Corn, pork and beans. In 1836 Indiana, these three ingredients were the most common and important parts of any meal. They were easy to grow, could be stored for months on end, and were tasty!
So, if you chose to settle in Prairietown, you’d need to know how to cook a few receipts (or as we call them today, recipes) that use these three ingredients. Here’s one receipt that an 1836 cook could make at any time of year:
Corn Meal Mush or Hasty Pudding
The proportion of 1 part meal to 4 parts water is a good general rule of thumb. If the meal is coarsely ground, however more meal may be required to thicken the mush. A little salt was also traditionally added if available. A half an hour is sufficient to cook the mush. Serve hasty pudding with butter, molasses or meat drippings.
The Backcountry Housewife
Who would be a cook in 1836?
In 1836, cooking was generally done by women – mothers, wives and sisters – but men would certainly know how to cook basic things so they could cook for themselves when they needed to. It was common for children to start helping with chores as soon as they were big enough to hold a spoon! By the time children – especially girls – were eight or nine years old, they would regularly help with the meal and would know how to cook a few basic dishes on their own.
How would a cook decide what to make for a meal?
That would depend on what ingredients they had to cook with, and that would depend on what time of year it was. In the summer and fall, cooks would have plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, eggs, poultry and wild game. In the fall and early winter, families would butcher their hogs and have plenty of fresh meat. In the late winter and spring, having good food to eat all year long depended upon whether or not the cooks knew how to preserve their excess produce.
How would a cook make their food last?
There were three ways - dry the food out, pickle it or preserve it with salt or sugar. Which method a cook would use depended on the type of food. Here are two receipts for preserving veggies and fruit - give them a try!
Pickled Green Beans
2 pounds fresh green beans
3 cups water
1 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons pickling salt
2 tablespoons dried dill
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cloves of garlic
Trim the ends from the beans; then wash and drain. Cut to fit pint jars. In a pan, cover beans with boiling water; cook uncovered for 3 minutes. Drain. Pack lengthwise in canning jars. In a large kettle combine 3 cups water, vinegar, pickling salt, dill weed, cayenne and garlic and bring to a boil. Cover beans with pickling liquid to within 1/2 inch of top. Adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes a quart.
Thirteen Colonies Cookbook
10 pounds of apples
4 pounds of brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground allspice
6 quarts apple cider
2 tablespoons ground cloves
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Wash, peel, core and quarter the apples. Boil down the cider with sugar and spices. Then add the pared and cored apples. If the apples are tart, add more sugar. Stir the apple butter constantly until it is of moderately thick consistency.
Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook, J. George Frederick 1971
What ingredients would a cook need to buy?
Cooks would NOT go grocery shopping. Instead, they would grow most of their food as they were very reluctant to spend money on cooking ingredients. They would only go to the store to get the few things they couldn’t grow for themselves.
Can you think of what those things might be?
Hint: Do you like sweets?
Visit Prairietown to find out the answer!
Want to learn more?
Find out more about being a cook in 1836:
• The American Frugal Housewife – available at the Conner Prairie Store
• The Sauerkraut Yankee – available through Google Books
• Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/