Food, glorious food, we’re anxious to try it…
Okay, okay, I won’t sing anymore, but this is going to be fun and drool-inducing! I’ve been cooking since I was about 10 years old.
As a cub scout, I had to cook three meals for my cooking badge (yes, that is a thing). These three meals had to be baked, cooked on a stove, and cooked over an open fire.
With that in mind, I made a cake (lemon if you want to know) for my mom’s birthday, spaghetti and meatballs for the stove-cooked meal, and the barbeque was steak, sausages, and corn on the cob.
Now, while the barbeque didn’t quite go according to plan (I burned the potatoes), I very quickly came to enjoy cooking. In a time full of complicated, messy recipes, I wanted to look at some simpler ones which are easy to make.
I couldn’t do modern recipes though, that’d be more than a little bit boring, wouldn’t it? Instead, I’m going to share the easiest pioneer recipes to replicate.
1. Potato Cakes
Considering the long journeys taken by the pioneers, they couldn’t afford to run out of food or have food go bad. Potatoes were easy to work with and lasted a ridiculously long time which made them a reliable source of nourishment.
These are easy to make and are a popular meal and snack. The recipe can be found here if you want to try them yourself.
2. Skillet Hasselback Sweet Potatoes
Pieces of sweet potato baked in melted butter and coated in a mixture of herbs, shallots, parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, and pepper. Sweet potato with a slightly salty flavor, a bit weird but it sounds pretty good to me. Here’s the recipe for you.
3. Johnny Cakes
Deep-fried cornmeal gruel results in a flat cornmeal bread or cake which is sometimes sweetened with a touch of sugar. The gruel is made by mixing cornmeal, salt, and hot water or milk. These delicious cakes are a popular pioneer treat, and a recipe can be found here.
4. Molasses Stack Cake
This pioneer treat was saved for special occasions because of how expensive it was to make. It’s a group effort of friends and family where each person brings a layer of the cake.
Each layer is stacked on top of the other with layers of either apple slices or apple butter in between each cake layer. You can get a recipe here.
5. Corn Pancakes
A mixture of white cornmeal, bacon fat/lard, and buttermilk make for a fluffy pancake which you can top with whatever you like. You can get the recipe here.
The pioneers were heavily reliant on their cattle for meat, milk, and cheese. Jerky is dehydrated, cured meat and it’s a tasty treat that is popular all over the world. A recipe can be found here.
7. Chocolate Caramels
Who doesn’t like chocolate? Sweets were a major luxury item as they were rather expensive to make. The pioneer recipe mixed molasses, sweet milk, and vanilla to make this sweet treat.
8. Swiss Apple Cherry Pie
The Swiss contingent of the pioneers of the Oregon trail added cherries to their apple pies. This added some extra sweetness to an already sweet treat. If you want to try this one (and I highly recommend you do), you can get the recipe here.
9. Corn Dodgers
A deep-fried or baked mixture of milk, eggs, cornmeal, and wild onions among other things give us a tasty corn cake. This is a popular snack that can also be the main course of a meal.
They can be easily stored in your pockets, which makes them very convenient. There are many recipes for these, and you can find one here.
10. Native American Fry Bread
Deep-fried bread which can be eaten either plain or with honey or jam. A good recipe can be found here.
A high energy food, pinole can be filling without eating large quantities. It’s super healthy and can be eaten as a cereal. If you’d like to make this one yourself, here’s the recipe.
Dumplings are made by wrapping pieces of dough around a filling of your choice – either sweet or savory – and either frying, steaming, baking, simmered, or boiled. If you want to make dumplings yourself, here’s a recipe for you.
A Native American method of preserving meat and fish for extended periods, pemmican is made with meat, rendered fats, and, if you want some extra flavor, you can add berries. You can get a good pemmican recipe here.
Hardtack is a type of biscuit that was made from a mixture of flour, water, and salt. These were used commonly in the military from the 17th to the 19th century and in long sea voyages.
This was due to its remarkably long shelf-life, it could be used when perishable foods would’ve gone bad. A recipe for hardtack can be found here.
16. Mashed Potatoes
Mashed potatoes are easy to make and can be mixed to taste with cream, butter, and salt. They’re very, very easy to make and there are many ways in which to make them. They taste great, especially with sausages and gravy! Here’s a good recipe for you.
17. Hasty Pudding
Hasty pudding gets its name from how quickly you can make it.
It’s a British pudding which tastes great and, while it’s usually topped with whipped cream, you could probably change it up a bit and experiment with different toppings (say, strawberry jam for instance) until you find one you like. Here’s a recipe for you.
Portions of bread dough are baked, then separated into smaller portions and baked again to give us a dried-out bread/biscuit which goes well with tea and coffee… just don’t try it with hot chocolate – trust me, it won’t end well.
You want to make your own rusks? Give them a try with this recipe.
Potjie is a South African stew that’s typically made in a cast-iron pot. You can use any type of meat; beef and lamb are commonly used, but a particular favorite is oxtail. If you want to try it yourself, here’s an oxtail potjie recipe for you.
Another South African favorite, vetkoek is basically deep-fried bread dough which is then filled with whatever you like – mincemeat, jam, and syrup are some commonly used fillings. Try it yourself with this recipe.
21. Spotted Pup
Spotted pup is a dessert made from a mixture of rice, sugar, vanilla, and raisins. It was usually made from leftover rice as wasting food was a big no-no back on the Oregon Trail. You can use this recipe to make it yourself.
22. Soda Biscuits
Soda biscuits are biscuits which were baked using baking soda instead of the usual baking powder. They’re easy to make and were typically eaten with either syrup or jerky gravy. You can get a recipe here.
23. Cornmeal Mush
A breakfast meal, this is essentially a porridge-type meal and is both light and filling. You can try it with this recipe, it’s super easy to make and you can add whatever you like to it.
24. Jerky Gravy
This is used as a substitute for meat, it’s a gravy made from jerky – obviously – and can be spread over soda biscuits, potatoes, and cornbread. You can get a recipe here.
25. Rice and Beans
Okay, so I’m sure we’ve all seen a few westerns and one of the common things you’ll see is a cowboy eating beans out of a pot. That’s not just cinema funny business either, beans and rice are both full of carbohydrates and provide a very filling meal.
They’re also super easy to make and have an impressive shelf-life. There are many recipes just like this one which you can try yourself.
26. Venison Stew
Hunting was a major part of the pioneer lifestyle, a successful hunt meant that you had a lot of meat to last the winter. You could use that meat and any vegetables you may have with you or on your homestead and make a stew.
27. Pan-Fried Pork Chops
It seems pan-fried pork chops have been around longer than I thought. This dish was typically served the day after Thanksgiving. Pork chops were a treat for special occasions, with the rest of the meat preserved as salted pork or bacon. You can get a recipe here.
28. Basic Bread
Bread was a big part of the pioneers’ diet, it’s rich in carbohydrates and very easy to make. If done properly, it has a great flavor. You can get a great recipe here.
29. Classic Apple Pie
Apple pie is a classic dessert that’s popular all over the world. It has a sweet, spicy taste with a crisp crust and filled with apple slices.
It’s not hard to see why apple pie has remained a popular dessert – it goes especially well with whipped cream. I’ve always liked homemade apple pie more than the store-bought ones.
Of course, it helps that the crust is always crispier, and the filling is sweeter. You can get a nice recipe here.
30. Cured Bacon
Bacon was a huge part of the pioneer diet with the average family of four consuming 400 pounds of bacon. Of course, bacon doesn’t last long so the pioneers had to find a way to preserve their bacon.
They did this by curing the bacon – using salt to draw out all the moisture from the meat. You can cure bacon yourself with this recipe.
31. Apricot Oat Bars
Apricot oat bars…these are a healthy, sweet treat that can last a while – assuming you don’t eat them too fast.
I’ve always liked oat biscuits so when you make a bar…well, now you’ve got my attention. These bars can be frozen if you like and kept for later. You can make these with this recipe.
32. Cherry Pie
I’m a huge fan of pies, and I love cherries. Unfortunately, real cherries aren’t exactly easy to find in South Africa and even when you do find them, they’re ridiculously expensive.
With that said, a cherry pie is definitely worth the effort. Sweet, crispy, and utterly delicious! You can make this yourself, with this recipe.
33. Currant Bread
A Welsh Christmas recipe, currant bread is a loaf of bread with currants in it. The reason for using currants was that, at the time, raisins weren’t available to the pioneers during the Christmas season. You can get a good recipe here.
34. Fried Apples
Fried apples are a popular pioneer dessert because apples lasted much longer than other fruits. These are easy to make and have a variety of uses and recipes. Try them yourself, here’s the recipe for you.
35. Native Currant Whirligig
An English dessert that’s made with wild currants, the native current whirligig is a baked sweet treat with a spiral appearance (hence the name ‘whirligig’). If you don’t have wild currants on-hand, you can use cranberries. You can get the recipe here.
36. Swedish Jam Cake
This is exactly what it sounds like, a Swedish cake with a jam filling. You can use any jam you like which makes this a versatile recipe and a sweet treat for the whole family. You can get the recipe here.
37. Side Pork with Mormon Gravy
Pork and gravy, that’s a common, and popular food at Christmas and New Year’s. This recipe, however, uses bacon instead of a pork roast.
The meal also used up all the bacon fat – they really wasted nothing, didn’t they. I’m not a huge fan of bacon fat, but if it gives us a nice gravy then I’m not going to complain. Try it yourself, here’s the recipe.
38. Milk Tart (Melktert)
Ah, milk tart, a personal favorite!
Milk tart is a South African treat that originated in the Dutch Cape Colony sometime in the 17th Century.
The tart has a crispy crust and a soft, creamy filling covered in cinnamon. Some recipes use custard for the filling – yum! If you haven’t tried this, I highly recommend using this recipe and chowing down!
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starving! These lists of foods are mouth-watering, and I hope you guys and gals enjoyed the article. As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time. Until then, take care!
Greg is a South African farmer and homesteader who’s been around animals ever since he can remember. he’s also an avid camper and hiker.