A Selection from The Prairie Traveler on Pioneer Foods

Thanks to a comment sent in by Ellen we have a selection from by The Prairie Traveler Randolph Barnes Marcy, Captain, U.S.A. Notice their concern about scurvy, something we never think about today.  The antiscorbutics they refer to were to prevent scurvy.

Thanks Howard

STORES AND PROVISIONS.

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 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 the 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 preserved by boiling it thoroughly, and skimming off the scum as it raises to the top until it is quite clear like oil. It is then placed in canisters and soldered up. This mode of preserving butter has been adopted in the hot climate of southern Texas, and it found to keep sweet for a great length of time, and its flavor is but little impaired by the process. (This is ghee or clarified butter, there is a post in this Blog on how to make it. http://preparednessadvice.com/food_storage/making-clarified-butter/)

Sugar may be well secured in India-rubber or gutta-percha sacks, or so placed in the wagon as not to risk getting wet.

Desiccated or dried vegetables are almost equal to the fresh, and are put up in such a compact and 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 as 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 the desiccation, 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 desiccated 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 weighs, before being boiled, 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 ”
Edward’s preserved potatoes 0.10 ”
Flour 0.33 ”
Tea 0.03 ”
Sugar 0.14 ”
Grease or alcohol, for cooking 0.25 ”

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 stones 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 flour 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 desiccated 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 amount of transportation. It is said that half a bushel is sufficient to subsist a man thirty days.

Persons undergoing severe labor, and driven to great extremities for food, will derive sustenance from various sources that would never to occur to them under ordinary circumstances. In passing over the Rocky Mountains during the winter of 1857-8, our supplies of provisions were entirely consumed 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. In this destitute condition we found a substitute for tobacco in the bark of the red willow, which grows upon many of the mountain streams in that vicinity. The outer bark is first removed with a knife, after which the inner bark is scraped up into ridges around the sticks, and held in the fire until it is thoroughly roasted, when it is taken off the stick, pulverized in the hand, and is ready for smoking. It has the narcotic properties of the tobacco, and is quite agreeable to the taste and smell. The sumach leaf is also used by the Indians in the same way, and has a similar taste to the willow bark. A decoction of the dried wild or horse mint, 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 suffered greatly for the want of salt, but, by burning the outside of our mule steaks, and sprinkling a little gunpowder upon 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 enormous amount of from 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 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 of 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 end, and have, in many cases, been obliged to pay the most exorbitant prices in making up the deficiency.

It is true that if person choose to pass through Salt Lake City, and the Mormons happen to be in an amiable 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 accommodation.

I once traveled with a party of New Yorkers en route to California. They were perfectly ignorant of every thing relating to this kind of campaigning, and had 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 away 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.

 

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3 Responses to A Selection from The Prairie Traveler on Pioneer Foods

  1. Ellen says:

    I was wondering if there was a list of what pioneers were recommended to get to trek West? Would be nice to have it to go with the Klondike list.
    I know in many books and such they tell of packing the good china in the flour barrel.
    I know too that slab bacon (if you can find it now) is not cured like it used to be even when I was young. Dad would every once in awhile find a place that sold it and even if it got mold on it he would scrap it off and cut thick slices and fry it. I can see where one could transport it rather well.
    And I have noticed that salt pork does not come with a crust of salt on it anymore.
    Things do change but one wonders if it really was for the better?

  2. Craig Meade says:

    The book does have further details of what settlers should take with them. But not as detailed as for the miners since the settlers were families, each with their own unique needs and destinations. Chapters from the Prairie Traveler book can be downloaded for free at http://www.PioneerHandbooks.com if you’d like to get more information.

  3. tc says:

    “It is true that if person choose to pass through Salt Lake City, and the Mormons happen to be in an amiable 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 accommodation.”
    I’ve lived around mormons for 50 years, they are some of the most accommodating people I know.

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