Country Kitchen: Pioneer Foods of Early America

Country Kitchen: Pioneer Foods of Early America

By Mary Emma Allen

As a project to accompany my childrenÂ’s story,"Sarah JaneÂ’s Daring Deed," about a pioneer family in early New Hampshire, I began to research the foods and ways of cooking in those days.

Sarah JaneÂ’s family lived in a cabin, one room with a loft. Her mother cooked over the fireplace. As Sarah JaneÂ’s adventure begins, sheÂ’s picking blackberries which the family dries for winter food.

"What other foods do they eat?" students ask me. "How did Sarah JaneÂ’s family acquire and prepare them?"

Early Foods

Since supermarkets and convenience stores werenÂ’t on every corner and towns were few, the family had to raise and hunt for their food. In the story, Sarah Jane, her mother and little sister Lucy are alone because Father and brother Stephen have taken the oxen and wagon to the nearest town, two daysÂ’ journey, to get supplies. On the way, theyÂ’ll take grain to the mill to grind into flour. They might get a barrel of molasses at the store. Farming tools that they canÂ’t make will be high on the list and household supplies for Mother..

They raise most of their foods on land they clear. Other food consists of game they hunt and fish they get from the stream. Mother prepares simple meals with the food from their farm or supplies Father brought from the nearest town.

Cooking Over the Fireplace

Nowadays we think it a pioneer task if we cook over a woodstove, as we did when I was growing up. However, the early pioneers had only a fireplace. Sometimes in summer they might even cook outdoors. The nearest we get to this is cooking while camping.

If we visit early American reenactments and museums, we may see the pioneers cooking over the fireplace, as my family and I did when we stopped at Living History Farms in Des Moines, Iowa and the Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia, North Carolina.

GRANDMAÂ’S CREAMED POTATOES - This is a recipe of my grandmotherÂ’s, also one that Sarah JaneÂ’s mother may have made for their meals. Dice leftover, cooked boiled potatoes. Place potatoes in iron skillet, called a "spider" by my grandmother. (Any heavy frying pan or electric skillet will do.) Add a dab of butter (home churned on GrandmaÂ’s farm); Sprinkle 1 tablespoon flour over the potatoes. Pour in whole milk or cream to just cover potatoes. Add salt and pepper as desired. Cook slowly over medium heat until potatoes are warmed through and milk has thickened.

Sometimes my mother varied GrandmaÂ’s recipe and diced an onion into the potatoes before cooking. In season, she chopped fresh parsley over the top or sprinkled with paprika. Some modern cooks like to stir in 1/4 cup finely shredded cheese before serving.

(C) 2002 Mary Emma Allen

About the Author

Mary Emma Allen has been writing her "Cooking Column" for newspapers and online publications for 30 years and has compiled a family cookbook. SheÂ’s currently compiling a cookbook/story book, "Tales From a Country Kitchen." Visit her web site for more cooking articles. Contact her at

The Country Kitchen Series

Window to the World

Mud Season Means Spring!

Memories at the Kitchen Table

The Pioneer Kitchen


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