Dining on the Overland Trails

trail campfirePeople in the 19th Century called their mainstay mid-day meal “dinner,” and their lighter evening meal “supper.”  While it was not unusual for any given repast to take hours of preparation time at home, the denizens of westering wagon trains had no such luxury. They couldn’t afford to waste travel time waiting for bread dough to rise or for a slow-turned roast to sizzle.  Breakfasts of coffee, flapjacks or corn cakes sweetened with sugar-syrup, and slices of ham fried into bacon made quick meals while the men busily gathered and hitched the stock in early morning light. Mid-day, or dinner, was usually an hour or more halt to let the draft animals and footsore humans rest before pushing on. Non-rising baking powder biscuits slathered with wagon-movement churned butter and dried beans softened in back-of-the-wagon pots for days made quick lunches.  Evenings saw more quick biscuits, stews made from fresh wild game or ham slices, rice, and more beans. Pioneer women who packed dried fruits in their wagons could put together apple dumplings or fritters from reconstituted pilot bread (a flat, rock-hard flour and water dough baked to dehydration). The epicurean highlight noted in many trail diaries was fresh, hot cobbler made from wild berries found along the trail.

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