...'There was no such thing as a home to be found. Scarcely even a proper house could be seen. Both dwellings and places fo busines were tiher common canvas tents, or small rough board shanties, for frame buildings of one story...Meals were taken at eating houses, of which there was an immense number in every protion of the town. They were of every descrption, good, bad, and indifferent, and kept by every variety of people...'"
    ---Bacon, Beans, and Galantines: Food and Foodways on the Western Mining Frontier, (p. 152-153)


    Although historians tell us the "grand hotels" of the west were not established in the 1870s there is evidence of "grand dining" in western mining regions prior to this time. The larger the city, the more elegant the dining options. In 1849, however, most Gold Rush towns were just springing onto the map. Saloons, boarding house meals, and crude camp cooking were the norm.

    "Hotels and resorts sprang up, crude at first, but by the 1880's such elaborate affairs as the Del Monte in Monterey, the Raymond in Pasadena, and Coronado in San Diego, all models of Atlantic elegance. This transition began sometime in the early 1870's, although there were traces of it a half-decade before."
    ---Americans and the California Dream 1850-1915, Kevin Starr [Oxford University Press:New York] 1973 (p. 175)

    ""So completely was California inundated with taverns, boarding houses, etc.," wrote an English lady in 1851, that the Golden State could as aptly have been named "the Hotel State."...A miner who arrived in 1849 remembered that "there were any number of eating houses and hotels" in Coloma, where it all began. Red Dog, a camp of only two hundred people in Nevada County, California, had a restaurant featuring "Choice Meals served up at al hours, day or night, in the best style." Indian Bar's Hotel Humboldt added dinner music...meals of oysters...salmon...roast beef, mince pie and pudding and Madiera, claret, and champagne...At Placerville's Cary House, hangtown fry was invented. At its El Dorado Hotel, the fare included beef under specials species, veal, peas, potatoes, sauerkraut, bacon, and hash...As the gateway to the goldfields, San Francisco established early on its enduring reputation as a restaurant city. Hall McAllister and Sam Ward were so disgusted with ship's food when they disembarked from the steamer Panama on June 4, 1849, that they foreswore digging for gold and instead opened a restaurant on Telegraph Hill. At first pork and beans were the only improvement on the Panama's galley they could manage. By December...nearby competitors at the Ward house...had improvised an ingenious menu from available ingredients that included baked trout with anchovy sauce ($1.50), curried sausages ($1), and bread pudding ($.75). Johann Knocke ran another typical restaurant for miners. He opened at five each morning and closed at eleven at night, featuring fishballs (dried fish and boiled potatoes) and "hot cakes done brown" as his specialties...What Cheer served four thousand meals daily. Each day diners consumed twelve hundred eggs, one hundred pounds of butter, five hundred pounds of potatoes, four hundred quarts of milk...In the mining towns, a fine restaurant was one of the ems by which hosts demonstrated to eastern or European guests...that, despite their geographical isolation, they where thoroughly cosmopolitan."
    ---Bacon, Beans, and Galantines (p. 138-148)

    Bill of Fare, What Cheer Restaurant, San Francisco California, mid-19th century
    [NOTE: this was a popular & economical dining room]
    Boiled mutton with oyster sauce, 10 cents
    Roast beef with lima beans, 10 cents
    Pig's feet, soused or in batter, 10 cents
    Beefsteak and onions, with fried potatoes, 10 cents
    Stewed mutton with bread, butter and potatoes, 5 cents
    Buckwheat cakes with honey, 5 cents
    Clam chowder, 5 cents
    Cup of chocolate (hot chocolate), 5 cents
    Chicken pot pie, 20 cents
    Porterhouse steak, 25 cents
    Baked apples, 5 cents
    Stewed prunes, 5 cents
    Mammoth glass of Mason Celebrated Beer, 5 cents
    Roast turkey and currant jelly, 25 cents
    Hot oatmeal mush, 10 cents."
    ---Bacon, Beans, and Galantines, (p. 141)

    Bill of Fare, Ward House (restaurant), San Francisco California, December 27, 1849:
    [NOTE: this was an upscale dining facility.]
    Ox tail soup, 1.00
    Baked trout, white and anchovy sauce, 1.50
    Roast beef, Stuffled lamb or mutton, 1.00
    Pork & apple sauce, 1.25
    Curried sausages, 1.00
    Stewed Kidney, Sauce de Champagne, 1.25
    Beef stewed with onions, 1.25
    Tenderloin lamb, green peas, 1.25
    Baked sweet potatotes, boiled Irish (white) potataoes, cabbage, squash, .50 (each)
    Bread pudding, mince pie, apple pie, cheese, stewed prunes, .75 (each)
    Brandy peach pastry, rum omelette, jelly omelette, 2.00 (each)
    Wine (bottle): champagne, 5.00; Pale sherry, 3.00; Old Madeira, 4.00; Claret, 2.00; Champagne
    cider, 2.00; Ale, 2.00

    How did the '49ner's celebrate July 4th?


    "Given the miners' adventurousness in adopting la cuisine francaise, and the innovation of the free lunch, it is curious that they did not take a keen interest in most of the other "ethnic" foods and modes of prepration to which they were exposed. The argonauts who traveled by sea to California sometimes commented, even favorably now and then, on the way people ate in the Caribbean and in the Latin American ports...But the typical notice of edibles in their diaries dwells on the abundance, lushness, and cheapness of fruits in Sao Paolo, Valparaiso, Acapulco, or whatever. With the occasional exception of the man who prepared "chili" for hist mates, and the appearance of the odd enchilada on the free lunch bars...despite the fact that Chileans and Mexicans were numerous in California--South American and Mexican foods and styles of prepration had little impact on the Californians...To be sure, groups of non-Americans that were large enough on the mining frontier to create the sustain and ethnic community clung to familiar foods and forms of cookery...Italian gold miners...shunned regulation biscuits, cornbread, and sourdough in favor of the classic loaves of their homeland, even though this meant taking considerable pains to construct the beehive oven required to bake them properly...Forty-niners from South Wales had their "dampers"--flour water, and salt dough covered with hardwood coals--which were said to have been durable for a week...Mexicans manning a pack train...cooked tortillas on a hot sheet of iron, frijoles...and "charui fried in hot mantequilla."...eating places considered best in the mining country were run by Germans, French, or Italians, it may be that their menus reflected the national cuisines of their proprietors...Any number of boarding restaurants were well known at the time to cater to specific groups...With the exception of the French...and the Chinese, the Cornish almost alone among mining country ethnic region. Cornish women were reputed to be excellent cooks, peerless in the use of citron, jellies, raisins, currants, and saffron...the enduring popularity of the districts is exceptional...On the face of it, the cocina of the californios, the Hispanics who had California almost to themselves in 1848, should have had a great deal of influence on the arrival of forty-niners...Californio cookery failed to influence the new Californians because few of the latter vistied in the homes of the former and fewer yet were invited...Nor did the somewhat different foodways of the Mexicans who swarmed to California have much effect on the habits of other forty-niners. Even those American gold-seekers who crossed Mexico on their way to California...tended to cling to their own diet and modes of preparation and shun that of the Sonorans. This is worth remark because...some Mexican foods were better adapated to life in the mines that were their American equivalents. Whereas baking saleratus biscuit or sourdough bread required considerable time and a makeshift oven, tortillas could be cooked in a minute on a sheet of iron or flat rock. Refried beans were more easily whipped up than a crock of baked beans...The Americans and at least the English- speaking forty-niners from abroad despised the Mexicans for, among other things, their poverty. They "ate French" because cusines francaise represented to them what the rich ate back East. By the same principle, they were unlikely to adopt the foodways of a people whom they had just defeated in war..."
    ---Bacon, Beans, and Galantines (p. 180-186)

    "Boring diet gave miners appetite for eating out", Sacramento Bee.

    "The Associated Pioneers of the Territorial Days of California held their tenth annual dinner at Martinelli's last evening...The champagne served was a brand from San Francisco, specially procured for the occasion. Under the caption 'To order (if you want it)' were grizzly bear steaks with frijoles, ribs of antelope with tortillas, carne seco with Chili Colorados, fried salt pork with slapjacks, stewed jackass rabbit witbn moscal, mule (rump) steak with hardtack, and mysterious stew a la Chinese. The after-dinner exercises were introduced with a saluation by the President of the Society. The chief toasts were: 'Yerba Buena, the Sandhill Town of '47,'..."
    ---"Old Days in California," New York Times, January 20, 1885 (p. 4)

    What did the Chinese miners eat?
    Food historians confirm early Chinese immigrants arrived with edible supplies. They quickly established a viable import/export route to ensure a steady supply of traditional comestibles. Chinese merchants established stores in gold-mining towns. In addition to standard "American" groceries, these stores stocked special provisions of interset only to the Chinese residents.

    "Before leaving China, the immigrants packed provisions for the journey, including rice, dried seafood and sausages and ceramic jars of condiments like soy sauce and pickled vegetables. Although these provisions ran out quickly after landing in California, the new arrivals did not have to adopt the local pork-and-beans-based American diet. By the early 1950s, San Francisco was home to a number of Chinese stores specializing in products from the Middle Kingdom, including 'hams, tea, dried fish, dried ducks, and other...Chinese eatables, besides copper-pots and kettles.' An 1856 directory of the city's Chinese quarter listed thirty-three stores selling 'General Merchandise, Groceries, &c.' These merchants ordered their wares either directly from China or from the big import-export firms that were already established...In 1873, the journalist Albert S. Evans recorded the cargo of a ship whose wares were destined for San Francisco merchants: '90 packages cassia,' 940 packages coffee; 30 packages dried fish, cuttle-fish, shark's fins, ets.;...2,755 packages rice; 1,238 packages sundries,--chow-chow [probalby pickles], preserved fruit, salted melons-seeds, dried ducks, pickled duck's eggs, cabbage sprouts in brine, candied citron, dates, dwarf oragnes, ginger, smoked oysters, and a hundred other Chinese edibles and table luxuries; 824 packages sugar...203 packages sago and tapioca; 5,463 packages tea...' This was a culinary bounty that could easily supply a gourmet restaurant in Hong Heong; all they needed to complete their banquets were fresh meat and produce (and even the imported 'dwarf oranges,' either mandarins or kumquats, may have been fresh). The San Franciso import-eport firms either sold the ingredients on this list to local restaurants and groceries or shipped them to Chinese stores in the new settlements that were arising in the foothills. in Chew Lung's store in the Chinese mining camp at Camanche...nearly every item--including the scales, cooking pots, bowls, tobacco, rice, tea, sugar, ginger, and cooking oil--came from across the Pacific. The exceptions were the gin and the salt fish, which may have been a local product."
    ---Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, Andrew Coe [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2009 (p. 118-119)

    "The place of the Chinese in the food history of the mining West is...enigmatic...To many Caucasians of the mining frontier...Chinese in the kitchen were reviled as "filthy Chinese cooks."...On the other hand, it is clear that Chinese were often actively sought as cooks in private homes and in restaurants serving sturdy, conventional American fare. Chinese restaurants, too, were popular from San Francisco to the remotest mining camp...Economics explains the ubiquity of the Chinese in home kitchens, conventional hash houses, and boarding restaurants...Despite the sinophobia of the mining West, restaurants run by Chinese and serving Cantonese fare, both "chop suey joints" and fine restaurants, were also quite popular. Within a few yars of his arrival with the first wave of gold-seekers, San Francisco's Tsing Tsing Lee built the Balcony of Golden Joy and Delight into a restaurant seating four hundred customers at a time...While originally intended for Chinese patrons, these restaurants soon attracted Occidental customers. Like boarding house restaurants in the mining towns, most Chinese restaurants appear to have charged a flat price for 'all you can eat."...In part, Chinese restaurants were popular because they were cheap...Imported ingredients such as sauces, dried oysters and abalone, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and noodles were expensive. Nevertheless, by the 1860s, Chinese importers were paying half a million dollars a year in comparatively low duties on such goods. Morever, Cantonese cooks showed incredible adapting to local ingredients."
    ---Bacon, Beans, and Galantines (p. 187-192)

    About Chinese restaurants in the United States & Chop suey.

    Klondike Gold Rush [Alaska]
    Most gold rush foodways begin on a very basic scale. Early pioneering miners packed foods and cooked over fires. As more people arrived, so did the food and dining options.
    California Gold Rush sources confirm many folks made their fortunes supplying groceries and/or opening saloons and boarding houses. Until women arrived at the camps, most of this "guy grub" was pretty basic. As communities grew, family homes and finer dining options meant more choices and better quality.

    "In 1896 the Klondike and other gold fields were discovered, and prospectors from the lower "Forty-Eight" streamed into Alaska. Along with the gold rush came sourdough starter, which was used as leavening for biscuits, bread, and panckaes in the days before commercial yeast became available. Made of a mixture of sugar, flour, water, and usually a few boiled potatoes, a little sourdough starter was added to each batch of dough to make it light and fluffy...Alaskan sourdough specialties include poppy-seed potato-bread, caraway-studded rye bread, whole-wheat bread, and French bread. Other food necessities of the "Sourdoughs," the nickname given to the Alaska gold prospectors, were bacon, salt pork, lard, and coffee or tea. Most miners' food was dull and monotonous since little food was grown in Alaska at the time and only the basic necessities were shipped...Alaskan pioneer created substitutes for foods not readily available in Alaska. Sea-gull eggs replaced chicken eggs. Clover and other flowers were boiled into a syrup to produce squaw honey, since there were no bees in Alaska. Relishes were made from kelp, and moose fat was often used in cooking."
    ---Taste of the States, Hilde Gabriel Lee [Howell Press:Charlottesville VA] 1992 (p. 277-8)

    Recommended reading: Gold Rush Grub/Ann Chandonnet... How much did the food cost?

    Civil War-era foodways

    Food historians tell us during the American Civil War the civilians/soldiers of the north generally ate better than the civilians/soldiers of the south. They also tell us the Southern plantation owner's family ate quite differently from its slaves. Members of the Gullah-Geechee community, Ohio factory workers, wealthy Boston merchants, New Orleans Acadians, New Jersey Swedes, Pennsylvania "Dutch," and Maine whaling sailors all preferred/enjoyed/ate different foods. In a nation populated by settlers from many lands there was (as is today) no "typical" breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. At the same time? The Industrial Revolution was making it possible to preserve (cans, bottles) and distribute (railroads) large quantities of food to a greater number of consumers. Indianapolis-based Van Camp's Packing Company supplied canned pork and bean rations to the Union Army.

    Most mid-19th century American cookbooks do not contain menus for typical meals. Some contain suggestions for dinner parties and holiday feasts. Here is a sample week's suggested bill of fare for middle class families in Philadelphia, 1853. Be wary of books/Web sites that oversimplify the topic. If you want to identify authentic popular mid-19th century foods you can scan these sites...

    Confederate Receipt Book [1863]
    Cookery as it Should Be, Mrs. Goodfellow [Philadelphia:1865]
    Bill of Fare, Lincoln's 2nd Inauguration Ball [1865]
    Civil war corn bread
    Civil War Interactive Cookbook (good for re-enactors; offers selected modernized recipes and cooking notes)
    Civil War food prices

    Primary account of early 19th century Northern Virginia middle class foodways


    Recommended reading:

    What did the Pony Express riders eat?
    The Pony Express, delivering mail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, operated from April 3, 1860 to October 24, 1861, when the Pacific Telegraph line rendered it obsolete. In nineteen short months an American legend was born. Wirey young riders delivering mail with unprecedented speed captured the world's attention and iconofied the American West spirit of adventure.

    The Pony Express valued one goal above all others: speed. Their riders had no time to carouse, no chuckwagon cookie calling them to dinner, and few towns dotting their Overland Route. Traveling lightly to maximize horsepower, riders carried no camping/cooking gear. We wonder: where did these riders dine, and what did they eat?

    The operators of this cutting edge company were brilliant and methodical. They estimated a horse could ride top speed with a small rider for approximately 10-15 miles. Which meant? They needed fresh mounts poised from beginning to end at these intervals. A two-tiered system of transfer stations was established. They were composed of "relay" (horse transfer only) and "home" (place to stay, meals served). These stations were operated by a variety of hosts ranging from established innkeepers to sod huts with dirt floors. Hosts, sometimes with families, were former military men, disengaged Overlanders, local merchants, and established farmers of American, French, Scottish, English, German, Irish, Native American half breeds, and French Canadian descent. Several were Mormons who decided not to continue to their original destination. Foods served reflected kitchen accommodations, home country cuisine, indigenous ingredients, seasonal availability and the mood of the cook.

    The following excerpts were published in Saddles and Spurs: The Pony Express Saga, Raymond W. Settle and Mary Lund Settle [Stackpole Company:Harrisburg PA] 1955

    "The riders were paid, on the average, $50 per month, board and room. East of Fort Kearny the home stations and meals were about what they had always known at home. West of that, however, both were incredibly primitive" (p. 43)

    "The pivotal stations along the rout were the home stations. These were generally old stage stations, were better equipped, housed at least two riders, the station keeper, and from two to four stock tenders. Some of them were also home stations for stage drivers. Each marked the end of a rider's run where he met another traveling in the opposite direction. Several spare horses were kept at home stations, as well as supplies and surplus equipment. The others, known as relay stations, were occupied by the keeper and a stock tender. Their job was to care for the three or four horses stationed there and have one ready, day or night, for the next rider who came along. From St. Joseph to Fort Kearny, Fort Bridger to Rush Valley, and from Carson City to Sacramento most of the stations were located in fairly good country and were reasonably comfortable. All others were situated in deserts where conditions were unbelievably harsh and difficult. Some of these were constructed of adobe bricks ain the middle of endless, dreary wastes, and others of loose stones in isolated, treeless canyons and unnamed hills...All of theme, except the most favorably located, had dirt floors; window glass was unknown; the beds were pole bunks built against the walls, and the furniture consisted of boxes, benches, or anything else the ingenuity of the occupants could contrive. Most of them had water nearby...and the stable for the horses was only a few feet distant from the quarter of the men. The food provided [at] the stations was not of a quality designed to tickle the palate of an epicurean. It consisted of cured meats, mostly bacon, dried fruits, beans, baked bread upon the spot, molasses, pickles, corn meal when it could be had, and coffee. Fresh meat was a rarity, even in regions where wild animals were numerous, because nobody had the time to hung. Sometimes the wagon trains, which appeared about once a month with supplies, brought along a few delicacies, but these were never plentiful. Those trains also hauled hay and grain for the horses, and space was always at a premium. Nobody thought of stinting them [the horses], no matter what the cost might be, or how short rations for the men were...In the beginning, when the runs were made only once a week, they had about six days of delightful leisure there every other week.." (p. 115-117)

    After the service was made bi-weekly [Pony Express riders] had little time for the sights and pleasures of city life. Short lay-overs for rest was all they got." (p. 117)

    "The first stations beyond Elwood, Kansas was Troy. Next came Cold Springs, a Pony Express relay station. Here lived a family consisting of a mother who cooked the meals, two daughters who served them and tow sons who acted as stock tenders." (p. 118)

    "...after Long Chain was Seneca, the first Pony Express home station, 77 miles west of St. 1858...John E. Smith built a large two-story house...and opened a hotel...When the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company began using this route, it became a stage station and the place was filled with guests almost every night. It was poplar with Pony Express riders because Mrs. Smith set a splendid table and many dances and other entertainments were held." (p. 119)

    "George Guittard kept the station which was known by his name on the Vermillion River. Prior to Pony Express days he had been forced to abandon his journey to California for lack of funds and had settled there. The place was well known from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast. Here, as well as at all stations east of Fort Kearney, the mainstay for food was bacon, eggs, hot rolls and coffee. Sometimes chicken and beef were served, but not often. Vegetables also formed a part of the menu, but the farther west one traveled the more scarce they became." (p. 119-120)

    "The fame of Mrs. Moore, wife of the station keeper at Three Crossings, home station for stage drivers and Pony Express riders, as an excellent housekeeper and cook..." (p. 135)

    "Butte Station...building was some thirty feet long, was built of stones with mud between them...The inside was divided into two rooms by canvas partition. One of these was provided with two bunks for four men. Beneath them were rubbish, harness, saddles, sacks of wheat, oats, meal, and potatoes. In fact the room did double duty as a be and storage room. The other room had a spring under one corner of the wall and a huge fireplace. The furniture consisted of log benches, three legged stools, and a large table made of rough planks. Upon a smaller one near the fireplace was a tin coffee pot, iron knives, forks, and pewter spoons...A shelf beside the door held a tin bucket, wash basin, and a tin can for a dipper." (p. 141)

    "Strawberry which had nothing to do with that well known fruit, was so called because travelers said that the keeper, a man named Berry, fed their horses straw instead of hay for which they were charged." (p. 143)

    English Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, traveling along the Pony Express route, chronicled detailed descriptions of the food he encountered. Captain Burton was a wealthy man famous for his global travels. The American West was, at that time, as exotic as Mecca. It is obvious Captain Burton was accustomed to finer dining and more civilized accommodations. Pardoning his disdain for American-style frontier dining, the Captain's observations were likely quite accurate. Hardy western settlers were a hungry lot unemcumbered by the conventions of haute cuisine. One man's famine is another's feast. At any rate, the Captain's pricing notes are gold. These excerpts from the Captain's journals were published in Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express/Christopher Corbet [Broadway Books:New York] 2003

    "'A weary drive over a rough and dusty road, through chill night air and clouds of mosquitoes...placed us about 10P.M. at Rock, also called Turkey Creek...After half an hour's dispute about who should do the work, they produced cold scraps of mutton and a kind of bread which deserves a totally distinct generic name. The strongest stomachs of the party made tea, and found some milk which was not more than one quarter flies. This succulent meal was followed by the usual douceur. On this road, however mean or wretched the fare, the station-keeper, who is established by the proprietor of the line, never derogates by lowering the price.'" (p. 99)

    " Cold Spring Station...'the humans, observing that a 'beef' had been freshly killed, supped up an excellent steak." (p. 99)

    "Nearly all occasions to dine filled [Burton] wish disgust. Burton enthusiastically describes the horrors of breakfast in western Nevada...'at Cotton Wood Station, we proceeded by means of an 'eye opener,' which even the abstemious judge could not decline, and the use of the 'skillet,' to prepare for a breakfast composed of various abominations, especially cakes of flour and grease, molasses and dirt, disposed in the pretty equal parts. After paying the usual $0.50, we started in the high wind and dust...The unsavory fare along the route whetted Burton's appetite for complaint. 'After satisfying hunger with vile bread and viler coffee...for which we paid 0.75...We dined at Plum Creek on buffalo, probably bull beef, the worst and driest meat, save elk, that I have ever tasted, indeed, without the assistance of pork fat, we found it hard to swallow.' Burton dismissed the reports of western travelers about the delights of eating buffalo steaks. 'The voyageurs and travelers who cry up the buffalo as delicious, have been living for weeks on rusty bacon and lean antelope.' he added. At Lodge-Pole Creek, the travelers attempted to eat antelope meat, which caused dyspepsia. Near Chimney Rock in western Nebraska, a welcome landmark for travelers crossing the prairies, the Burton party made to with 'a frugal dinner of biscuit and cheese.'" (p. 104-105)

    "Breakfast never failed to disappoint Burton...In the endless reaches of western Nebraska, he had yet another bad breakfast upon landing at a station kept by Germans...'For a breakfast cooked in the usual manner, coffee boiled down to tannin...meat subjected to half sod, half stew, and lastly, bread, raised with sour milk corrected with soda, and so baked that the taste of the flour is ever prominent, we paid...$0.75.' a station near Fort Laramie...'Our breakfast was prepared in the usual prairie style. First the coffee--three parts burnt beans--which had been duly ground to a fine powder and exposed to the air, lest the aroma should prove too strong for us, was placed on the stove to simmer till every noxious principle was duly extracted from it. Then the rusty bacon, cut into thick slices, was thrown into the fry-pan; here the gridiron is unknown, and if known, would be little appreciated, because it wastes the 'drippings,' which form the staff of life in a luxurious sop. Thirdly, antelope steak, cut off a corpse suspended for the benefit of the flies outside, was placed to stew within influence of the bacon's aroma. Lastly came the bread, which of course should have been 'cooked' first. The meal is kneaded with water and a pinch of salt; the raising is down by means of a little sour milk, or more generally by the deleterious yeast-powders of the trade. The carbonic acid gas evolved by the addition of water must be corrected and the dough must be expanded by saleratus or prepared carbonate of soda and alkali, and other vile stuff, which communicates to the food a green-yellow tinge, and suggests many of the properties of poison. A hundredfold better, the unpretending chapati, flapjack scone, or as the Mexicans prettily call it, 'tortilla'! The dough after being sufficiently manipulated up a long, narrow smooth board is divided into 'biscuits' and 'doughnuts,' and finally it is placed to be half cooked under the immediate influence of the rusty bacon and gaveloent antelope. 'Uncle Sam's stove,' be it said with every reference for the honoured name it bears, is a triumph of convenience, cheapness, unwholesomeness and nastiness--excuse the word, nice reader. This travelers' bane has exterminated the spit and gridiron, and makes everything taste like its neighbour by virtue of it, mutton borrows the flavor of salmon-trout, tomatoes resolve themselves into greens--I shall lose my temper if the subject is not dropped.'" (p. 105-106)
    [NOTES: (1) "Rusty" bacon in this context likely means rancid. (2) "Uncle Sam's Oven" described above approximates the "Dutch Oven," a ubiquitous, versatile cooking pot. (3) "sour milk biscuits" are most likely soda biscuits, a quick bread popular in frontier kitchens, both inside and camp, without traditional ovens. (4) According to the Measuring Worth inflation calculator, 50 cents in the USA/1860 would be equivalent to $13.30 in 2009. 75 cents equates to $20.00. A hefty price for breakfast, yes?]

    Much of what we know about slave foodways comes from archeological evidence, primary accounts (journals, letters, travel notes), and literature. Many traditional foods and recipes were brought from West Africa. People cook what they know. Additional foods and cooking methods were adopted from European and Native American cuisines. The amount and type of foods consumed by slaves depended upon many factors. Master's practices, age, job, ingenuity, and season all played vital roles.

    What did the slaves eat on board ships heading for the New World?

    "Slave ship cargoes brought crops directly from Africa to North America for enslaved Africans to consume during their passage to the New World under the transatlantic slave trade. These crops included several basic starches central to the African diet, for instance rice, okra, tania, black-eyed peas, cassava, yams, and kidney and lima beans. Other crops brought from Africa included peanuts (originally from South America), millet, sorghum, guinea melon, liquorice, watermelon, and sesame (benne). Over time, these foods found their way into American footways and became a basic component of southern cuisine. Without question, yams were the most common African staple fed to enslaved Africans on board ships bound for the Americas. The slave merchant John Barbot, for example, noted that "a ship that takes in 500 slaves, must provide above 100,000 yams," or roughly 200 per person. The ship logs of the slave vessel Elizabeth, bound for Rhode Island in 1754, listed provisions of "yams, plantain, bread [cornbread], fish and rice." In another example, the account books of the slave ship Othello (1768-69) listed hundreds of baskets of yams taken on board as provisions along with lesser quantities of plantains, limes, pepper, palm oil, and gobbagobs (goobers or peanuts). One enslaved African told a free black in Charleston about the food eaten on the slave ship that brought him to America: "We had nothing to eat but yams, which were thrown amongst us at random--and of those we had scarcely enough to support life. More than a third of us died on the passage, and when we arrived at Charleston, I was not able to stand." The African yam, which is similar to the American "sweet potato," remained a popular food among slaves and whites alike. To this day roasted and sugared yams and "sweet potato pie" are favourite southern delicacies--both having their origins in African slavery. Black-eyed peas, which are actually beans, also were used as food on the slave voyages, and enslaved Africans in the Caribbean thereafter consumed these easily cultivated beans as a basic food."
    African Crops and Slave Cuisine, Joseph E. Holloway, Ph.D.,California State University Northridge

    "Although some European foods were acceptable, experience taught slave traders that Africans did better when they were fed foods that they were accustomed to eating. The Henrietta Marie may have stopped for yams, as they were thought to be the most suitable food for people from the Calabar region. Some 50,000 yams would have been necessary to feed the 200 slaves aboard the Henrietta Marie, and it would have taken about one week to fully provision her for the voyage. Africans were usually fed twice daily. Two cook stoves were found aboard the Henrietta Marie, one large one which was probably used to feed sailors and slaves, and this smaller one, possibly used in the officer's quarters."
    ---Henrietta Marie slave ship (primary source material)

    "...The diet of the Negroes while on board, consists chiefly of horse beans boiled to the consistency of a pulp; of boiled yams and rice and sometimes a small quantity of beef or pork. The latter are frequently taken from the provisions laid in for the sailors. They sometimes make use of a sauce composed of palm-oil mixed with flour, water and pepper, which the sailors call slabber-sauce. Yams are the favorite food of the Eboe or Bight Negroes, and rice or corn of those from the Gold or Windward Coast; each preferring the produce of their native soil...Upon the Negroes refusing to take sustenance, I have seen coals of fire, glowing hot, put on a shovel and placed so near their lips as to scorch and burn them. And this has been accompanied with threats of forcing them to swallow the coals if they any longer persisted in refusing to eat. These means have generally had the desired effect. I have also been credibly informed that a certain captain in the slave-trade, poured melted lead on such of his Negroes as obstinately refused their food...."
    ---Alexander Falconbridge's account of the slave trade (primary source material, 1788)

    What did the slaves eat when they arrived in America?

    "It is difficult to assess the abundance or the quality of average Southern food in the absence of an average Southerner--that is, a member of the middle class, for there was not much middle class to occupy the wide gap between the plantation owner and the poor white, a group which already existed in those times and could hardly expect to rise to any comfortable standards of living in competition with the unpaid labor of slaves. The famous "hog and hominy" diet was at least rendered a little less unhealthy by the prevalence on the Southern menu of greens, often ignored by food writers, perhaps as a food so lowly as to be unworthy of their attention, but providers of vitamins all the same. A significant passage in Frederick Law Olmsted's Seabord Slave States, a product of his travels of the 1850s, suggests that slaves may have enjoyed a diet better balanced than that of may whites. Olmsted remarked that the more modest Southern planters lived on bacon (sometimes cooked with turnip greens), corn pone, coffee sweetened with molasses, and not much else, while their slaves had corn meal and salt pork, plus sweet potatoes of their own raising in the winter. Some owners encouraged the Negroes to grow vegetables for themselves also, because thy discovered that "negroes fed on three-quarters of a pound of bread and bacon are more prone to disease than if with less meat but with vegetables." It did not occur to the masters to draw any conclusions from this empirical observation for their own benefit."
    ---Eating in America: A History, Waverly Root & Richard de Rochemont [William Morrow and Company:New York] 1976 (p. 145)

    "Corn and pork were Southern staples of diets for both master and slave. The master might have delicate puddings and hot breads, rich with eggs and cream, and thin slices of choice smoked ham, while his slaves at mush and chitlins; but it was still corn and pork. The rations issued in "The Quarters" were likely to be light on meat, with hominy or swet potatoes added to the ration of cornmeal. On some plantations work was assigned by task. Workers who finished early might have the rest of the day to fish or hunt, to work in their own vegetable gardens, or to tend their own livestock, varying, when possibly, the monotonous rations. From the big house rations plus what the slaves could grow, hunt, or catch for themselves, grew the beginnings of the cuisine we today call "soul food"."
    ---Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cook Book [Meredith Corporation:New York] 1975 (p. 145)
    [NOTE: this book contains several popular period recipes adapted for modern kitchens]

    "The cultivation of their own crops by slaves during the free time that they task system afforded them made a strong impression on white observers. Johann Bolzius cxplained that "they are given as much land as they can handle" and that "they plant for themselves also on Sundays." Hans Trachsler, a German visitor to Carolina, noted the slaves' system of self-provisioning by explaining how "these people arew worth a high price because they are much more able to do the work and much cheaper to keep in food and drink than the Europeans."...Reflecting their extensive backcountry interaction with Native Americans, slaves leavened with West African diet with a number of Native American methods of food acquisition...Janet Schaw, a visitor to Carolina, noted that "Negroes are the only people that seem to pay any attention to the various uses that the wild vegetables may be put to." Slaves routinely shot and ate opossum, deer, rabbits, and raccoon...Carolina slaves further supplemented their diet with ample amounts of fish...In addition to corn, rice, beans, and pumpkins, archaeological excavations have unearthed evidence of peach pits, walnuts, and grape seeds...For all the abundance of grains, vegetables, and fruit that slaves grew in their "little piece[s] of land," domestic animals were virtually nonexistent. For meat, they depended on their masters, and their masters proved to be less than reliable--if not completely negligent--suppliers. One slave overseer mentions that slaves "never had any meat except at Christmas." Excavations show almost no proof of domestic beef or pork. "If a master wishes," Bolzius explained, "He gives them a little meat when he slaughters," but otherwise "their food is nothing but Indian corn, beans, pounded rice, potatoes, pumpkins."
    ---A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America, James E. McWilliams [Columbia University Press:New York] 2005 (p. 158-162)
    [NOTE: This book contains far more information than can be paraphrased here. Your librarian will be happy to help you obtain a copy.]

    Recommended Web sites

    Recommended reading

    Related topic? Soul food.

    Cowboy cooking

    How can you learn about "Cowboy Recipes" that were served by chuckwagons in the 19th Century American West? There are several books, Web sites, reenactor groups, and museums you can tap for authentic (and adapted) recipes as well as cooking techniques (Dutch Oven, for example). There is even an annual chuck wagon gathering where you can sample the fare for yourself. Are you writing a report for school? Working on a Boy Scout merit badge? Collecting details for a historic novel? Establishing a foodways program in a living history museum? The amount of information you need depends upon your project. The following sources will get you started:

    Charles Goodnight & Oliver Loving (from Texas) are credited with *inventing* the chuckwagon in 1866 in order to accomodate the gustatory needs of American cowboys: "The nature of the cook's job required that he get up several hours earlier than the cowhands, so he worked longer hours with less sleep. When the outfit was on the move, he had to be at the next appointed camp and have a hot meal ready on time."

    Recommended reading--your local public librarian can help you find these:

    Chuck Wagon Cookin': An authentic collection of roundup lore, cowboy humor and more than one hundred old-time recipes, Stella Hughes
    ...excellent source for modernized recipes
    Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries, David Dary history and social details
    Eating up the Santa Fe Trail, Sam'l P. Arnold
    ...original recipes with modern adaptations, history and lore
    The Old West Baking Book, Lon Walters
    ...old-time recipes adapted for modern ovens (cowboys enjoyed biscuits on the trail, pies & cakes would have been baked back at the ranch)
    Up the Trail from Texas, by J. Frank Dobie
    ...chapter titled "The Cook and his Chuckwagon" which explains what, how, when, where and why Cowboys ate the foods they did.

    How did chuckwagon cooks make their beans?
    Mid-19th century bean dishes were made with dried beans, often pinto. These required hours of soaking before they could be cooked. Think:
    Boston baked beans. How did the chuckwagon cooks have these ready and waiting for hungry cowboys at meal time?

    "According to J. Frank Dobie in Up the Trail From Texas, the chuck wagon, the travelling commissary from which the trail-driving cowboys and horse wranglers were fed, appeared to be a good many years after the first post-Civil War drives....The chuck wagon itself evolved from the cart, sometimes driven by oxen, which carried the personal gear of the crew and the trail boss, and a few pots of beans cooked on the overnight stops...On the drives, the cook hurried the chuck wagon forward past the slow-moving cattle to set up at the next planned stopping place and have food ready for the drivers when they arrived. He needed a good head start to give him time to bake the omnipresent red Mexican beans ("prairie strawberries," the cowboys called them)."
    ---Eating in America: A History, Waverly Root & Richard de Rochemont [Morrow:New York] 1976 (pps. 199-200)

    "The first wagons on the trail did not have built-in chuck boxes, but they had plenty of room for iron pots containing cooked beans. Beans for supper had to be cooked the preceding night."
    ---Up the Trail, J. Frank Dobie [Random House:New York] 1955 (p. 98)
    This [children's] book has an entire chapter on "The Cook and His Chuck Wagon"

    "Cookie worked long hours. Rising before the crew, he had the breakfast fire blazing and coffee on by 3 or 4 in the morning. As soon as the meal was cleared, he packed and rode on ahead to make evening camp and had supper ready when bone-weary cowboys straggled in."
    ---Sunset Magazine, May 1993 (p.75)

    "By mid-afternoon it was not unusual for the cook driving the chuck wagon to push on ahead to the night's campsite."
    ---Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries, David Dary [Univerersity of Kansas:Lawrence KS] 1989 (p. 191)

    Period bean recipe

    "Pork and Beans
    --Take two quarts of dried white beans, (the small ones are best,) pick out any imperfections, and put them to soak in cold water, more than to cover them, let them remain one night; the next day, about two hours before dinner time, throw off the water; have a pound of nicely corned pork, a rib piece is best; put the beans in an iron dinner-pot; score the rind or skin of the pork, in squares or diamonds, and lay it on the beans, put in hot (not boiling) water to them, add a small dried red pepper, or a saltspoon-ful of cayenne; cover the pot close, and set it over a gentle fire for one hour; then take a tin basin, or earthen pudding-pan, rub the inside over with a bit of butter, and nearly fill it with the boiled beans, lay the pork in the centre, pressing it down a little; put small bits of butter over the beans, dredge a little flour oer them, and the pork, and set it in a moderately hot oven, for nearly one hour..."
    ---Mrs. Crowen's American Lady's Cook Book [New York] 1847 (p. 115)

    How about a cowboy picnic?
    Students studying the old west will probably enjoy sampling some of the foods cowboys ate. The level of achievable authenticity depends upon school policy and other practical issues. Can you dig a pit on school grounds and cook on an open fire outside? Using a real dutch oven to make your stew and a spider (frying pan with legs) to fry up corn dodgers would be very cool. If not, canned goods heated in the school cafeteria, in a classroom crockpot or prepared at home and brought to class are just fine.

    If you are not able to cook outdoors, that's okay. This also presents an excellent learning opportunity. Cowboy meals were lessons in "making do" and adaptability. Chuckwagon cooks used Dutch ovens and open fires; you use a crockpot plugged into a classroom socket. The methods are different but the reasons are exactly the same...because the cook HAD to! The results? Tasty, nutritious, belly-filling food.

    You know best what your students like to eat. Work with that. If someone is kosher, skip the pork. If someone is allergic to cinnamon (or any other spice), skip that. If they are daring? Add chiles. If some of your students refuse the beans? Fine! According to primary accounts, many cowboys hated them too. These students will appreciate (most of all) the lesson of eat it or starve.


    Grades K-4:
    Students need to know about Charles Goodnight's invention of the chuckwagon. Many cowboys served in the war and were already accustomed to crude outdoor cooking. A good meal was one that filled the belly. Canned goods proliferated during the Civil War and were frequently used by cowboy cooks.

    SUGGESTED MENU: A simple chili (canned beans, canned tomatoes & spices), pork & beans (Van De Camps is period-correct), beef stew (canned or fresh)with buttermilk biscuits and apple pie for dessert is fine. Whiskey and coffee are obviously not appropriate beverages, but you could substitute root beer, birch beer or sarsparilla (period-correct and non-alcoholic). Buy them in bottles at your local supermarket (bottles are period-correct, cans are not). If you prefer a hot beverage you can use cocoa. Mix with water.

    Grades 5-8:
    Students are ready for more details about the life of the cowboy and want to know why certain foods eaten (beans because they were plentiful, economical, nutritious, filling, and traveled well)and how they were cooked (dried beans were soaked all day in a bucket hanging from the back of the wagon and cooked midday for dinner) and how they were served (pewter plates & mugs). They will be interested in learning about the life of the "cookie" or chuckwagon cook.

    SUGGESTED MENU: Pork & beans (made from real dried beans and chunks of salt pork), chili (made from real dried beans, canned tomatoes and spices), beef stew, corn dodgers (quick fried corn cakes), biscuits, beef jerky (store-bought), apple pie. Same beverages as above.

    Grades 9-12:
    Students can study this project from scientific, health/nurtrition and cultural perspectives.

    1. Scientific--inventions (history of canning & baking soda/powder), processing (how to make beef jerky), cooking technology (how do dutch ovens work?), ingredient availability (did the cowboys in Montana eat the same things as the cowboys in New Mexico?)
    2. Health/nutrition--were these meals balanced? (compare contemporary RDAs to what was typically eaten), identify possible health problems (scurvy, rickets etc.)
    3. Cultural--How might religious and ethnic preferences affect cowboy eating patterns?
    SUGGESTED MENU: Chili, pork/beans (made as above), beef stew (made fresh with potatoes, carrots & onions), corn bread or dodgers (homemade on a hot griddle), home fries with onions, sourdough bread (this takes time and also provides another science lesson), apple pie, lemon pie, beef jerky (want to make your own?) and same beverages as above.
    Need an expert?
    National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK has an extensive research center which owns several primary documents on cowboy cooking. This organization also sponsors the Western Chuck Wagon Association's annual chuck wagon gathering (Memorial Day weekend).
    Old West saloon fare

    "In 1865, a Chicago restauranteur was still able to offer wild boar's steak, boned wild turkey, patties of quail, aged bear's paws in burgundy sauce, ragout de coon, and squirrel pie. While frontiersmen heartily approved of this fare, foreigners often complanied that, in the absence of ice, the meat generally was in an advanced stage of decomposition, its taste disguised with hot sauces and pepper. Customers suffered...Englishmen and Frenchmen bemoaned the lack of fresh food. Coffee, to the foreigners' disgust, was often a brew made of brown bread, acorns, dandelion roots, barley, and snuff...From 1860 on, food in the out-of-the-way places became somewhat standardized. For breakfast a tin cup and plate were filled with coffee, "sowbelly," bread, and syrup. Lunch, and dinner again, consisted of bread and steak, the steaks being generally overcooked and hard as stone...Lamb fries and Rocky Mountain oysters...slightly shirred in the pan, or roasted in the ashes of a campfire until they "popped," were considered a delicacy. Rattlesnake meat was fancied by some and said to taste like the white meat of chicken. Dried, pale beans known as Arizona strawberries were the only vegetable besides corn and squash in certain areas of the Southwest...Some people said that western saloon food was confined to the "Basic Four B's'--sourdough biscuits, beans, beef, and bacon ("overland trout" in cowboyese). Wild onions were sometimes served as a side dish "against scurvy." The chief complaint of travelers was the scarcity of vegetables...Coffee was the universal drink...

    "Westerners ate to fill the belly, not for pleasure. Food was Food. One california traveler cheerfully commented: 'We are now ready to replenish the inner man. The bar is convenient for those who wish to imbibe. Breakfast is announced. We seat ourselves at the table. Before us is a reasonable quantity of beans, pork, and flapjacks served up in tin plates. Pea tea, which the landlord calls coffee with a bold emphasis, is handed to us. We help yourselves to such other things as may be in reach. Neither spices, sauces, nor seasonings are necessary to accomodate them to the palate. Our appetites need not nursing. The richest condiments are the poorest provisions.'...

    Table manners were atrocious by European standards. Food was wolfed down with a speed that astounded the foreigner. At saloons that were also stagecoach stations, with only a limited time avaialble for a stopover, it was every man for himself. A run was made for the table set out smorgasbord fashion, guests elbowing and trampling each other, devouring everything in sight in record time...Things were no different on the northwest coast: 'They breakfast in the middle of the night, dine when they aught to be breakfasting and take supper when they should be dining; and the "feed" is most distasteful--all noise,dirt, grease, mess, slop, confusion, and disorder; chunks of meat of all kinds and no flavor, placed in plates, and "sot" on the table; and before you have time to look at your meat, a piece of very flat pie, with a doughy crust, and dried fruit inside is placed under your nose, on the same plate with your meat. Men pick their teeth with forks and jackknives, gobble down gallons of water, and "slide." This is the style in Oregon...

    "Sudden wealth from gold and silver brought sudden change. It came earliest in California. Bayard Taylor reported in 1850 "it was no unusual thing to see a company of these men, who had never before thought of luxury beyond a good beefsteak and glass of whiskey, drinking their champagne at ten dollars a bottle, and eating their tongue and sardines, or warming in the smoky campfire their tin cannisters of turtle soup and lobster salad."...Teddy Blue, a Montana cowboy during the 1880s when the cattle trade flourished, wrote: 'talking about food, do you know what was the first thing a cowpuncher ordered to eat when he got to town? Oysters and celery. And eggs. Those things were what he didn't get and what he was crazy for.'...It was not only oysters that, with the coming of the railroads, suddenly became avaialble in Sheridan, Wyoming, in Miles City, Montana, or Virginia City, Nevada. Gambling and concert saloons as well as hotel bars offered their well-heeled customers fancy fare printed on equally fancy menus, often in broken French...

    "In Wyatt Earp's and Doc Holliday's Tombstone, the Occidental Saloon served a Sunday dinner to tickle "Doc's" fashionable palate:

    Chicken Giblet and Consumme, with Egg
    Columbia River Salmon, au Beurre Noir
    Filet a Boeuf, a la Financier
    Leg of Lamb, Sauce, Oysters
    Cold Meats
    Loin of Beef, Loin of Ham, Loin of Pork, Westphalia Ham, Corned Beef, Imported Lunches
    Boiled Meats
    Leg of Mutton, Ribs of Beef, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Russian River Bacon
    Pinons a Poulett, aux Champignons
    Cream Fricasse of Chicken, Asparagus Points
    Lapine Domestique, a la Matire d'Hote
    Casserole d'Ritz aux Oeufs, a la Chinoise
    Ducks of Mutton, Braze, with Chipoluta Ragout
    California Fresh Peach, a la Conde
    Loin of Beef, Loin of Mutton, Leg of Pork
    Apple Sauce, Suckling Pig, with Jelly, Chicken Stuffed Veal
    Peach, Apple, Plum, and Custard Pies
    English Plum Pudding, Hard Sauce, Lemon Flavor

    And we will have it or perish.
    This dinner will be served for 50 cents."

    ---Saloons of the Old West, Richard Erdoes [Alfred A. Knopf:New York] 1979 (p. 110-114)

    There's no such thing as a "Free lunch?" Wrong!
    Salty snacks, cheap eats, fancy European preserved meats & other gustatory enticements featured regularly in 19th American saloons . Free (up to a point). Why? Because hungy men need food and thirsty men drink. Simple as that. Whatever your personal feelings are toward capitalistic business promotions, social-minded temperance or culinary coup, the "free lunch" concept made sense in this place & time.

    What was served?
    "After Prohibition had killed the saloons, old timers waxed lyrical describing the free lunches of the grand old palaces, or rather the gourmet buffet dinners of tiny, savoury meatballs, French Gruyere cheese, hickory-cured ham, and other dainties...The narrow, twenty-foot-long tables in these establishments had indeed been covered with spotless white linen and plates of delicacies to please the most discerning tastes... Others served cold cuts...yellow cheese, beans...stalks of celery...above all, the free lunch featured salted food--pretzels, rye bread, smoked herring, salted peanuts, peppery sausages, sauerkraut, kippers, rollmops (in German beergardens), potato chips, dill pickles, and sardellen...The theory behind all this, and it was a good theory, was that a couple of shot glasses, or steins, produced appetite that the salty goodies, in turn, produced a mighty thirst. The chain-reaction process of drinking and nibbling, nibbling and drinking could to on for hours during which the customers spent a lot on booze. Free lunches varied, of course; in places where the barkeep was German, there might be slices of blutwurst, zervelatwurst, and landjaegers to tempt the patrons. Italian saloon owners might serve calzone and pepperoni, though seldom west of the Mississippi. Two places in Chicago gave away thick, creamy pies to old customers. In the Southwest the faithful helped themselves from a bowl of chili con carne, or nibbled on nachos--small, salty squares of crisp tortillas covered wtih frijoles and melted cheese...Some bars had their daily free lunch specialties--franks on Monday, roast beef on Saturday, baked fish on Friday, and so on. Some saloons were more generous than others. Many advertised, 'A fried oyster, a clam, or a hard-boiled egg with every drink'...The word "lunch" should not be take literally. It blended imperceptibly into free breakfast and free dinner...The same salted goods waited patiently on their fly-speckled plates morning, noon, and night. The free lunch posed problems for many bartenders. The institution rested on the honor system. Supposedly no creature walking on two legs would be so low as to approach the free lunch table without having first consumed, and paid for, at least two drinks. But there were many human skunks--sad to say, great numbers of them--who were not honorable."
    ---Saloons of the Old West, Richard Erdoes [Alfred A. Knopf:New York] 1979 (p. 116-118)

    [1880s-1890s San Francisco]
    'it may come as no surpirse at all that San Francisco poplarized the cocktail, establishing in the 1880s a near-sacred, never-varying 'Cocktail Route' that was pursued at a leisurely pace, from bar to bar, by such notables aas Sentaor William Sharon and his compatriots. Hand-inn-glove with the Cocktail Route was another San Francisco invention called the Free Lunch. Gentlemen (and surely others!) could partake of the free food or pay fo the commercial lunch of the day, if preferred. The Free Lunch tables always had an immense assortment of foods, everything from salamis to salmon, imported and domestic items, and appropriate garnishes for the buffet serving. There seemed to be no end to the succulent tidbits. Any honest saloon offering a Free Lunch served a hot dish at noon, another ad five o'clock, and a final meal at midnight. The Harquette Brothers' Palace of Art opulent Saloon and Restaurant at 16 Post Street was a unique example of the higher class of eating and drinking establishments on the Cocktail Route. Because it was to be expected that behavior would be reasonably decorus, this particular saloon was not as popular with the 'top nobs' as other, rouder eateries. Ladies were attracted by the saloon's artistic display of fine paintings, marble carvings, lovely silver cups and other silver objects...Visitor to San Francisco were astounded by the accessibilty for the free feasts even when the patron spent only five cents for a schooner of beer...the Palace of Art...[was] lost in the Great Fire of 1906. But the tradition of free lunch continued to appear elsewhere in the city until the early 1920s."
    ---Sumptious Dining in Gaslight San Francisco: 1875-1915, Frances de Talavera Berger and John Park Custis [Doubleday & Company:Garden City NY] 1985 (p 62)
    [NOTE: Palace of Art menus for
    Free lunch & Commerical lunch reprinted in this book. Undated, probably 1880s-1890s.]

    "The cheapest places for men are supposed to be the so-called free lunches, though this is probably a mistake; for these free lunches are attached to bars, and it is expected that theri guests shall patronize the bar sufficeintly to pay all favors they get in the way of free food. In the cheapest of these places a glass of beer at five cents entitles a man to help himself to sundry pretzels, crackers, bits of cheese and sausage, and a salt pickle or a radish: a repast intended to provoke thirst rather than to satisfy hunger. A few places give crab salad, also bouillon or clam chowder. In most of the 'bit' saloons, the fifteen cents paid for a single drink or the twenty-five cents, 'two bits.' paid if you had a companion, gives free access to a counter supplied with a considerable display of eatables in addition to those mentioned. Cold roast beef, corned beef, sardines, olives, sandwiches of various kinds, bread and butter, clams, clam-juice, bouillon, and similar viands. To these you help yourself, and eat standing. At the various hotel bars and saloons of pretension a drink is 25 cents, and at these a regular meal is served to patrons sitting at tables; soup, fish, entree, roast, and dessert. But the trail of the serpent of all over these places. They do much to promote drinking habits. True, the drink ordered may be only one glass of lemonade, mineral water, or gingerale, strictly non-alcoholic, and not even the barkeepers will sneer at you, unless he suspects you of doing it as a regular thing. Nevertheless the tendency is not to be content with such simple drinks, and tat best there is the patronage and countenance given an unholy business."
    ---"The Restaurants of San Francisco," Charles S. Greene, Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, December 1892 (p. 8+)

    Why did it stop?
    "Of course prohibition has cut a tremendous swath through former habits. The New York business man who after office hours once flung open the swinging doors and lined up with others at the brass rail for a glass of beer now goes unobtrusively into a speakeasy...Glowing brightly throughout the haze of a decade of the memory of the saloon free lunch. Prohibition may not have been an unqualified successs in stopping the flow of liquor, but undeniably it has obliterated the free lunch. gastronomically, the free lunch was never anything to inspire loud huzzas, but sentimentally it was as well found as the United States Treasury. It flourished in a credulous age...and no skeptics stood around to take the joy out of life by suggestion that salty pretzels and snappy cheese were more calculated to inspire thirst than satisfy hunger. The fact that the fare was free made it, like the country-store crackers and pickles, especially appetizing as a between-meals snack. In those golden days nobody was disposed to look a gift lunch in the mouth....and the presence of good companions about the free-lunch counter added a tang to the repast..."
    ---"Odd-Hour Munching in the Machine Age," Arthur Warner, New York Times, April 24, 1932 (p. SM14)

    Related service: Free bread in USA restaurants.

    Victorian era

    The Victorian era in was a time of royal opulence and dire poverty, modern social reform, bustling industrial revolution, and great scientific advancement. New foods were introduced at an amazing rate. The birth of modern nutrition science, and its female counterpart, domestic science, came in the last quarter of the century. In the United States this era was also rocked by war, pushed by westward expansion and impacted by waves of immigration.

    The sources you need to tap to research this culinary era depend upon the country (England? United States? Australia?) of your focus. You can use the Food Timeline to identify new products, popular recipes, and online primary documents.


    Period cookbooks for the middle class (recently reprinted in facsimile editions with historic notes)

    Period cookbooks for the poorer and working classes (also readily available in reprint form)

    Cookbooks with history and modernized recipes

    Menus & primary documents

    Food shopping

    What did Queen Victoria like to eat?
    Good question. Her biographers concentrate on fruit. They also mention the Queen's feeding speed & joy of sweets. Is this an accurate portrayal of Queen Victoria's personal food favorites? Probably not. Famous people, like the rest of us, fuel best on personal go-to foods in comfortable proportions. Standard period multicourse French menus served during Queen Victoria's reign reflect national image. Not the person behind the image.

    "Royal eating habits during the reigns of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII followed a similarly lavish approach to their predecessors. At least five different courses were served for the royal breakfast. Bacon and eggs, bloaters, chickens, chops, cutlets, sausages, steaks and woodcocks, were just some of the dishes on offer. The bacon, invariably streaky, was cut in rashers a quarter of an inch thick, and eggs would be served at a moment's notice in a variety of ways, including boiled, fried, coddled, en cocotte, scrambled or as an omelette. Despite such huge breakfasts, the royal household was apparently hungry again by lunchtime, when meals of eight or ten courses were the order of the day. And by dinnertime they were ready for more--again to the tune of eight or ten courses! The royal supper was undoubtedly the most elaborate meal of the day. It was customary to serve both thick and clear soups, as well as fish either plainly cooked or prepared according to elaborate recipes requiring complicated sauces and flamboyant dressing. There would also be two entrees, two varieties of roast meat, chicken or quail, collettes of game, sweetbreads, two desserts, two savouries and at least two kinds of water ices to prepare overburdened royal stomachs for the next course. Notably there is no reference to hors d'oeuvres, which most likely originated in Russia, where people ate highly flavoured tidbits called zakuski with a drink of vodka before settling down to diner. English restaurants adopted the custom at the end of the nineteenth century because it kept the guests happy while dinner was cooked, and English private houses duly followed suit. The great gas and charcoal stoves and spits would daily cook something like 300 lb of meat, 30 or more chickens, and numerous pheasants, partridges and quails. If necessary, a whole bullock weighing about 150 lb could be cooked on a giant spit, with a small army of chefs and kitchen assistants on hand to keep it continually basted. Another outsized dish, which was a great favourite of Queen Victoria's, was known as Raized pie. It was prepared by stuffing a good plump turkey with an equally plump chicken, itself stuffed with an ample pheasant that had been stuffed with a healthy-sized woodcock! The whole lot was then placed in an enormous pie dish, roofed over with pastry and baked until it was fit for a queen. And just in case anybody ever felt hungry after consuming one of the huge luncheons or dinners, there were always side tables set out with cold chickens, tongues, rounds or beef, partridges and pheasants in season, and salads...Queen Victoria herself was a frugal eater and showed little interest in food--for breakfast she ate only and egg, served in a gold eggcup with a gold spoon...One particular course she insisted should be available for lunch was a dish of curry and rice, served with considerable ceremony by two Indian servants."
    ---Dinner at Buckingham Palace, edited and compiled by Paul Fishman and Fiorella Busoni [Metro Publishing:London[ 2003 (p. xvi-xvii)

    Queen Victoria's favorite foods and dining habits, as observed by her closest servants:
    "A certain monotony ruled our days wherever we were. Breakfast 9.30, lunch at 2, tea 5.30, dinner 8.30. The Queen's dinner was supposed to be 8.45 but it was often 9.15 before she sat down to her simple meal of soup, fish, cold sirloin of beef, sweet and dessert. Her favorite fruits were oranges and pears and monster indigestible apples which would have daunted most people half her age but she enjoyed them, sometimes sharing a mammoth specimen with Princess Beatrice, but more often coping with it alone. Oranges were treated in a very convenient manner; a hole cut in the top and the juice scooped out with a spoon. The Queen's dinner was timed to the last exactly half an hour. The service was so rapid that a slower eater such as myself of Mr Gladstone never had time to finish even a most moderate helping...Campbell, the Queens Piper in kilt, etc. dispensed the Claret or Sherry, Champagne was poured out by the butlers, while the Indian servants handed the Sweets...never forgetting which particular kind of chocolate or biscuit each guest preferred, so twisting the dish in order that it could be taken with apparent ease." (p. 5-6)...[1888]'I must send you a line to tell you that I dined with the Queen last night and beheld her peel and eat a Ledbury apple with evident relish and many expressions of admiration as to size, beauty and flavour." (p. 23)...[1899] "Household Luncheon. Rissoto a la Milanaise, Grilled mutton chops, Poulets aux nouilles, Asperges a la sauce, Tapioca pudding, Meringues aux fraises." (p. 161)...[1900] "The Queen is certainly less vigorous and her digestion is becoming defective after so many hears of hard labour! If she would be follow a diet and live on Benger's Food and chicken all would be well but she clings to roast beef and ices!" (p. 195)
    ---Life With Queen Victoria: Marie Mallet's letters from Court 1887-1901, edited by Victor Mallet [Houghton Mifflin:Boston] 1968

    "The Countess of Lytton, who arrived at Court in 1895 to fill a vacancy which had occurred among the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, found most of Her Majesty's dinners rather irksome affairs...The Queen came into the room, leaning on the arm of an Indian servant, went through to the dining room and took her place at the table. 'The beginning of the dinner was rather solemn'...The Queen hardly spoke at all during the early courses...On such occasions the Queen rejected dishes she did not like with 'a peevish moue with crumpled brow more eloquent than words',..At least the smaller and less formal dinners did not last very long, since, throughout her life, the Queen continued to eat a great deal very rapidly, the courses of soup, fish, meat and pudding soon being dispatched together with a large amount of fruit, preferably pears, oranges--which she ate with a spoon having scooped out a hole in the top---and apples grown in an orchard at Windsor extending to four acres. The food served was generally agreed to be excellent at all the four separate dinners which were served each evening, those for the lower servants, the upper servants, the Household and the Queen with her chosen guests. A kitchen staff, including a chef, four master-cooks, two assistant cooks, two roasting cooks, two yeomen and other kitchen, sixteen apprentices, as well as bakers, confectioners, pastrymen and some half a dozen kitchen maids, provided menus which the Aga Kahn described as long and elaborate: 'Course after course, three or four choices of meat, a hot pudding and an iced pudding, a savoury and all kinds of hot-house fruit...The Queen, in spite of her age, ate and drank heartily--every kind of wine that was offered [she usually drank Scotch whisky, distilled especially for her by John Begg, with Apollinaris, soda or lithia water] and every course, including both hot and iced puddings.' She preferred plain food, such as boiled chicken and roast beef, haggis and potatoes (twelve acres of these were devoted to their growth at Windsor), to anything exotic, but she liked a good helping and she liked her brown Windsor soup made no longer simply with ham and calves' feet as served to her children in the nursery, but including game, Madeira and shell-fish; and she loved her creme de colaille, her puddings, her cranberry tarts and cream, her chocolate cakes and chocolate biscuits, her 'stodgy trifle of jam and sponge cakes'...Marie Mallet complained that slow eaters like herself and Mr. Gladstone 'never had time to finish even a moderate helping,' because the servants...had 'a menial trick of depriving us of our plates as soon as the Queen had finished'...'The Queen could dispose of peas with marvelous skill and dexterity..."
    ---"Dinner Parties," Queen Victoria: A Personal History, Christopher Hibbert [Basic Books:New York] 2000 (p. 468-470)

    Presumably, Queen Victoria also liked cherries, which is why Cherries Jubilee was created for her special anniversary About Tea time

    Her Majesty's Dinner, 16th August
    (Under the control of C. Francatelli.)
    Potages A la Cressy, A la Tortue, A la Royale.Poissons Le St. Pierre a la sauce Homard, Les Gougeons frits sauce Hollandiase, Les Filets de Soles a la ravigotte, Le Saumon sauce aux Capres.
    RelevesLe Piece doe Boeuf a la Flamande, La Pate-chaud de Pigeons a l'Anglaise, Les Poulardes et Langues auz Chouxfleurs, La Noix de Veau en Bedeau.Entrees Les Cotelettes de Mouton a la puree d'Artichauts, Les Boudins de Laperaux a la Richelieu, Les Pieds d'Agneau en Canelons farcis a l'Italienne, Les Filets de Poulardes a la Regence, Les Tendons de Veau glaces a la Macedoine, Les Petits timbales de Nouilles a la Puree de Gelinottes.
    Rots Les Combattants, Les Chapons, L'Oie.
    Releves Le Pudding de Riz, Le Baba au Rhum, Les Beignets au Parmesan.
    Flances La Cascade ornee de sucre file, La Chaumiere rustique.
    Entremets La Darne d'Esturgeon au beurre de Montpellier, Le Buisson d'Ecrivisses, Les Petits Pois a la Francaise, Les Haricots Verts a la Matre d'hotel, La Gele au Vin de Champagne, La Creme au Caramel, Les Petits Gateuax de Creme Anglaise, La Tourte de Peches, L'Aspic de Volaille a la Belle-vue, Les Fonds d'Artichauts a la Provencale, Les Concombres farcis a l'Essence, Les Choux-fleurs, a la sauce, Le Bavarouix de Fraises, La Gelee de Peches, Lest Tartelettes de Cerises, Le Gateau de Pethiviers.Side Board Roast Beef, Roast Mutton, Hashed Venison, Riz au Consomme, Plum and Yorkshire Puddings."
    ---Francatelli's Modern Cook, Charles Elme Francatelli (chef to Queen Victoria), 26th London edition with large additions and carefully revised [David McKay Publishers:Philadelphia PA] 1895 (p. 567)[NOTES: Francatelli offers several menus served to Queen Victoria in this book. Some by season; others by day but no year. (2) Several menus are noted "Russian Style. (3) Course definitions and chef notes regarding British/French service offered in introductory pages. (4) Recipes for above items included in this book. Happy to scan/send pages; let us know what you need.]

    Industrial Age America

    Industrial Age America opened up a whole new world of dining options. Advances in technology meant faster transporation, better preservation, and mass production. Nutriton science and home economics became possible. Key foodservice developments included grand steak houses, trendy railroad dining, afternoon tea and cheap urban diners. New products were proudly displayed (and readily consumed!) at worlds fairs.

    Cookbooks & menus

    Popular American Food Brands

    These items were advertised in Good Housekeeping October 27, 1888:

    Chase & Sanborn Coffee, Bent & Co's Hand Made Water Crackers, Quaker Rolled White Oats, Tarrant's Seltzer ("Don't think that because of stomach, liver or kidneys have for a long time tormented you your torment must keep on indefinately. Sure relief and speedy cand be obtained by the use if this famous remedy, which has been before the world for 44 years"), Scott's Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil (best remedy for Consumption, Sorofula, Bronchitis, Wasting Diseases, Chronic Coughs and Colds), Cerealine Flakes (square box or tin, "Of the contents of a pakcage of 'Cerealine Flakes', costing twenty cents, a cook in a private family of six persons, made puddings five times, griddle-cakes five times; used 'Cerealine Flakes' in soups twice in place of sago and barley, and added some to six bakings of bread."), Good Housekeeping Press Series (cookbooks; Perfect Bread, A Key to Cooking, Lessons in Candy Making, 'Six Cups of Coffee,' Dainty Desserts for Dainty Diners), Wilbur's Cocoa-Theta (also Baking Chgocolate, Caracas Chocolate and Breakast Cocoa), Great American Tea Company (tea, coffee, baking powder), Ladies American Housekeeping, A Ladies' Home Journal (free cook book offer), Greenway's India Pale Ale (recommended by our best physicians for family or club use), Neave's Food (for infants, children, invalids, aged), Health Cocoa ('Pure cocoa of the best quality. It leaves nothing to be desired as to so-called solubility, purity, strenght flavor.'--British Medical Journal, One pound will make 120 cups of cocoa). Crystal Gelatine, Brown's French Dressing (bottle, Medal Paris Expostition 1878, highest award New Orleans Exhibition), San Blas preserved Cocoanut ('Healthful, nutritious, always handy for pudddings, pies and cakes, Croft & Allen, Philadelphia), Farm Feed Mills ($5 Hand Mill, Grind your own Bone Meal, Oyster Shells, Graham Flour & Corn), Farwell & Rhines, Watertown NY (Crystals (cereal food)), Gluten Flour and Special Diabetic Food, Health Flour), Callard's Sherbetine ('delightful tonic, a pleasant drink, a ready relief for all stomach disorders. Price fifty cents per bottle), Shrewsbury Tomato ketchup, Medical and Surgical Sanitarium,--Battle Creek, Mich.,('The oldest and most extensive sanitarium, conducted on strictly rational and scientific principles in the United States...Baths of every description, Electricity in every form. Massage and Swedish Movements by trained manipulators, Pneumatic and Vacuum Treatment...a fine gymnasium with a trained director, first class table service, classified dietaries...'), Colburn's Philadelphia Mustard ('king of condiments'), Bell's Poultry Seasoning ('This seasoining is made of the granulated leaves of the most fragrant American sweet herbs and choice selected spices, having all the flavors that can be desired...One tablespoon is enough to season the dressing of an eight-pound turkey. The small cans retail at 10 cents, and the large at 15 cents'), Royal Baking Powder (can), Baker's Breakfast Cocoa (Gold Medal Paris 1878)), Globe Yeast (Waterloo NY), Dr. Price's Cream Baking Powder and Delicious Flavoring Extracts ('Used by the United States Government, Endorsed by the heads of the Great Universities and Public Food Analysts...extract flavors: vamilla, lemon, orange, almond, rose 'do not contain Poisonous Oils or Chemicals).

    Recommended reading:
    Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America, Susan Williams
    Sumptuous Dining in Gaslight San Francisco: 1875-1915, Frances de Talavera Berger
    Victorian Seaside Cookbook, Anne Bishop & Doris Simpson

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    books, hundreds of 20th century USA food company brochures, & dozens of vintage magazines (Good Housekeeping, American Cookery, Ladies Home Journal &c.) We also have ready access to historic magazine, newspaper & academic databases. Service is free and welcomes everyone. Have questions? Ask!

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    Research conducted by Lynne Olver, editor The Food Timeline. About this site.
    © Lynne Olver 2000
    3 January 2015