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 was the food of old pioneers? ›

Breads, potatoes, rice, and starchy foods put backbone into a meal and the hungry souls who ate it. The mainstays of a pioneer diet were simple fare like potatoes, beans and rice, hardtack (which is simply flour, water, 1 teaspoon each of salt and sugar, then baked), soda biscuits (flour, milk, one t.

What did people eat for dinner in the 1800s? ›

Dinner was the most elaborate meal with multiple courses: soup, roast meats or fish, vegetables, puddings and sweets. Cheese was served at the end of the meal, after dessert. Tea and biscuits were usually offered to guests after the meal.

What were the pioneer cooking methods? ›

The first pioneers in most places ate by campfires. By necessity, foods were cooked by very simple methods. Dutch ovens, frying pans, boiling pots, and roasting spits were typically employed. As settlements grew, so did the range of cuisine.

What do you eat on Pioneer Day? ›

Other dinner options include chicken velvet soup, skillet hasselback sweet potatoes or pioneer side pork with Mormon gravy. After a long day of celebration, you might want to call in for pizza, pie and root beer. If you do raise a glass of root beer, you could choose Brigham's Brew.

What were popular dishes in the 1800s? ›

The foods served varied, changing with the customs of each region, but in the North some common foods were chowder, beef, clam soup, baked beans, roasted pork, custards, oxen, turtles, mutton and salmon.

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 did wealthy people eat in the 1800s? ›

Victorians with more money enjoyed mutton, bacon, cheese, eggs, sugar, treacle and jam as part of their meals. Breakfast may involve ham, bacon, eggs and bread. People who lived near to the sea often ate a lot of fish too.

Did people eat 3 meals a day in the 1800s? ›

By the late 18th Century most people were eating three meals a day in towns and cities, says Day. By the early 19th Century dinner for most people had been pushed into the evenings, after work when they returned home for a full meal. Many people, however, retained the traditional "dinner hour" on a Sunday.

What did cowboys eat in the 1800s? ›

Along the trail, the staples of a cowboy diet consisted of beans, hard biscuits, dried meat, dried fruit, and coffee. Occasionally, a type of bread known as pan de campo (or “camp bread”), which was cooked on a skillet was also available. These along with a little bit of sugar were the staples of the chuckwagon pantry.

What was the pioneer woman's first cookbook? ›

'The Pioneer Woman Cooks'

'" That's how Ree begins her first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks. Published back in 2009, it's every bit as spirited as her website and includes tons of personal stories about ranch life.

How did pioneers dry corn? ›

Corn could be boiled, fried or roasted. But fresh corn on the cob lost its flavor quickly and soon spoiled, so settlers preserved most of it by drying it on racks in the sun or in a corn crib, a shed with slatted sides spaced to allow plenty of air circulation.

How did pioneers cook their food on the Oregon Trail? ›

Breakfast: pioneers cooked meals over open fire, using buffalo chips as fuel (dried dung). (When i start feeling bad for myself I remember that at least i don't have to cook 3 meals a day over burning buffalo dung) Bacon and biscuits were common. Pancakes, beans and oatmeal were also options.

What did the pioneers eat for lunch? ›

About midday, the travelers would stop for their “nooning” rest and meal. Lunch choices could include breakfast leftovers, more beans but now cold and with bacon, bread and crackers, rice and dried beef. A day's travel ended in the early evening.

What did pioneers drink? ›

Answer and Explanation: Many 1800s pioneers traveled in covered wagons. Since there were no stores along the wagon trails, they had to pack all everything they would need for the journey. Water would be carried in canteens, and they would often drink coffee as well.

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.

What food did settlers eat? ›

Colonial forests were packed with wild game, and turkey, venison, rabbit and duck were staples of the colonists' meat-heavy diets. In addition to these better-known (by modern standards) options, many colonists enjoyed eating passenger pigeons.

Did pioneers eat a lot of meat? ›

The pioneers were big fans of dried meats, as it provided them that delicious protein without causing them to worry about spoiled food. Bison was a popular meat to preserve.

What did rich people eat in the early 1800s? ›

Victorians with more money enjoyed mutton, bacon, cheese, eggs, sugar, treacle and jam as part of their meals. Breakfast may involve ham, bacon, eggs and bread. People who lived near to the sea often ate a lot of fish too.

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