Saturday, December 3, 2011

Say Howdy to Anna Kathryn Lanier

Cooking on the Trail

Wow.  You’d think that the diaries of those who traveled West would be full of cooking trials and tribulations.  But no. After choosing this subject, I searched through my many ‘wagon trail diary books’ and found very few references on cooking. In fact, several of the books didn’t even have ‘cooking’ in the index. However, I think I found enough references to make this blog worthwhile.

One of the many tasks women performed on the trail was cooking. Though cooking and baking was second nature to most women (the highly born women didn’t always know how to cook, as they had hired help to do that job back East), cooking on an open flame was not something the women were familiar with. Even Keturah Belknap, who had never cooked on a stove, but rather a hearth, had to learn the ins and outs of cooking on a camp fire.

Helen Carpenter, a new bride making her way west on her honeymoon, wrote: “Although there is not much to cook, the difficulty and inconvenience in doing it amounts to a great deal—so by the time one has squatted around the fire and cooked bread and bacon, and made several dozen trips to and from the wagon—washed the dishes….and gotten things ready for an early breakfast, some of the others already have their night caps on—at any rate it is time to go to bed.” (1)  She also comments, “It is hurry scurry to get breakfast and put away things that necessarily had to be pulled out the last night…nooning is barely long enough to eat a cold bite—and at night all the cooking utensils and provisions are to be gotten about the camp fire, and cooking enough to last until the next night.” (2)

When the wagon train took a break from traveling, either to observe the Sabbath or to give the animals a rest, women “boiled a big mess of beans, to be warmed over for several meals,” relates Catherine Haun in her diary. (1)

Even in wind and rain, the cooking must go on.  According to Amelia Stewart Knight, “(Dreary times, wet and muddy, and crowded in the tent, cold and wet, uncomfortable in the wagon. No place for the poor children [she has seven].) I have been busy cooking, roasting coffee, etc. today….” A month into the journey she writes, “Fine weather; spent this day in washing, baking, and overhauling the wagons” and the next day, “I have been cooking, and packing things away for an early start in the morning.” (2)
When food was found on the trail, it was not wasted.  Eliza Ann McAuley writes “In cutting a way for the road, the boys find thickets of wild currants. There are several varieties, the black, the red and the white. The boys cut the bushes, some of them ten feet long and loaded with ripe currants, which we strip off and make into jelly, currant wine and vinegar, dried currants and currant pie.” (3)

I’ve camped out with my Girl Scout troops and we did a few campfire meals, so I know from experience how much work it is.  I have to admire the women who did it day in and day out, rain or shine for five to six months at a time!


(2)    PLAINS WOMEN: Women in the American West by Paula Bartley and Cathy Loxton

(3) COVERED WAGON WOMEN:     Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1852 by Kenneth L. Holmes

This post first appeared on Sweethearts of the West blog on July 14, 2010.
copyright© 2010 Anna Kathryn Lanier

Note from Ginger:  Anna K. has a wonderful blog of her own.  I invite you to visit her...and I'm not really crying because no one ever invited me to be a Sweetheart of the West.  *lol*  There are some awesome authors there.  Check it out.


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Good morning. Thanks for having me today, Ginger. I have a very busy Saturday RWA chapter has their holiday party this morning, then my granddaughter's 4th birthday party in the afternoon, then my husband's office party in the evening! Whew! I'm tired already. I will check in, but most likely not until late tonight or tomorrow. Also, as Ginger mentioned, I have my own blog, and this month, I'm doing a holiday recipe a day. Stop by and check it out!

Heather Haven said...

What a great historical information in this blog. I need to share it with a few other women. Love all of Ginger's blogs and guest blogs.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Heather. Thanks for stopping by. I love to read historical tidbits, too.

Tanya Hanson said...

Awesome post, Anna Kathryn. We took a wagon train around the Tetons not long ago and the chuck cooks made great meals in Dutch ovens, so we tried it out on a recent family camping trip.

I can't begin to imagine how difficult a real pioneer wagon train would be. Our foremothers rocked!

Ginger, I totally grew upon TV Westerns and Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Sigh. And I have two grandsons I am spoiling of them just a month old! What a lovely blog this is.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Tanya. I've cooked with the girl scouts (as I think I mentioned in the post) and we did a dutch oven in a hole roast one time. It was pretty good. Digging the hole wasn't much fun! Thanks for stopping by.