The list of supplies needed for the trip included: tools, guns and gunpowder, spinning wheel, churn, seed, trunks for clothing and bedding, cooking utensils, rope, animal care, crocks and buckets, a few precious items, food and water and more.
They brought along food that would not perish easily on the long journey, such as smoked fish and pork, dried beef, salt, coffee, flour and corn meal. Corn bread was a favorite because it did not spoil on a long trip. Sometimes eggs were placed in the flour barrel for safe keeping, and chickens, ducks or geese made the trip in wooden cages strapped to the sides of the wagon. They would supplement their diet by hunting wild game and by picking wild berries and fruit along the way, as well as by fishing in the many lakes or streams.
They feasted on many kinds of wild game, including bear, deer, raccoon, coyote, beaver, muskrats, fox, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, swans, turkeys, quail and prairie chickens.
Coming to Indiana in the spring rather than the fall was the pioneer's wisest decision. There was time to build a home, plant crops and garden vegetables so that they would have good shelter and enough food to survive through the year.
The immediate priority for the hardy settler was shelter, a temporary structure or a more permanent one. If the trees in the groves were cut for building their new home, the area between the stumps was a favorite place to begin plowing, for the nearby prairie was very hard to turn. Corn was the staple crop for the pioneer because it grew easily in the Indiana soil and climate.
Solon Robinson, 1834 Lake County pioneer, came here in the fall with three wagons of provisions, more than enough to survive the cold winter ahead, but a few other settlers who arrived without enough food suffered through a long winter while depending on wild game and the charity of the few neighbors.
The winter of 1834-1835 was a very severe one, the oxen were hungry, food for the children became scarce and the flour mills were forty miles away. "One family made a supper of a big owl and was roasting a wolf when their supply wagon finally arrived. Though they were hungry, no settlers starved and not one died during the first bad winter in this area". (This is quoted from the first Pioneer History column of Jan. 30, 1980.)
Certain foods were found by the settler upon arrival in Indiana, including hickory nuts, black walnuts, chestnuts, beechnuts, hazelnuts and mushrooms. Wild cherries, wild grapes, plums, crabapples, wild strawberries, raspberries and blackberries were available and roots and herbs found wild in the woods were gathered for teas, medicines and seasonings. Wild game, such as venison, wild turkey or squirrel, and fresh fish would round out the settler's meals, with recipes that were often influenced by the ethnic background of the settlers.
The work of building a home, tilling and planting, making furniture and tools, and clearing the field for a garden made the family very busy , with only a small amount of time left to get the needed provisions on the table at mealtime. Children would often pick wild fruit and fish in the stream, and their help with the daily chores was needed.
Corn was the most common ingredient in the family diet. It usually became the major crop for the newly cleared fields, and for many years corn meal in numerous forms was the basis of many meals. A stiff dough made from meal, water and salt was cooked in a covered pan to produce "corn dodgers." The addition of mold and yeast made a richer mixture called "corn pone," and meal plus a shortening of bear grease, lard or butter became "Johnny-cake" or 'hoe-cake" when baked. Meal was also boiled in salt water to make mush which was eaten with sweetened water, bear's oil or meat gravy, or when cold it was fried and eaten with syrup or honey. "Hominy" was made by soaking whole corn grains in water and then pounding the outer shells off or treating them in lye water, then either boiling or frying them to become a staple of many diets.
Once settled on the land, the family diet would expand to include pumpkin, potatoes, squash, beans, peas, cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, onions, rhubarb, radishes, lettuce, turnips and melons. Included in the seasoning herbs planted near the home were sage, thyme, mint, mustard, horse-radish, tansy, parsley, rosemary and salsify.
Pork soon became a supplement to wild game dishes, and lamb, chicken and beef were added, but pork was the most popular. Cows provided a source for milk and cheese.
In a few years trading posts or general stores were established in the little communities, and a wide range of additional cooking aids were available. Bread became a big part of the pioneer meal, with yeast bread slowly replacing corn bread. But making yeast bread on the hearth took valuable time, due to making the yeast and the fact that the bread had to rise many hours and that the oven had to be pre-heated.
Freeman's Almanac of 1833 told how to make yeast: " Boil one pound of flour, a quarter of a pound of brown sugar, and a little salt in two gallons of water for one hour. When milk warm, bottle it and cork it close. It will be fit for use in 24 hours. One pint of it will make eighteen pounds of bread." To save time some pioneer cooks still preferred the corn meal, or baked smaller batches of rolls or biscuits.
Another time-consuming task was preserving meat for the long winter ahead. Jars and barrels were stocked with sausage, headcheese and pickled pork. Hams, bacon and side-meat were cured and smoked, then hung from rafters for future use. The curing process was a skill that took years to perfect. Wild fruit was preserved and sun-dried, to be made into jellies or preserves. Some apples were made into apple butter or cider, some were barreled, and some were buried to keep from freezing. Cabbage, potatoes and turnips were also buried and kept well during the winter. Green corn, peas, beans in pods were preserved by dipping them in boiling water and then carefully drying them where there was a good circulation of air, retaining the freshness and flavor. Onions were hung to dry in a cool, dry room.
One of most important tasks in early spring was the gathering and preparing of tree sugar, a task that sometimes became a community-wide event, a welcome change after the monotony of the winter months. Wild honey was also used by many settlers.
Beverages were usually homemade concoctions, with tea made from sassafras roots and from various herbs. A coffee substitute was made by brewing parched corn, wheat, barley, rye or even browned bread crumbs. Other drinks included cider and wine.
Recently the "Old Timer" was invited to partake of some steaming-hot sassafras tea at the pioneer log house at Buckley Homestead Lake County Park. He was politely invited to sit in the "old rocking chair" by the dedicated and knowledgeable interpreters (dressed in period garb) who also offered delicious slices of warm home-made bread baked in a Dutch oven on the hot coals of the hearth, the nearby walls of the log house covered with dried vegetables to be used for future use, and smoked meat hanging from a rafter. It was a fine example of pioneer hospitality and cooking. The log house on the Pioneer Farm at Buckley Homestead Lake County Park is a great place to visit and to learn more about the life of the pioneer.
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