Americans making their way to settle in new areas of the country back in the 1800s had little to rely on when it came to meals. They had to get creative with the meager options, but you’d be surprised how many pioneer-era recipes from back in the day still look scrumptious today.
That’s why looking back at how folks survived in that era, and again later during the Great Depression, is the perfect way to find budget-friendly, yet still delicious, dining options for you and your family. In fact, you might even recognize a few of these as staples in your kitchen that were passed down in your family through the generations.
Either way, I wouldn’t mind chowing down on several of the pioneer-era recipes listed below! I also wouldn’t recommend looking at them on an empty stomach unless you want to hear your belly growl.
Have you tried any pioneer-era recipes that we missed? Let us know in the comments and be sure to SHAREwith your friends!
1. Corn Dodgers
Similar to hush puppies, these were a great side with beans or to carry around for a snack while traveling.
2 cups cornmeal
2 Tbsps. butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
1 tsp. baking powder
Start heating oil in a Dutch oven while you cook the cornmeal, butter, salt, sugar, and milk in a saucepan. Once it’s all mixed together, set the saucepan aside and allow to cool for five minutes, then add baking powder. Drop tablespoon-sized portions into the oil and let fry for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
2. Spotted Pup
This sweet dish might have a strange name, but it’s a great treat that will stick to your bones.
1 dash salt
Sugar, to taste
Place the rice into a Dutch oven and pour enough milk to cover the grains and add a well-beaten egg. Next, add a dash of salt and as much sugar as you’d like for sweetness, then the raisins, nutmeg, and vanilla. Cover with a lid and allow to heat slowly until the egg is fully cooked.
3. Soda Biscuits
These are a bit more dense than the fluffier biscuits we tend to make today, but just as delicious.
3 1/3 cups of flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
With flour in a large bowl, add one tablespoon of milk at a time until the dough is stiff. In a separate small bowl, dissolve the baking soda into one tablespoon of milk, then pour into the dough and mix. Add the salt and mix again, then roll the dough out into a thin layer. Use a cookie cutter to make circles and fry in a Dutch oven or bake in a standard oven until dough is cooked all the way through and the edges are brown.
4. Molasses Stack Cake
This super sweet cake should totally make a comeback, especially for birthdays and special occasions!
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup molasses
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups flour
Mix the buttermilk, shortening, egg, molasses, and baking soda, and add nutmeg and cinnamon to taste. Once fully combined, add the flour and mix until it forms a dough. Roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter to make circles, then bake on an un-greased cookie sheet.
Serve with applesauce between the layers and top with more molasses.
5. Mud Apples
Yep, this recipe uses actual mud. But don’t worry — we would obviously never recommend that you consume dirt. You actually might want to substitute cinnamon and keep the skins on for a sweeter version.
4 large apples
Cover the apples in mud and place them directly onto the coals of a fire for about 45 minutes. Carefully remove the fruit from the flames and scrape away any coal. Knock the mud off and discard the apple skins for a sweet, mushy treat.
6. Winter Red Flannel Hash
This was often made with leftover corned beef that wasn’t enough for a meal on its own.
1 1/2 cups chopped corned beef
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked beets
1 chopped medium onion
4 cups chopped, cooked potatoes
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and heat in an oiled skillet until the bottom is browned and forms a crust. If it’s dry, you can add a little beef broth for moisture.
7. 1876 Cottage Cheese
Folks back in the day found the perfect use for milk that was about to go totally bad so it didn’t go to waste.
Let the milk clabber, or sour and curdle slightly, and skim the cream off the top. Place the clabbered milk over very low heat and cut into chunks. Use a colander to press out the whey and wipe it away. When the clabbered milk is firm, rinse with cold water and squeeze out the liquid while forming it into a ball. Crumble into a bowl and add thick cream.
8. Chuckwagon Beans
This protein-rich dish was a staple for fireside meals that kept you full for long rides.
16 oz. dry pinto beans
9 cups water
2 large chopped onions
2 tsps. salt
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder, or 2 cloves sliced garlic
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. brown sugar or molasses
Wash the beans and boil them in six cups of water for five minutes, then turn the heat off and let them sit for an hour. Add three more cups of water and bring to a boil again, then add the rest of the ingredients — saving the sugar or molasses for last and adding more if you have a sweeter tooth. Let it cook for an hour before serving.
9. Jerky Gravy
Since it was obviously difficult to keep fresh meat while traveling, it was often cured into jerky that could be used in various dishes.
Fat or grease
There are no measurements for this as it depends on how much gravy you’d like or ingredients available. Fry the jerky in a skillet with fat or grease, then remove from heat and add flour, milk, salt, and pepper and stir until thick.
10. Velvet Chicken Soup
You may love chicken soup, but this “velvet” version was a pioneer favorite.
3 to 4 lbs. chicken
3 qts. water
1 Tbsp. salt
1 small chopped onion
2 Tbsps. chopped celery
2 cups rich milk or cream
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. butter
2 well-beaten eggs
Clean the chicken and cut into chunky pieces. Put in a pot with the water and a pinch of salt, then bring to a boil and allow to simmer until the chicken is tender. Remove from the pot and separate the meat from the bones, saving it for other dishes.
Place the bones back into the pot and add the peppercorns, onions, and celery. Simmer until it has boiled down to about a quart of stock then strain. Add the milk or cream and bring to a boil again. Mix the cornstarch with cold water and add to the pot, followed by butter. In a separate bowl, pour one cup of the stock over well-beaten eggs, then pour that mixture back into the stock and allow to cook for two minutes while stirring constantly.
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11. Currant Bread
Settlers from Wales brought this popular pioneer bread over the pond with them in 1856.
1 yeast cake
1/4 cup lukewarm water
9 cups flour
2 cups shortening
1 lb. raisins
1 lb. dried currants
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup molasses
3 halves candied lemon peel
1 Tbsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. salt
3 cups warm water
Mix the yeast in the lukewarm water to soften, then mix the shortening and flour. Add the rest of your ingredients, including the yeast but not the warm water yet. Once it has been fully mixed together, add the warm water. Let the dough rise overnight, form into loaves, and allow to rise for another couple of hours. Bake at 350 °F for an hour and a half.
12. 101-Year-Old Pastry
This recipe was the best way to make tons of yummy dough without depleting too many ingredients. And though the name is “101-year-old,” it certainly was used much longer ago than that.
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup lard or shortening
1 beaten egg
1 Tbsp. vinegar
Mix the shortening with the flour and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and add vinegar, then fill with cold water. Add about four tablespoons of the mixture to the flour and shortening and save the rest for another batch. Mix until doughy and you’ll have enough for two nine-inch pie crusts.
13. Norwegian Fruit Soup
Scandinavian settlers shared this spin on tapioca pudding when they arrived during the 1800s.
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. dried currants
1 Tbsp. raisins
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/2 tsps. sugar
1/2 tsp. vinegar
1 1/2 tsps. quick-cooking tapioca
Place water in a pot over heat and cook prunes, currants, raisins, and cinnamon until tender. Then add the sugar, vinegar, and tapioca and bring to a full boil before removing from heat. Remove the cinnamon stick before serving.
Did we miss any recipes from back in the day that you’ve tried? Let us know below and be sure to SHARE with your friends!
Sheep Sorrel Pie
This creative dessert was made as a lemon pie substitute. Citrus fruit was hard to get in the U.S. and lemon pie was an extremely popular dessert. The pioneers used the herb, sheep sorrel, to flavor their pies and the taste is supposedly very close to lemon pie. But, we’ve heard it does take a fair bit of sheep sorrel to get the flavor.
Sheep Sorrel Pie:
1/2 cups butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoons flour
1 handful shredded sheep sorrel leaves (about 1 cup)
Beat eggs well. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together and then combine all ingredients together. Mix until blended and then pour into two pie crusts. Bake 30 minutes at 325 degrees or until the filling has set and the crust is golden.
This sweet pudding is called Indian pudding because it uses ground corn. However, this is not a recipe that American Indians made, but more of an American take on the Hasty pudding that the pilgrims would have been used to. Combining corn with eggs, butter, and spices, this dish has a soft texture and is a fine treat when you don’t have wheat flour or fruit.
Pioneer and cowboy recipes from the old west
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg, ground cloves, ground ginger
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
Scald the milk on medium-low heat. In a separate bowl combine cream, sugar, cornmeal, molasses, and spices. Add to scalded milk, stirring constantly. Cook until the mixture is thick like syrup. Beat eggs and temper by adding ½ cup of the hot cornmeal mixture to them before mixing it all together. Add one piece of butter at a time and mix. Using a soufflé pan or baking dish, bake in a water bath for 2 hours at 275 degrees. Pudding will be wobbly but should still test clean near the center with a toothpick whenit’s done.
Missing the traditional puddings from England but lacking the ingredients to make them, settlers created cobblers. Simple dishes that combined fruit and bread or biscuit dough, cobblers have since become an American staple. This dessert traditionally would have been cooked over a fire in a cast iron Dutch oven and lard would have been used in place of butter.
2 pounds frozen fruit or slightly less if fresh
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
Combine fruit and 1 ¼ cups of the sugar with 1 ½ tablespoons flour. Pour into a 9×9 inch baking pan and spread evenly and top with 1 ½ tablespoons of butter.
Mix 1 ½ cups flour, baking powder, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt with the rest of the butter until it looks like cornmeal. Then, add milk and egg and stir to combine. Drop batter over fruit mixture in the pan.
Bake at 400 degrees from 20 to 30 minutes.
From the treats that we still make to this day to the obscure recipes that have fallen by the wayside, the ingenuity of the pioneers to make tasty food is nothing less than astounding. With so many foods unavailable, it’s no wonder that a good cook was so often longed for on the trails. It’s this same determination that fueled a host of new recipes during the Depression and in other times of need.