Today, I am excited to get started with a miniseries I have planned! For the next two months, we are going to explore the history of western, trail and pioneer food. The history of the west with all its intricate parts has always fascinated me! As a child, I often played outside pretending that I was a pioneer headed for a new land out west.
The Great American Western Expansion started in 1803 after Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase. Throughout the 1800s and especially after the Civil War, Americans made their way west toward open country and the promise of open land. The Western Expansion was helped along by several events from the Spanish War to the opening of the Oregon Trail and the California and Alaskan Gold Rushes. Immigrants from other countries, especially Scandinavian countries, helped the push west as did certain religious groups such as the Mormons. People traveled west for all kinds of reasons. The smaller covered wagons and huge Conestoga wagons setting out at trail heads were a feature of the American West for centuries.
If you had been a pioneer headed west, spring was the time to start your travels. April and May were favored months for heading out on the Oregon Trail. By the time you got to the major rivers, the spring rains that would have swollen them, would be gone. And if you made good time on the trail, you would be at your destination in a few months. When you got there in late summer, you still had time to plant a few crops and get your home built before winter started.
And all those people needed food to take with them! Long term staples were among the foods favored such as bulk bags and barrels of flour, cornmeal, sugar, beans and salt. Dried apples, potatoes, salt pork or bacon, vinegar, hardtack crackers, coffee and rice were common foods too. If you took a cow or chickens along, you would also have milk and eggs.