11 Pioneer Recipes From the 1800s (2024)

How the pioneers ate is one of the most interesting aspects of their culture and heritage. It reveals how creative and hardworking they were in sustaining their families in challenging situations.

Below are some simple pioneer recipes that anyone can make.

Common Pioneer Foods

  • Bread: The pioneers didn’t have packages of yeast. They usually made their bread with the “salt-rising” method. The bread dough was mixed in a kettle while they were traveling. Natural bacteria and microbes in the dough would cause it to rise. Then the dough was baked in the kettle over a campfire at night. Read more about it here. (Amazon link). Also read How to Make Wild Yeast Starter.
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  • Cured Meat: Without refrigerators, meat was preserved either by smoke or salt curing. To salt cure meat, salt was rubbed into the meat. The meat was then covered with salt for about 1 month, during which time more salt was continuously added. Bacon was a particular favorite of the pioneers.
  • Cornmeal, dried corn: The pioneers brought dried corn and grinded it into meal to make cakes and cornbread. See, does cornmeal go bad?
  • Lard: Forget fancy olive oil! The pioneers used fat from animals to cook their food. It was a staple on the trail. How to store lard long term.
  • Eggs: Pioneers on the Oregon Trail did bring chickens along in crates tied to the backs of their wagons. However, it is doubtful that they laid eggs in the bumpy, stressful conditions. Eggs were mostly used in pioneer recipes once they got settled.
  • Rabbit, squirrel, Turkey and other small game: These could be easily hunted along the way and made into stew. See our guide to eating squirrel.
  • Squash: Squash, like pumpkins, doesn’t spoil quickly and can grow in the wild. The pioneers would make mashes and cakes out of them.
  • Dried fruit: To dry fruit, pioneers would lay the sliced fruit out in the sun.
  • Tubers (potatoes, turnips, etc.): These were also a pioneer favorite because they lasted a long time without spoiling. Tubers could also be foraged easily on the frontier.

Pioneer Recipes

Here are some authentic pioneer recipes and meals. We’ve also covered some of the techniques and traditions used in their rustic cuisine.

1. Hardtack

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Also called “sea biscuit,” hardtack was eaten by pioneers, sailors, and soldiers during war. It is made of flour and water, mixed and baked for a long time in an oven. During bad times, the pioneers often had nothing to eat but hardtack dipped into coffee.

Recommended Reading: How to Make Hardtack

2. Hoecake

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Pioneers brought along dried corn because it didn’t spoil. They could grind it into meal to make biscuits or “cakes.” For hoecake, mix the following ingredients and fry on a skillet:

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup water or milk
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp shortening

3. Pocket Yams

First, make a campfire. Once you’ve got enough coals, you can bake the yams (or potatoes). Cover the yams with the coals and let them bake until steam comes out – about 40 minutes. Note that the yams shouldn’t be in the flames, just in the hot coals.

When the yams are done, DO NOT EAT THEM.

These yams are meant to be put in your pocket to warm your hands. This is another cool way pioneer mothers kept their families warm in the wilderness.

4. Cooked Cabbage Salad

This recipe probably comes from German pioneers who particularly loved cabbage dishes. Make in a skillet:

  • 1 pint of chopped cabbage
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • 1 tsp butter
  • Salt and pepper

The pioneers might add sugar and a ½ cup of fresh cream to the cabbage if they had it.

5. Mormon Gravy

Gravy was slathered on top of vegetable pies, bread, or potatoes. It added much-needed flavor and moisture to the bland, dry food. To make it:

  • Heat skillet with 3-4 tbsp of meat drippings (Amazon link)
  • Add 3 tbsp of flour; stir constantly while browning the flour
  • Remove from heat and add 2 cups of milk; stir
  • Return to heat, stir constantly until mixture is smooth and thick
  • Season with salt and pepper

6. Bread Pudding

The pioneers didn’t waste anything. So, they used stale bread to make bread pudding.

  • 2 cups cubed stale bread
  • 2 cups milk
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp butter or lard
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt

Put bread in a baking dish. In a saucepan, mix milk, sugar, and butter. Remove from heat and whisk in eggs. Pour the mixture over the bread. Make at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

7. Thrift Fritters

The pioneers didn’t always know what foods they’d find. For example, they might return from a foraging trip with a few wild carrots, nettles, and wild onions.

These random veggies could be added to old mashed potatoes, a beaten egg, and maybe some flour to make a fritter. Then, they would form the mixture into patties and fry them in drippings.

8. Butterless, Eggless, Milkless Cake

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This sounds like a recipe for a health-food cake, but it is a pioneer classic!

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 2 tbsp of hot water
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder

To make, boil the first 8 ingredients (sugar through salt) together for a couple minutes. Then, add the baking soda, flour, and baking powder. Bake in a flat pan at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

9. Tender Meat

The pioneers brought along cattle for milk and sometimes butchered them. The meat wasn’t exactly tender, either.

To tenderize the meat, they used this recipe:

  • Mix 1 cup of fine breadcrumbs with some salt, pepper, thyme, or other herbs
  • Add enough milk to make a very thick dressing
  • Spread dressing over meat.
  • Roll up the meat and tie it with twine.
  • Brown the meat in fat.
  • Add ½ pint of water. Cover and cook until the meat is tender.

10. Corn Soup

Dried corn was a staple of the pioneers. They made all sorts of things out of it, including soup.

The pioneer women would add whatever they had to the soup. For example, they might boil the dried corn with wild greens, potatoes, parsley, peppers, beans, eggs, and rice to make a hearty bowl of soup.

11. Bacon and Sourdough Pancakes

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This one sounds good, right? It wouldn’t exactly pass modern health inspections, though, because the sourdough starter was made by leaving flour + water out for days. The bacteria in the air would cause it to ferment.

You can read more about how to make sourdough here. (Amazon link)
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What will you cook if a disaster hits and wipes out the grid?

11 Pioneer Recipes From the 1800s (2024)


What did pioneers eat in 1800s? ›

Each family brought along such staples as flour, sugar, cornmeal, coffee, dried beans, rice, bacon, and salt port. Some also brought dried fruit. Mealtime on the Oregon Trail was goverened by the sun... Breakfast had to be completed by 4 a.m. so that the wagon train could be on its way by daybreak.

What was popular pioneer food? ›

They tried to bring a lot with them, particularly wheat flour, corn meal, sugar, bacon/salt pork/ham, oats, dried beans, salt, tea/coffee, and hog lard, and by the 1860's canned food (meat, vegetables, fruit, berries.) Dried apples, raisins, figs, onions, nuts, and crackers/hard tack were also popular to bring along.

What was cooking like in the 1800s? ›

During the 19th century people used open flames for cooking or stoves. Stoves were gaining popularity in the 1800s, but they were not electric or gas like ours are now. Instead, they had either a wood fire or a coal fire inside. The stove allowed the heat to more uniformly cook and bake food than an open flame.

What was a typical pioneer dinner? ›

(10 – 14) Bread, corn, jerked meat, beans and rice, and dried fruit were staples for pioneer family meals. (15) Dutch ovens and iron caldrons were a crucial cooking tool for open-hearth and campfire cooking on the frontier.

What was the main meal eaten during the 1800s? ›

Clearly, meal preparation two hundred years ago involved several more steps than it does now. Much like today, families usually ate three daily meals. The main meal in the 1800s, however, was not the large evening meal that is familiar to us today. Rather, it was a meal called dinner, enjoyed in the early afternoon.

What were meals in the 1800? ›

Pies, biscuits, and cakes were commonly cooked in this type of oven. While the women spent most of their day preparing and cooking meals, the men were busy farming, hunting, fishing, and tending to the livestock. Wild game, such as deer and turkey were commonly consumed as well as pigs. Pigs were a staple in the south.

What did pioneer kids eat for lunch? ›

Lunch at school, called 'nooning,' might include cold pancakes, bread with lard, jam or meat sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, dried meat, baked goods like muffins, cookies, and maybe even a slice of cake.

What food was invented in 1847? ›

Hanson Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was 16 years old.

What did the pioneers pack for food? ›

The endless walking and hard work made even the most delicate appetites ravenous. Hundreds of pounds of dried goods and cured meats were packed into the wagons, including flour, hardtack, bacon, rice, coffee, sugar, beans, and fruit.

What did they eat for lunch in the 1800s? ›

They might have had cornbread and syrup, or bread and lard, maybe with a little sugar, or bread and bacon. It was a special treat to have a sandwich with meat in it. There were no peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — peanut butter wasn't made in the 1890s. Water was the usual drink with lunch.

What did they eat for breakfast in the 1800s? ›

Fresh fruit was hard to find on the trail west, but dried apples were plentiful, so dried apple pies became standard breakfast fare in the Midwest during the 1800s. Butter was scarce, but Native Americans taught the settlers to make butter from crushed green hickory nuts to spread on their corn bread.

What were the snacks in the 1800s? ›

The “1800s” was a whole century, when things were changing, but…mostly pretty natural things. Honey, if they wanted something sweet, or fruit. Bread, cookies, cakes, if it was something special. Meat jerky If they were trappers or hunters, out on the trail for a long time.

What did pioneers drink? ›

The Founders, like most colonists, were fans of adult beverages. Colonial Americans drank roughly three times as much as modern Americans, primarily in the form of beer, cider, and whiskey.

What did pioneers cook on? ›

The fire pit was used as the oven and stove. The stove part of the fire pit consisted of a metal rod from which pioneers could hang “S” hooks and could then cook their food in Dutch ovens hung from these hooks. Pioneer Dutch ovens were very similar to Dutch ovens we use today.

What kind of bread did the pioneers eat? ›

Heritage Gateways, for the sesquicentennial celebration of Mormon Pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley, wrote this about food on the trail: “Sourdough Bread was used by men on the range in early days before baking powder or yeast were available.

What did the pioneers eat for breakfast? ›

If the unthinkable happened and the coffee supply ran out, the pioneers would resort to sipping corn or pea brew. In addition to coffee or tea, breakfast included something warm, such as cornmeal mush, cornmeal cakes (“Johnny Cakes”) or a bowl of rice. There was usually fresh baked bread or biscuits.

Did pioneers eat a lot of meat? ›

They didn't have room for much. Staples were flour, salt, sugar and bacon. They had guns and used them to bring down wild game, venison, buffalo, turkey or whatever they found to shoot. They cooked biscuits, gravy and meat plus wild greens and any berries to be found.

What did pioneers carry their lunch in? ›

There were no plastic lunch boxes or thermoses on the homestead. This girl is carrying her lunch in a tin container called a lunch pail. Some families could afford to buy lunch pails for their children. Others saved empty lard or syrup buckets to use as lunch pails.

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