Food needed to be hearty on the trail. It needed to stick to your ribs and keep you going all day whether you were walking or riding in the wagon. But it also needed to be interesting. Though on the prairie it could be hard to do both. Diversity in the diet could be as one girl said in her diary, “Bacon and bread. And if we didn’t have bacon and bread, it was bread and bacon.”
The skills you needed to be a good prairie cook were different than those you needed in the East. Cooks had to get creative with a limited diet and supply. You had to learn how to cook over an open fire where you might have been use to cooking in a fireplace or cookstove.
Everyone prayed that their supplies would hold out, but foraging often became a useful skill and helped improve the standard fare. Pioneers were known to eat some interesting things like acorn bread, roasted squirrel, jackrabbit and vinegar pie!
Men often hunted on the trail for deer or buffalo. An oxen or cow might need to be slaughtered. Watching the Native Americans taught the pioneers a lot too especially since these native tribes were use to the foods that could be found in their own lands. When the pioneers crossed a river, fresh fish might end up on the menu for several days.
Cultural diversity, personal expectations and personal tastes among the pioneers added to the diets that they had and what they decided to make on the trail. Scandinavian pioneers had one way of cooking and eating potatoes while the Irish might have another way. The Chinese immigrants are a great example of this as they brought their unique cuisine with them and introduced it to America when they arrived on the West coast to work on the railroads.
If you are interested in taking a look at some actual pioneer recipes to try out, here and here are two great sites to check out!