clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Modern takes on 3 pioneer-style victuals

What to eat on the 16-week trek across the West? And how did early settlers survive crop failures, harsh seasons, hunting deaths and other survival issues? Author and prepper Claude Davis shares food prep techniques on askaprepper.com that were used in the mid-19th century, which is when the pioneers were headed west.

My husband, who is a registered dietitian, and I "modernized" several favorite Western-style recipes for contemporary palates and diets. These foods are fun for modern re-enactments and celebrations of pioneer ancestors and those that settled the rugged West.

VEGETARIAN CHILI BEANS

The use of dried beans as a dietary staple was widely practiced by explorers and settlers. By combining the cooked beans with a grain, a complete protein was created giving much-needed nutrition for the strenuous activities of empire-building. Cooked dry beans may be lacking in deliciousness, so we created a variation of chili beans. The origins of chili are still disputed, but many theories point to Texas. Chili mixes were apparently popular with cowboys traveling through Texas and to and from the gold fields in California, according to "History and Legends of Chili" on whatscookingamerica.net.

Members of the Mormon Battalion who were headed to the Salt Lake Valley and wintered at Sutter's Mill near Sacramento were in California when gold was discovered in 1848, according to "The Mormon Battalion March, 1846–47," by Stanley B. Kimball, Ensign, July 1979.

In this recipe, canned beans and frozen whole kernel corn simplify preparation and create a complete protein without the addition of meat, making it a safer version for hot summer dining.

1 15-ounce can of kidney beans, drained

1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained

1 15-ounce can of pinto beans, drained

In her vegetarian chili beans recipe, Pam McMurtry uses canned beans and frozen whole kernel corn to simplify preparation and create a complete protein without the addition of meat.
In her vegetarian chili beans recipe, Pam McMurtry uses canned beans and frozen whole kernel corn to simplify preparation and create a complete protein without the addition of meat.
Shutterstock

1 pound frozen whole kernel corn (we used Trader Joe's Organic Super Sweet Cut Corn)

3 15-ounce cans tomato sauce

½-¾ cup dried minced onions

1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 bunch cilantro leaves, stripped from stems and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon (or to taste) chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

Possible toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, cilantro, corn chips

Place all ingredients in a crock pot, turn on high until simmering, then reduce to low and cook for 4-6 hours. Adjust seasonings and serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa and cilantro garnish.

This chili may be served in individual-sized bags of corn chips; just slit one side of the bag open and spoon in chili.

Let it cool a bit first before serving to children.

BEEF JERKY

Fresh meat didn't stay that way for long, so it was salted or "jerked" to preserve it.

1½ pounds lean beef steak; round, flank or brisket

Making Beef Jerky was one method those who trekked west used to preserve meat.
Making Beef Jerky was one method those who trekked west used to preserve meat.
Shutterstock

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon pepper

½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

Cut the beef into ¼-inch strips with the grain and remove all fat. Stir together remaining ingredients and marinate the meat overnight.

Heat oven to 150 F. Remove from liquid and pat the meat dry with paper towels. Line two 10-inch by 15-inch pans with crinkled foil, lay the steak strips in a single layer (not touching). Place in preheated oven, leaving the oven door slightly ajar, bake 8 hours. Turn off oven, let dry for 6 hours or use a commercial dehydrator following the directions. Store in airtight container.

MARINATED VEGETABLES

A health concern during the Western migration (and other eras) was a nutritional deficiency from the lack of fresh produce during long winters or voyages. The absence of vitamin C in the diet often resulted in scurvy, a potentially fatal disease. Settlers would preserve produce by drying it or pickling it in vinegar. This mélange of marinated fresh vegetables is a tasty contemporary alternative.

½ head of cauliflower

1 bunch broccoli

1 cup grape tomatoes

1 cup black olives, drained

1 cup mushrooms

1 cup baby carrots

1 cucumber, peeled and sliced

2 coarsely chopped bell peppers

1 bottle low-fat Italian dressing

Cut the vegetables into bite-size pieces and marinate in the Italian dressing overnight or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Serve chilled with a slotted spoon.