Feasts at the Fort

John Sutter’s wilderness trading post attracted a number of adventurers. By August 1840 he could boast that he had 20 men in his employ, at a time when his settlement was hardly more than a way-station. He arranged fur trapping brigades, and hired clerks, cooks, blacksmiths, and other tradesmen.  Over the years 1839 – 1849, the cooks at Sutter’s Fort included William Daylor, John Henry Brown, George Davis, David Dewey Dutton, and a man of African descent known only as Myers. What did they eat? For the first year, mostly game, and bread was a luxury, but by the mid-1840s the cooks served fine meals. Roast beef, lamb and mutton, pork, onions and potatoes, cabbages, turnips and peas and radishes; pumpkins and melons in season, salmon from the American River, soups, cheeses, bread and butter, and ham. Apples, pears and strawberries were gathered from the gardens outside the fort walls.  Often there was no sugar or tea or genuine coffee, which had to be purchased from the merchant ships that traded along the Pacific Coast. Home-grown dried peas were a fair substitute for coffee, but roasted ground acorns gathered from local oaks were even better. Other culinary items that had to come from trading ships included table salt, black pepper, syrup, pickles, curry powder,  molasses, rice, salad oil, raisins, and rock candy.

 

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