Country Kitchen: Discovering Aunt Lizzie's Cooking

Country Kitchen: Discovering Aunt Lizzie's Cooking
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As I research my ancestors, I enjoy learning more than names and dates. I like to discover something about their personalities, the area and era in which they lived. Also, the culinary ideas of those times fascinate me.
For years, Aunt Lizzie existed simply as a picture in my grandmother's photo album. I had no idea I was related to one of the fascinating women in Kansas history. As I delved into my genealogy, I discovered the story behind the lady in that old photo.

Elizabeth Inman Mathewson helped her husband, William "Buffalo Bill" Mathewson operate trading posts on the Santa Fe Trail, became the first white woman to cross the Arkansas River, and assisted in the founding of Wichita, Kansas. During this time she gave birth to two children.

Adventuresome Ancestors

Before he'd let her live at the trading posts, Bill insisted the 22-year old, English born girl he'd married in 1864 learn to become a sharp shooter to protect herself . Lizzie adapted to this adventuresome life, helping maintain the posts and accompanying her husband on horseback across unsettled country when he traded with the Indians and acted as a peacemaker.

William Mathewson is well-known in Kansas history, as the original "Buffalo Bill" because he shot buffalo to feed settlers during the starving winter of 1860-61. He had traveled far from his birthplace of Broome County, New York to become a fur trader and explorer.

Hostess at the Trading Post

Lizzie joined him at his trading posts at Cow Creek Crossing and Walnut Creek. Here she operated the business while he was away and acted as hostess for the many people traveling through.

As I research the story of Aunt Lizzie's life, I wonder about the food this pioneer lady the Indians called "Marwissa" or "Golden Hair"served Santa Fe Trail travelers.

Food From the Land

Buffalo meat probably constituted part of their diet. During an interview in his later years, Bill Mathewson remarked that he wished he had a big juicy buffalo steak. Uncle William called it "the finest meat in the world." He also mentioned that many were the times when he had lived on buffalo meat alone.

It's also told that when the writer Henry M. Stanley visited the area, Lizzie served bread and butter, plum jelly, and baked prairie hen.

Because Lizzie ran a trading post, she may have had more supplies than some of the pioneers in the area. However, it appeared they did obtain much of their food off the land.

The plum jelly probably was made from wild plums, bread might be from whole wheat flour, butter must have been churned, and the prairie hen caught in the wild. One report says Lizzie was noted for her excellent butter.

GINGER SNAPS - Since Lizzie likely had access to molasses, spices, flour and salt at the trading post, perhaps she made this type of cookie. They have been adapted for the modern oven and today's cook.

Cream together 1/2 cup sugar (use 1/4 cup brown and 1/4 cup white if desired) and 1/2 cup shortening (lard was often used in pioneer times). Add one beaten egg and 1/2 cup molasses or sorghum syrup. Beat these well.

Sift together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons ginger, and 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. Add these to creamed ingredients and mix well.

Chill the dough for several hours, then roll into small balls. Dip the balls into sugar, put on a cookie sheet and flatten with a glass.

Bake at 375 degrees F. for 15 minutes. This should make about four dozen cookies.

Article (C) 2003 Mary Emma Allen

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About The Author

Mary Emma Allen researches and writes from her multi-generational NH home. Check out her new site, Tea Time Notes

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