Editorial Note: A listed of references from both the Colonial & the Fur Trade eras, plus a few recipes.

Lets start with Doddridge in his descriptions of the first settlement years in western VA and Pa.

Page 148 "it was no uncommon thing for families to live several months without a mouthful of bread."

154-155- "some old pewter dishes and plates; the rest wooden bowls amd trenchers; a few pewter spoon..."

Traveling foods for drivers of trade caravans on page 146 "bread, jerk, boiled ham and cheese".

Corn meal mush, corn cakes, and other corn products is "Thier usual and best food." as told in the very first chapter of 'The Backcountry Housewife'.

From Thomas Walkers Journal

March 15th "This afternoon we got to the Staunton... and lodged at James Robinson's, the only place I could hear of where they had corn to spare."

March 20th " We returned to Duncard's about 10 o' clock, and having purchased half a Bushel of meal and as much small Homony we set off and lodged on a small run between Peak Creek and Reedy Creek."

March 21st "I went to his house and lodged and bought what Bacon I wanted."

July 7th (return leg of journey) "...about noon 5 men overtook us... we exchanged some tallow for meal and parted."

July 13th "I got home about noon. We killed in the journey 13 Buffalos, 8 Elks, 53 Bears, 20 Deers, 4 Wild Geese, about 150 turkeys, besides small game. We might have killed 3 times as much meat, if we had wanted it."

Boone supposedly carried Jerk and Johnny cakes by the Haversack full, if I could find the exact reference... (Draper)

"Wheat Bread was rare; corn bread was common" (THe Long Hunt p 90)

Food Rations withdrawn from Geaoge Morgan by Bay, McIntire, and Drinnen. 67 pounds of Indian Meal, 20 Gallons of Luxavated Corn (Dried, whole kernel), 10 Gallons of Salt (Sons of a Trackless Forest 99-103)

"The White grain,(speaking of corn) whether pounded into meal or leftwhole, represented the staple food of the Woodland Indian and a majority of the the Middle Colony Frontier community." (Sons of a Trackless Forest p. 103)

"...and wilderness travelers of both cultures considered a hand full of dried corn per day ... as a standard ration for forest travel." (Sons of a Trackless Forest p.103)
"...these people LIVE SO MUCH UPON SWINE'S FLESH that it don't only incline them to the yaws and consequently to the down fall of thier noses,...(Secret History of the Dividing Line p. 60) above quote by William Byrd)

1769 when Boone sets off for Kentucky..."... and sets off with a small pack train hauling ammunition, salt, sugar, and corn." (Sons of a Trackless Forest p. 605-606

1772 Simon Kenton meets a trader on the Ohio and trades with them. "The woodsmen trade thier skins and peltry for clothing, plenty of powder and lead, plus as much dried corn as the trader can spare." (Sons of a Trackless Forest p. 627-628)

In 1728 Col. Byrd's Expedition to establish the line between Nc and Va. took with them, "500 lbs of Bacon and Dry'd Beef...  Made preparation to go, got some nice halters made with grained raw buffalo hides... deer leather leggings, parched corn meal, and some Jerk...'" "

"Thier usual and best food is Milk and mush."(backcountry housewife, p. 8 , quoting "Records of the Moravians in North Carolina")

Parched Corn makes a very "Hearty travelling dinner" John Bartram, (Travels in Pensilvania and Canada)

"One Early inhabitant of bethabara, North Carolina remarked, "we shall not be able to have any bread BUT of Indian Corn, that is also a good bread." "Backcountry housewife, p. 10 quoting Records of Moravians in N.C.)

"Any petty theft was punished with all the infamy that could be heaped on the offender. A man on a CAMPAIGN stole from his comrade a Cake out of the ashes in which it was baking. .... he was doomed to bear the rest of the campaign, as well for years after his return home." (Doddridge, p. 132)

These simple foods from corn- hoecakes, arched corn and mush- are seen to be basic to the backwoods diet. These staples were thier usual and best food of the towns people as well as the country folk."(Backcountry housewife p. 12)

"They eat fat rusty bacon, and fair water, with indian corn bread." (Charles Woodmason, 1776-78 during his backcountry tour.)

"Breakfast of Parch'd Corn having nothing but that to subsist on for above ahundred miles" John Lawson, 1709

"Living mostly on Parched Corn..." "we were to live on hoe cake and milk." From participants in the battle of kings mountain.

"As wheat is scarce this year... cornmeal shall hereafter be mixed with flour for bread." (Backcountry housewife p. 59 quoting records of Moravians of NC)

" ...We had to live without bread. The lean venison and breast of wild turkey we were taught to call bread." (Doddridge 82)

From Charles Beatty's Diary He was travelling fast, on the move and carried, "A little Meal made of Indian Corn, Parched..." He "Took a spoonful or two of it mixed with water." P.34

"Hog and Hominy' were proverbial for the dish of which they were the component parts. johnny cakes and pone were at the outset of the settlements of the country, the only forms of bread in use for breakfast and dinner. At supper, milk and mush was the standard dish. When milk was not plenty which was often the case, owing to the scarcity of cattle, or the want of proper pasture for them, the substantial dish of hominy was to supply the place for them; mush was frequently eaten with sweetened water, molasses, bear's oil., or the gravy of fried meat. (Doddridge p. 88)

"A day was soon appointed for the march of the little cavalcade to the camp. Two or 3 horses furnished with pack saddles were loaded with flour, Indian Meal blankets..."(Doddridge p. 99)

Woodmason wrote that he was expected to eat "Clabber, butter, fat mushy bacon, cornbread...as for tea and coffee they know it not... neither beef, nor mutton nor beer, cyder or anything better than water... the people are all from Ireland and live wholly on butter, milk, clabber, and what in England is given to hogs."

Woodmason also complained that almost everything seemed to be boiled and "being exceedingly filthy and most execrable "

James Ellerton, a traveler in backwoods Carolinas in the 1740's noted that the settlers there had brought with them the propensity for eating potatoes from their homelands. THE SOUTH CAROLINA SCENE: CONTEMPORARY VIEWS, 1697-1774 (U of SC Press, 1977)

Marquis de Chasteleux noted in his journeys in backcountry Virginia in 1782 , "Wheyski was our only drink, as it was on the three days following. We managed however to make a tolerable towdy of it."  TRAVELS IN NORTH AMERICA IN THE YEARS 1780,1781,1782 (2 vols, UNC Press, 1963)

James Leyburn in his SCOTS-IRISH, A SOCIAL HISTORY (UNC Press, 1962) notes that not only was the food common, that cleanliness in preparation was not stressed much at all. He points out that visitors to the backcountry commented on washing their hands and feet in cooking kettles, tablecloths doubling for bed sheets, milkchurns were never washed (it was unlucky), frogs being dropped into the milk to make it thicken, and butter full of hair and dirt. Leyburn notes a common expression among the backwoods being "The more the dirt, the less the hurt."

"each man would take in his wallet perhaps a gallon parched corn meal mixed with maple sugar, which furnished a very agreeable beverage- with water- peculiarly fitted for quenching thirst and perhaps a little bacon- sometimes straggle off and kill a deer."

Here are some things from William Byrd's "Journal" that show commonness of Pork and other staple, common foods I have mentioned, on the VA and NC Frontier. Byrd was a wealthy man, and if I recall correctly he had something to do with the founding of Richmond.
While leaving for the trip to the frontier to define the line between NC and VA, on March 10 he notes that his men have been assigned to find pork for the journey. He also notes that pork as well as tar and pitch are staple commodities in NC. this is all 1728.
March 19 he eats "Hominy, toss't up with butter and sugar."
April 6th Made friends with the Indians(cherokee or Catawba) with Rum and Bacon.
April 9th Sent some of his men back for supplies. he ordered, 1000lbs of "brown flour", and 200 hundred pounds of white flour.
Sept. 24, he ate cheese gotten from a "Plantation"(small farm)
NOV 15. he ate sweet potatoes and milk
Byrd Mentions 3 types of animals on his journey... steers, hogs, and sheep.

Here is something from Robert Beverly... he says "Hogs swarm like vermin upon the earth. " "bear meat, cooked whole potatoes, apple sauce, fresh baked vinegar pie, and a container of fresh sweet milk." from a past ott article by william Corby
"he and his boys tucked some parched corn and jerk into there hunting shirts"
Simon Kenton his life and period, 1812 to make a long story short on this next one, Kenton talks of plenty of buffalo deer and turkies "very fine" johnny cakes, "early greens" potatoes turnips and pumpkins, and hominy all the time, "but wheat flour was rare, it coming down the river now but it sold at limestone for 10 dollars a barrel." and also talks of indian meal mixed with flour and maple sugar or honey and were called "wonders"

"hominy was however the good substitue for bread, or parched corn pounded fine and boiled with coon or 'possum fat or rich bear fat."

"a handful of parched corn was ration"

Daniel Trabue said, "They were to poore to eat." April 25th 1775

William Calk wrote, "Today we begin to live without bread." 1777 "My wife and I had neither spoon, dish, knife, or anything to do with"

" To feed this population the people of Boonesborough harvested little food
in the autumn of 1777. The Share of corn for his family, according to one
man, was only two bushels, and 'that had to do us' "

Rangers in Bowmans Company, were "allowed but one single pint of corn per day and that he had to grind it himself with a handmill. The balance of the time he had nothing furnished him but meat, for there was nothing else." With "few dairy products to supplement the meager supply of corn, game became a staple for many."

Game was plainly dressed and served up on wooden platters or pewter plates with corn bread and Hominy." (The Life of Daniel Boone, Lyman C. Draper, p. 450)

Nathan Boone remembers gathering persimmons, and eating apples, and woodmason notes that many had to eat fruit that was not ripe.

Captain Spencer, Ohio country, 1785:

We there killed the largest buffaloe bull I ever saw slain, which is good beef....we skinned the bull, and cut off all the meat in broad thin pieces, which we laid on the hide, and sprinkled salt thereon, letting it lay until we made a long fire. We then put a row of forks on each side of the fire, and placed poles on the forks. Small sticks were then laid on them, and the meat laid on the sticks over the fire, where it remained until half cooked. It was then turned over and left to lay til morning, for by this time it was in the night. We then took our guns, saddles, and blankets, slipped off and lay down in the darkest place we could find, for fear the Indians would stumble upon us. In the morning we put the meat in bags and carried it with us home...."

Lobdell, Jared C. 1785, - (Indian Warfare in Weatern Pennsylvania and North Wet Virginia at the time of the American Revolution.) p. 64.65 - Heritage Books, Inc, Bowie. 1994

James Smith, 1766, in the Ohio Country: "As we were almost out of provisions, I commanded Jamie to take my gun, and I went along as well as I could, comcealed myself near the road, and there killed a buffaloe. When this was done, we JIRKED the lean and FRYED the tallow out of the fat, which we kept to STEW with our jirk as we needed it." Smith, James (1766) (Scoouwa - In the Ohio country) p. 129 - Ohio Historical Society, Columbus. 1966

Natures Bounty, Georgia, 1745: "The 'possum is a creature sized like a hare and very remarkable for its false belly, in which, at times of danger, her young ones creep, and so she carries them off with her. It eats like a pig and is very nourishing. The raccoon is delicate eating, somewhat like the lamb. Its PIZZLE is very commonly used as a tobacco stopper. Squirrels are also most delicious food." Cahin, Edward J. 1745 (Setting Out To Begin A New World: Colonial Georgia, A Documentary History.) p. 102, Behive Press, Savannah. 1994 (Poster's Note: Do "pizzle" mean what I think it do?!!)

And from the Fur Tade Era

George F. Ruxton wrote "meat's meat, is a common saying in the mountains", and "from buffalo down to rattlesnake, including quadruped that runs, every fowl that flies and every reptile that creeps, nothing comes amiss to the mountaineer.

Moses Schallenberger was snowbound in the Sierra Mountains in 1844, he wrote after trapping a coyote. "I soon had his hide off and his flesh roasted in a dutch oven. I ate this meat but it was horrible. I next tried boiling him, but it did not improve the flavor. I cooked him in every possible manner of my imagination, spurred by hunger could suggest, but could not be eaten without revolting my stomach." On another occasion he wrote of catching two foxes, "roasted one and found the meat, though entirely devoid of fat, was delicious."

Lewis & Clark remarked "on October 2, 1805, nothing except a small prairie wolf killed that day" they did not comment as to the flavor. Merriweather Lewis's journal entry of June 3, 1806 states "our party from necessity having been obliged to subsist some length of time on dog have now become extremely fond of their flesh; it is worthy of remark that while we lived principally on the flesh of this animal we were much more healthy and more fleshy than we had been since we left buffalo country...."

Joe Meek favored dog meat as being superior to bobcat or lynx, although lynx was said to be excellent when fat. Marmot, wolverine and woodchuck made their way into the pot, too. If hungry enough "porcupine was passable with some sweetgrass and roots. "Field mice made a smaller game but, one can "subsist, as did trappers, by hunting crickets and field mice. Otter, marten and muskrat filled the hollows when nothing better was available, marten was the rankest and most disagreeable of these fleshes."

Edwin Bryant wrote on May 23, 1846 that "we met four trappers from the Rocky Mountains, returning to the settlements..... and suspended from the saddle of one trapper, a wild turkey, a raccoon and several squirrels, which they had taken the night before.... they have contrived to supply themselves with a sufficiency of meat to keep themselves from starvation."

William L. Manly was quoted as saying "duck, geese, pheasant, prairie chicken, quail and sage hen were in good supply along with wild turkey. But that abominable crow has the flesh thats as black as its feathers and a taste to match." Maybe the reason for the statement of a bitter pill or "eating crow".

Josiah Gregg tells of his companions killing a bald eagle, raven and finding a half eaten fish. "the total of all were cooked and stewed together for an excellent supper." But buzzards, ourlews, hawks and pelicans did not receive the same remarks in their journal of 1850 on the Clear Lake, California.

Isaac Rose said of the Sandhill crane, "a favorite food with trappers; they were large, fat and tender, some weighting forty pounds." "Easy to kill or trap and the supply is endless....."

Daniel T. Potts, Robert Stuart and Peter H. Burnett were only a few who wrote of eating their "shoe soles, leggins or tanned hides in an effort to stay alive."

Charles Larpenteaur wrote of nothing but dog to eat, which the squaws cooked. Some of the group cried out "Mad Dog! Mad Dog! sure enough, he did look like a mad dog; his head sticking partly out of the kettle, with his fine ivories, growling as it were, and the scum was frothing about his teeth...."

James Clyman while camped on the Sweetwater River in 1825 became separated from his companions, he wrote "after having killed two badgers, I skinned and roasted them, making a suitable meal with parched corn..."

Thomas Becknell while on the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 wrote "I killed one small prairie dog, roasted it, but found it strong and unpalatable..."

John R. Bell, on the Arkansas River in 1820, complained that "Our hunters came in having killed a skunk, which we must keep for our dinner tomorrow." The next day "boiled the skunk, which tasted skunkish enough..." Joe Meek had similar remarks for eating polecats..."

Osborn Russell reported that "beaver feeding on wild parsnips were poisonous and those that ate of the meat, within a few hours became sick at the stomach and the whole system became cramped..."

Rev. Samuel Parker said "that while flesh of the beaver was usable, the fore part is of a land animal while the hind part is of the taste of fish like..."

Joseph R. Walker and his party considered all eggs edible regardless of their age or condition, embryos well developed, and small birds only a few days old, would be cut into small pieces and used in soup or stews. The same group had a feast with Indians on the Sierra Nevada range to find that "pounded fish was really not fish but worms, which suddenly was rejected by our stomachs when found out..."

Buck G. Connor's journal stated that "ants and snakes were cleaned and roasted then eaten with flour cakes for evening meals while in the employment of the Mexican Army...." and "was probably one of the better meals available at the time" a reporter for the hometown newspaper, the Phila. Evening News wrote.

Joe Meek wrote of the Indians of the Great Salt Lake area pulverized grasshoppers which they mixed with a jam of service-berries and dried in the sun to form a "fruitcake". "Fried grasshoppers, caterpillars, wood-boring beetles, termites and spider bodies were disguised in stews.." "Rattlesnake was occasionally eaten by these people as a special treat.." Nuts; hazel, walnut, pinion and acorn were favorites of these travelers.

William Ashley's journal of May 28, 1824 records that "during the last two days we have lived on fish we caught with hooks and lines..." Hooks and lines were often mentioned on lists of supplies by traders.

John C. Fremont, Benjamin Kern and Jed Smith have written of eating "mule meat, making minced boiled mule meat pies for New Year's treat... and mentioned that the pies were very good..."


You have a wide selection of choices. I seem to see that the more tart type of fruit such as lemon or blackberries make good shrubs. Most often the blacberry shrub is diluted with vinegar and plenty of sugar. If you use a sweet fruit such as cherries, strawberries, peaches or plums, you would have a bounce.
I make lemon shrub.
The story of my search for the recipe is condensed to a desire to carry with me a proper drink of early frontier and when I found the book, "Early American Beverages" by John Hull Brown my research centered on some of the cordials and mixes, especially the shrubs. I liked the notion of a lemon-flavored drink. Since then I have seen several references to shrub in some magazine articles books. I simplified some recipes from the Brown book that were taken from sources that date to 1826 and 1858. References seem to indicate that it a much earlier drink. One interesting book of period recipes "Lobscouse and Spotted Dog" has a recipe that is very similar to mine. Enough rambling, the recipe follows:
1 and 1/2 pints of lemon juice (I squeezed the lemons to make the juice)
Grate the rind of 3 to 6 lemons
2 cups of sugar (one pound)
750 milliliters of brandy (one fifth)
Water as needed.
Grate the rind of 3 to 6 lemons and cover with a cup of brandy. Set aside and reserve the remainder of the brandy.
Squeeze the lemons to make 1 1/2 pints of lemon juice (the juice can be supplemented from bottled lemon juice or made from canned juice).
Add the 2 cups of sugar to the lemon juice stir, add the reserved brandy and refrigerate.
For the next week stir the lemon juice daily. Shake the brandy and lemon rind. At the end of the week strain the brandy from the lemon rind and add the brandy to lemon juice mixture. Separate the mixture into three 750-milliliter bottles and add water to fill. Cork and refrigerate for about another month. Shrub must age to properly mellow out. Be sure to shake the bottle before you drink. The lemon shrub I shared was about two months old. You can use as much brandy as you wish.
Enjoy this at the campfire and remember that it is generally considered to be very healthy and is recommended as a preventative for scurvy. I have heard of some naysayers state that the citrus products may have some adverse effects on people who suffer from arthritis. I do know that this is good.


My favorite recipe: Put 3-4 in a pan whole, salt, pepper, mushrooms, onions and apple(apples the key to reducing strong or mild game taste) add them in and bake. Cook wild rice sperate. Pull out squirrel when cooked, remove meat, toss bones. Mix meat with pan drippings, shrooms, onions, apples and mix with wild rice, there ya go, some rebake it a bit more then, but be careful ya don't dry it out to much.
Now, about cleaning. I use my 62 smooth. After the kill, I pick up the rat, slice his belly and remove all guts with a swipe of my fingers, from upper chest to low bowels, one swipe or pull and done, takes maybe 1 minute at tops? If something is "leaking" from perferation, it only leaked a few seconds. When home I pull off the rats jacket rinse in cold water and freeze or cook.


I take beef, lean and dry it, dehydrator, sun, fire, oven whatever. Do this to crack stage, when a piece will snap in your hands when bent. Season it not at all.
Pound this up, I pound it with a wooden mallet, I ruined a coffee grinder once doing this mechanically...talk about an upset wife. Man, I had to pound my own coffee with the damn mallet the next morn at the house.
When it is pounded you are about set. Go get some tallow, cube it small cook it down, low heat, if it smokes it is too hot. Strain it, let it cool. It should cool white and tasteless and free of smell, if it is not, you burned it.
Reheat tallow and let cool, when liquid but cool to the touch poor it into pounded meat while stirring. You are going for a "fudge-like consistincy", press into blocks or balls, ...done
Variation; dried berries not always needed, nice change of pace, Maple sugar, adding berries and sugar i do not, I carry it seperately and add when cooking if I do carry them.Marrow fat; this makes Sweet pemmican considered the best, and I agree, it has been years since I have had some. Get some larger beef bones or other kill game and crack bones and scoop out marrow fat and add. LOTS of extra work though for a bit of marrow.

Boiled Beef

Take round steak and place it in a deep pot with half Vinegar half water. Apple cider or Red Wine is fine. Boil for an hour. With a roast, cut in to 4 pieces and soak in the Vinegar over night or more...you want the vinegar to get into the meat to help preserve it. Boil for an hour or more, check the middle of the chunks of meat to make sure it's cooked good. Throw it in a food bag and it will keep for three days in cooler temps. Many Europeans cook several dishes with this pickled meat. Germans, English, Eastern Europeans and several others. I grew up on this type of meat. When you eat it.. take a bite and while chewing it take a swig of water, and the flavor will come to life in your mouth..ahhh heaven. Warning after 2 to 3 days eat at your own risk. After a while it will turn black and I have yet to see it mold up on me. I forgot a piece in my pack one time..interesting colors.

Parched Corn

One of the staples of early American life.  Simply take dried corn (I get sweet corn during the summer, pull back the sheaves and hang it to dry from strings).  Once it is dry, take it off the cob (also called shelling).  Heat a frying pan, some folks will use a little grease or oil, however that can make it go rancid after a while, I prefer to do it dry.  Put a layer of corn in the bottom of the pan and keep moving it till it is browned.  You are ready to trek!

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