17 February, 2010

Grub: Food In The 1800's

The Cowpunchers: A cowpuncher (anyone who tended cows on horseback) in the old west often spent a good deal of their time on the trails moving cattle. Many times these groups would have a “trail cook” who would prepare meals. A favorite dish was chili and as early as 1828 trail cooks were serving this combination of pork, beef, chilies, oregano, and garlic to the cowboys. It didn’t require refrigeration and was easy to make. It also didn’t originally have beans, those came later.
The Prospectors: Many prospectors were foolish when they thought they could get rich during the California gold rush. Knowing nothing about the local vegetation and little about cooking, scores of men died from a lack of vitamin C, commonly known as scurvy. The condition could have easily been cured by eating any of the several plants that grew wild in the area. Prospectors ate mostly meat, bread, coffee, tea…and lots of alcohol.
The Soldiers: During the Civil War most soldiers didn’t have much to eat. What they did have a lot of was hardtack (stale cracker type bread given to soldiers in the North) and cornmeal (in the South). The most popular dish in both armies was actually quite similar. Northerner troops called it “skillygallee” and it was a mixture of crumbled hardtack and fried pork. The southern version of this dish combined cornmeal, fried bacon and water. The Confederate soldiers called it “coosh.”
The Slaves: Enslaved Africans can almost single handily take credit for what is today known as “southern food.” Some of these so-called comfort foods, like sweet potato pie, also have European or French influences, but others, like watermelon and okra, were actually smuggled into the States by captured Africans and grown in secret.  

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