Pioneer Cooking is an Art

Pioneer, cooking is an interesting subject; it comes very close to the way in which many of us may have to cook in the future. It was a type of cooking that required that you make do with what you had, but in a way, it was also an art. In a future TEOTWAWKI scenario, this is exactly the same mindset and skill set you’ll need.

A few pioneer cookbooks still exist, and two that looked particularly interesting were Log Cabin Cooking and to get kids interested in this type of cooking, The Little House Cookbook.

I recently came across a set of rules for pioneer cooking. These are simple rules that you can easily learn and follow, and they come in handy for everyday cooking.

1. No complaining that, “I don’t have that ingredient”, “The recipe won’t work.” Figure out a substitute and a solution. Learn to be creative. Your only goal is to produce something that is edible and, hopefully, tastes good.

2. No temperature gauge in your improvised oven? Try these tips to get a general idea of heat level:

  • 400-450° — Your hand can be comfortably held in the oven for 35 seconds.
  • 350° — Your hand can be comfortably held in the oven for 45 seconds.
  • 200-300° – Your hand can be comfortably held in the oven for 60 seconds.

3. Learn to cook by feel. Notice how a teaspoon of salt feels and looks in your hand. How about a cup of sugar?  Can you judge what three cups of flour looks like and about how much it weighs in a bowl?

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4. No timers. Learn to check your food as it cooks or bakes. Learn what your food smells and looks like when it is finished cooking.

5. Learn the following:

  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder raises one cup of flour.
  • To make bread, use one cup of liquid to three cups flour and one package yeast to two cups liquid.
  • Muffins use one-cup liquid to two cups flour.
  • 5 heaping tablespoons of flour equal one cup.
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar equals one ounce.
  • 7 heaping tablespoons of sugar equal one cup
  • 2 1/2 cups of sugar equals one pound.
  • 3 ½ cups of cornmeal equals 1 quart.
  • 4 cups of flour equals 1 pound.
  • 1 cup of water equals 8 ounces.

Now, these may seem a bit silly to someone who is used to following modern recipes, but if you read old pioneer recipes, these are the type of measurements they used.

Pioneer cooking was a make do type of cooking. Most people had no measuring cups, so they needed to learn to do measurements by sight and feel. It was just as much of an art as any other creative endeavor. Pioneers and other old-time cooks learned to watch their food and taste it while it was still cooking. Temperature was done by feel. If you burned it you ate it. You couldn’t afford to throw away food.

Next time you go camping, try pioneer cooking. Make all your meals from scratch using no measuring cups or spoons. Bonus points if you use all cast iron pots and pans.


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10 thoughts on “Pioneer Cooking is an Art”

  1. That is the way I remember my grandmother making bread. Minor ingredients were poured into her palm and major ingredients were poured onto the mixing bowl by eye. She made great bread.

    1. I’m proud to say this is how my wife cooks, for the most part. I used to get after her for not following recipes, but I think I’ll just refer to her as an artist from now on!

  2. When I as a child my father’s family was Florida Crackers hunting cattle twice per year since I was always sick I had to stay with Grand ma on the chuck wagon when we collected enough cows for market and/or the Rodeo in the next town I learn on both cast iron and reg steel pots and yes then that super thin stuff “Aluminum” measuring was the fingers you fill your hand to cover one two or four fingers but the family and friends back in the 1960s it was cooking for 16 hungry people Then in the 1970s I worked at the mess halls of two Air Force Bases here in FL learning to feed 600 men breakfast and dinner Before / After high school I did plan and cook and clean up a meal that was feed the men who protected Air Force ONE

  3. Interestingly enough, professional chefs also cook this way. They inspect the ingredients available and create the dish.

  4. Wonderful and informative . Everyone should learn to cook this way.
    I learned at an early age to cook this way and still do today. I’m blessed to have a very old cookbook that calls for ” add butter the size of a walnut” and other interesting terms.
    Thank you for sharing this great information!

  5. Measure what’s that lol I do once in a while I used to have people show up at my house for dinner uninvited but I loved it would have to throw stuff together everyone always left full and happy

  6. If you’re talking about measuring spoons. 4 level tablespoons = 1/4 cup. There’s no way 5 heaping ones would make a cup. Maybe if you’re talking a place setting tablespoon. But those are quite variable in size. Best thing to do is work with the tools you have and check them against a standard measure.

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