Emigrant Meals

The usual fare for breakfast on the trail was bread or pancakes, fried meat, beans, and tea or coffee. Pancakes were made with flour, water, and baking soda, and cooked in a large frying pan or baking kettle. If bread were baked, it was placed in a skillet or Dutch oven with an iron lid. The ingenuity of the overland women was enormous, but sometimes even that ingenuity could be defeated, as when one traveler noted that mosquitoes got into the dough and turned it black.

Nevertheless, the emigrant women displayed an astonishing versatility. Lucy Cooke rolled out her pie dough on the wagon seat beside her while they were traveling. Cecelia Adams wrote that on one Sunday in June, she had “cooked beans and meat, stewed apples and baked suckeyes [pancakes! … besides making Dutch cheese, and took everything out of the wagon to air.” Jane D. Kellogg, who was on her honeymoon, recalled that “our provisions consisted of hard sea biscuit; crackers; bacon, beans, rice, dried fruit, teas, coffee and sugar.” Charlotte Stearns Pengra was explicit about her chores, recording meal by meal what she had prepared. April 29, 1853: “I hung out what things were wet in the waggon, made griddle cakes, stewed berries and made tea for supper. After that was over made two loaves of bread stewed a pan of apples prepared potatoes and meat for breakfast, and mended a pair of pants for Wm. pretty tired.” May 8: “baked this morning and stewed apples this afternoon commenced washing … got my white clothes ready to suds …. I feel very tired and lonely.” By May 14, Charlotte was thinking she had become derelict in her duties: “gathered up the dishes, and packed them dirty for the first time since I started.” On May 18, with a burst of determination, Pengra “washed a very large washing, unpacked dried and packed clothing-made a pair of calico cases for pillows and cooked two meals—done brave, I think. Those who come this journey should have their pillows covered with dark calico and sheets colored, white is not suitable.”