In honor of the great pioneers who crossed the plains and settled these mountain valleys, we thought it was only fitting to do a post about the kinds of food they may have eaten as they traveled.
We’ve been reading journals and stories from our own pioneer ancestors, and have realized that finding and preparing food was a daily, constant concern as they traveled the plains headed to the Rocky Mountains. We know they had Dutch ovens and used a fire to cook on the nights when they had enough time (they didn’t always have that luxury). Each person had their flour allotment for the day, which they would use for breads and biscuits baked over the fire. To that bread they added whatever they could find, hunt, or gather.
We also know that the early pioneers were planting crops for those who followed behind, including potatoes, buckwheat, turnips, and other staple items. Planting crops was also their first priority when they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. On July 23rd, the day before Brigham Young first saw the valley, an advanced party including my great-great-grandpa and several others plowed two and a half acres and planted wheat, potatoes and vegetables. They also built a dam on city creek for irrigation.
Both on the trek and in the valley, these pioneers also hunted and fished for game. Many of the references to my ancestor in his journal and the records talk about him bringing buffalo, antelope, and fish back to camp.
So, to honor our pioneer ancestors, we decided to do a buffalo stew and biscuits. This kind of meal would have been a great feast for many of the pioneers coming across the plains. When they were able to kill a buffalo, there was a great celebration at camp. With no refrigeration, they had to use or dry the meat before it went bad. But on the night of a buffalo kill they could have looked forward to stew to go with their biscuits.
The pioneers would fish and hunt deer, antelope, and buffalo whenever they could to supplement the rations they had brought with them. You can use any of these for this stew, but if you don’t have any wild game on hand use beef.
- 1 ½ lbs of Buffalo meat (or beef, venison, antelope, etc.)
- 6 medium potatoes
- 6 carrots
- 1 onion
- 2 stalks of celery (pioneers probably didn’t have this, so you can leave it out for authenticity)
- 6 bouillon cubes
- 6 cups water
- 2 Tablespoons cooking oil
- 4 cloves Garlic (again, they probably didn’t have garlic, but we sure like it)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- 3 tsp cornstarch to thicken
- For a 12-inch Dutch oven to reach 350 degrees, you’ll need to use 24 briquettes. If you are also making biscuits and stacking your ovens, start 36 briquettes.
- Cut the meat into stew-sized chunks
- Chop carrots, potatoes, onion, and celery
- Once the charcoal is white hot, dump it on your cooking surface. Pour oil into your oven and cover. Preheat your oven by putting it on top of the coals. Once it’s hot, add garlic and onion and let cook for 1 minute. Then add meat and brown.
- Once the meat is browned, add the rest of your ingredients. Add enough water to just cover all of your ingredients (approx. 6 cups). The pioneers probably added more water because the broth could be used for several days.
- Leave 12 briquettes on the bottom and put twelve on top of your oven.
- Cook stew for about an hour or until your vegetables are tender. About 30 minutes in you will probably need to heat up another 12 briquettes to replace the ones that are spent.
- When the vegetables are tender, mix the cornstarch with an equal amount of cold water and then stir into the stew. Allow to return to a boil for several minutes or until it thickens to the consistency you like.
Dutch Oven Biscuits
Use your favorite biscuit dough recipe. Confession, we took advantage of our modern conveniences and bought refrigerated biscuit dough in a can. If you really want to be authentic though, look up ‘pioneer biscuit recipe’ online and you might just stumble across gems like this one, passed down from people’s pioneer ancestors. Have a favorite biscuit recipe? Let us know in the comments and we’ll try it out!
- Line your Dutch oven with tinfoil and spray with cooking oil. Cut out biscuits and place in the bottom of the oven. If you are feeding a lot of people you can layer the biscuits to make a sort of pull-apart bread.
- Cover oven and place over coals. If you are just cooking biscuits, place 8 coals on the bottom and 16 on top. If you are stacking your Dutch ovens, place the biscuit oven on the bottom with 8 coals below and 16 above. Then stack the stew oven on top and place the remaining 12 briquettes on the lid. It will probably take your biscuit oven about ten minutes to heat up to 350. Once it is hot, a single layer of biscuits should cook in about ten minutes. If you have multiple layers, it will take longer. Because the stew takes much longer than the biscuits, you can start the stew first and add the biscuit oven later so they finish at the same time.
- When the biscuits are browned and cooked through, take them out of the oven.
- Serve with honey or preserves if you’re feeling extravagant. We cheated on the biscuit dough, so we made up for it by using honey from our own beehive.
Eight large biscuits will serve four-six people. The stew will serve eight. Both make for great recipes on campouts, and your Scouts are sure to love them!
To see more ideas for outdoor cooking, visit our blog at 3guysoutside.com.
Author: Gary Pack | Advanced Training Chair, Trapper Trails Council. He is an Eagle Scout with 30+ years of adult Scout leadership. He is also the father of six Eagle Scout sons and one professional Scout daughter. For those counting, that’s 18 Pinewood Derby cars and thousands of Courts of Honor.