pioneer campfire

These days cooking is relatively easy. You can make rich recipes seasoned with spices from all around the world in merely a few minutes. It was not always like this. When North America was still being settled, cooking was a long and complicated process most of the time and did not often yield particularly delicious results.

However, it is prudent to remember how our fore fathers struggled to survive and a big part of that was food.

Whether you just want to experiment to see how people ate back on the old prairie or if you want a fun hands on way to educate your children, below are some of the better tasting recipes from back on the dusty trail.

mud apples

Mud Apples

This uses an old Native American way of cooking to create a surprisingly tasty treat. Native Americans would coat their food, usually fish, with a healthy amount of mud and them bake them. The mud harden and would steam the food inside and prevent it from burning on the outside. Usually, when the mud was scraped off, it would take the fish scales with it, so that was extra helpful.



Make sure your mud is nice and thick, but still able to be spread onto the apple. I recommend making your own mud as their are a variety of sticks and leaves in mud you find on the ground.

Light yourself a camp fire and let it burn for awhile until you have some coals. Coat your apples in mud and then bury your apples in the hot coals. Leave them for about 45 minutes. When the coals have cooled, remove your apples and start knocking away the mud. On the inside of the apple skin (you do not eat the apples skin, it just had mud on it!), there will be a surprisingly tasty apple mush that you eat.

homemade butter

Easy Homemade Butter

Unless you have a butter churn laying around (do you?), it is not likely you can make your own butter the way the pioneers did. However, there is a really easy way to do it.

Well, easy in the way of the ingredients are simple, but it does involve a lot of shaking.


A Jar (preferably a one you can shake for a long time)
Heavy cream

Fill the jar 2/3 full of the heavy cream. Yes, it has to be heavy, half and half will not work.

Shake jar!

After about a half an hour, the sloshing of the cream should stop. At this point you have whipped cream. After a bit more shaking, you will notice a ball has formed, this is butter. You can shake for as long as you want, but by the time the first butter ball has formed, you will be bored and tired of this. Separate the ball from the liquid. When you have the ball, you can salt it or just spread it on something and eat.

The liquid is now known as buttermilk, you can drink that if you so choose.

Pioneer Recipes: Historical Favorites from the 1800's
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Rice Mush

This a traditional breakfast food for those who are out on the trail. People often scoff at it because it is not a particularly flavorful dish, but on a cold midwest morning, this is comfort food.


1 cup rice
2 cups water (use more rice and water for additional servings, but it is always 1 cup rice to 2 cups of water)
Milk, butter, sugar to taste

Cook your rice and water by stirring it until soft. This should take about 30 minutes. Mix in some milk, butter, and sugar to create a sweet and filling porridge.



Johnnycakes are often mistaken as another name for pancakes. They are a whole lot like a pancake except for one important distinction, they are made with cornmeal instead of flour. Flour, unlike the flour we use today which is preserved, expired quickly when out on the trail. Cornmeal had a much longer shelf life, thus johnnycakes were born.


1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil ( fi you want to be traditional, melt lard)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Fry in hot oil until golden brown on each side. Top with butter and syrup (or molasses if you want to be authentic).

These taste a whole lot like a pancake, except they distinctly taste kind of like cornbread too. They are very filling and made excellent morning trail food.

Log Cabin Cooking: Pioneer Recipes & Food Lore
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Trail Beans

Beans were an important staple to pioneers and people in general for a long, long time. Beans could be dried, and therefore stored, this made them last a mighty long time. Beans are also a very filling food, so it made them perfect for long journeys.


4 cups of dried beans
1/2 pound hamhock if you can get it. A ham bone works just as well
1/2 pound of bacon
1/2 cup dark molasses
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cheyenne pepper

Soak the dried beans for at least 12 hours in water. Drain and add them into a pot with your hamhock, bacon, and fresh water. Let them simmer for about 3 hours. On the 4th hour, add your molasses, salt, pepper, and Cheyenne pepper. Stir well and let simmer for another hour.

You can use baked beans instead of dried ones if you want. It will cut down the cook time significantly. You can also add brown sugar, mustard, and ketchup to the beans for additional great tastes.

Vinegar Lemonade

Fresh fruits were difficult to take on the trail with the pioneers, they either had to be dried or eaten quickly. During the hard winters, vitamin C was often difficult to incorporate into a diet. So thus vinegar lemonade was born.


2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

Add apple cider vinegar to a glass of water and stir in the sugar. If you have ever had apple cider vinegar, you will know it is incredibly sour and rather hard to swallow down. More sugar may be needed. However, apple cider vinegar is extremely rich in vitamins and minerals so it was a very nutritious drink for pioneers.