When winter’s icy winds arrive, we can’t help but think back to the not-too-distant past, when our predecessors first trekked across the frontier toward a new life in the American West. The trail was an unforgiving place, but they persevered with good old American ingenuity. Below are a few recipes, tips, tricks, and how-tos of the pioneer diet we cherry-picked from times of yore.
Canned Preserves and Smoked Meats
It’s going to be tough out there, so it’s best to plan ahead. Before you say goodbye to Grandma and set out on your grand adventure, preserve fruit from the orchard and butcher your livestock. Canned apples will please your sweet tooth in lean moments on the trail, and smoked pork or venison chewed alongside a mouthful of roughly cut tobacco will distract you from the uncomfortable horse ride and your chafing thighs.
There’s nothing like some coffee after a long sleepless night spent watching for bandits and thieves. Stir together loose grounds and hot water and let soak for a few minutes. Have a sip. If it tastes strong, robust, and energizing, add twice as much water. You need this to last for another month. Drink while gazing at the insurmountable distance ahead.
Think back to that last thick slice of homemade bread, fresh out of the oven. You won’t be having anything like that for a long time. But despair not! Now is your chance to try a true frontier classic. Hardtack is easier to make than you would think. Scrape any loose flour you have into a bowl, pull out the hairs and debris, and add water. A pinch of salt completes the recipe. Then all you have to do is wait for a time so bleak and desperate that you will be forced to choke down this hard, flavorless disk. Have weevils infested your flour? You’re in luck—that’s extra protein.
Assessing Safety of Meat
Man cannot live on hardtack alone, however. Meat is especially important when times are lean, but hunting isn’t always an option. So how can we tell if all those frozen baby opossums we found are still good to eat? To test, allow one of your children to consume a small portion of the meat. If your child does not become ill in six hours, the meat is probably safe. Kids are mostly baggage anyway, and this is a great way to give them a meaningful job in the group.
Spoiled meat may soon be the least of your concerns. Don’t worry: eating a deceased member of your party is a frontier reality, so we may as well make the best of it. Spices will be running low, so give this job to the best surviving cook of your group. Normally we would recommend a long cooking time to render more of the fat, but it’s unlikely that any of you will have any fat left to render by this point. We recommend pairing the meal with dirty melted snow and stony silence.
Re-Using that Lost Limb Before it Spoils
When you’ve tumbled down a canyon and got your leg got caught under a rock, you know it’s time for a frontier amputation. Look on the bright side: this boulder-tenderized meat will last the group for a while. And with massive blood loss and a sure-to-follow infection, you’re gonna need all the sustenance you can get.
Boiled Leather from Dead Friend’s Boots
You wouldn’t normally consider eating a boot, but here we are. Cut poor dead Chester’s boots into tiny pieces and give them a good long boil, assuming by the grace of God that you still have water left. Chew thoroughly—this will not go down easy. Need a side dish? Sawdust and sand are surprisingly filling. Another option for the true frontier gentleman: accept your fate. The sooner you pass, the sooner the party can eat again.