Meals on the Trail West

Most people in the 19th century called their 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 members 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 repasts while the men gathered and hitched the stock in early morning light. Mid-day, or dinner, was usually a halt of an hour or more to let the draft animals and footsore humans rest before pushing on. Non-rising baking powder biscuits slathered with butter “churned” in pails hung beneath the moving wagon, 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. The epicurean highlight noted in many trail diaries was fresh, hot cobbler made from wild berries found along the trail.

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