Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Famous Faces

I'm sorry its been a while since I wrote. I went on Pioneeeer Trek, and then we went camping, and then there was the Fiddle Festival in Idaho, and then we opened our produce stand. Its been busy.

Here's a brief recap of trek: the food sucked, except for the last day when we had a feast of smoked beef brisket, pulled pork, baked potato, etc. I had to leave for a day for a meeting down in town, and that disrupted the rising times for the sourdough I had planned to make. It rained and rained and that got in the way too. So the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.

For your quick little food fact for today, consider this diary entry from John D. Lee. Yes, he's the one who in 1856 helped to massacre 200 wagon immigrants on the trail to California in the name of Mormonism (Mountain Meadows). After the massacre, he went into hiding for a short time, but talked a lot about his role. He was eventually captured and found guilty at trial, and executed twenty years after the massacre. At the time of this entry, he is in hiding near New Harmony in southern Utah.

"May 15, 1859 About 8 at night Aggathean, Rachel and Caroline, my first 3 wives, met near the east line of my pasture fence. They embraced me in their arms and wept with joy and sorrow. Brought with them excellent supper consisting of roast beef, short cake, pies, eggs, pancakes, butter and molasses.”

The next day he wrote:
"May 16, 1859 About 8 o'clock P.M. Rachel, Maryleah, Terressa, my wives, met me with hot coffee, beef steak, crab, custard, etc.”

Lee was famous for his polygamy as well as for the massacre, and boasted of his sexual prowess with his wives. Apparently, for their part the wives were handy with a dutch oven. These two menus give a good representative sample of what I think would have been common for special occasion meals. Everyday meals would more likely be just one dish with bread.

Hope your summer is treating you well. Peas are on now, also cherries. Corn is knee-high or better, and cukes are starting on. Squash is in flower. Beans are about to blossom. Happy eating!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pioneeeer Trek

Tomorrow I leave for "Pioneer Trek" with the kids from church. Its this quasi-reenactment of the Mormon handcart expeditions of the 1850s. When I was a kid, I did one with an outfit from BYU. We walked about 30 miles in four days, eating gruel. The one I'm doing tomorrow, I understand it will be only 20 miles, and slightly better food (but only because the food will be less than authentic).

They've told us over and over, its not really a historical reenactment. Its more of a long set of initiative games aimed at building righteous teenagers. When I offered my assistance on the food end of things, they said they already had it all planned out: canned chili and store-bought biscuits. Canned chili for a crowd of 250 people... should be spectacular. Scenes from Blazing Saddles come to mind.

Last night they told us that the former recommendations of quasi-historical clothing had been suspended... for the women and girls. They are now welcome to don pants due to fears of inclement weather. Blue jeans are still prohibited for the guys. Khaki Dockers are recommended instead. My wife sewed for three days straight to get historically authentic clothing for her and daughter. She's gonna dress right, by gum. I'll try to post photos of the anachronistic fashion show.

I made up a sourdough anyway. I'm gonna take 5 lbs of flour and see which biscuits get eaten first-- mine or the storebought. I can't let this opportunity go by. After all, when will I be on the Mormon trail with a handcart and a dutch oven again?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fast Food

Yesterday I indulged in a little volunteerism. This Is The Place Monument in Salt Lake City also has a full scale Mormon pioneer village/settlement, and they use a TON of volunteers. Those who know me might remember I worked at TITP as their historian a dozen years ago. So anyway, I thought it might a good place to experiment with some of this food stuff I've been researching. I got all dressed up in my duds and went to do an afternoon of sharing info with visitors.

Yesterday was "free day" at TITP and they say they had about 8,000 visitors. It was busy. It was also raining most of the afternoon. I tried to work in the garden as much as I could between spats of rain. I brought my excerpts from Elijah Larkin's diary to share, and I managed to share some of it sometimes (mostly with the other volunteers). In the garden, the most I ever was able to share with people was, "Yes, this is how they grew their food. These are beans coming up here." So I never really got to talk about the research I've been doing. Even though people came to the park to see history, not many wanted to stop and talk about history. In the house, they were using the coffee grinder-- wait, I mean the "spice grinder" to show people how to grind wheat. (Some pioneers did use coffee grinders to grind wheat before mills were established).

It seems that people want fast and dirty information; condensed snippets void of context. Wheat ground in a coffee grinder. Beans in the garden. This makes me think that perhaps a more successful book would be "1,001 strange facts about pioneer food" or "101 Mormon recipes void of context." Just the quick and dirty. After all, isn't that what a blog is? Just a quickie.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Diary of Elijah Larkin

Yesterday we took the kids out to the garden to battle with the weeds. Most things are doing fairly well. The lettuce, spinache and radishes have already run their course. We didn't eat even a tenth of what grew before it went to seed. The tomatoes look like they will certainly drive us out (we have almost 50 tomato plants in three varieties). There were millions of small tomato plants that came up as volunteers from last year's rotted fruits. Also some volunteer potatoes that we didn't find last year. The hot peppers are coming along. Beets and carrots are a little sparse; it seems difficult to get those to come up. Cucumbers are doing well, as are the summer squashes. Peas are in flower. Two plantings of corn spread two weeks apart are looking quite nice. The cherries are turning pink. We only lost one small peach tree from last season, and the survivors are all bearing. All in all, it looks like we'll have plenty to give away, or maybe to sell.

There's an online database of pioneer diaries that came out of the Mormon Pioneer sesquicentennial celebration in 1997 (or was it from a miniseries produced for PBS a few years after?). At any rate, you can find the Trail of Hope diary project here or type this address into your browser>>> http://overlandtrails.lib.byu.edu/ One of the diaries, from Elijah Larkin, talks quite a bit about his gardening efforts through the course of a season. Here's a brief sample:

June 5, 1864 ...this Afternoon my Bro & Self. through the kindnes of Bro Ed Samuels gardener visited the Presidts upper & lower Gardens. the Peas Peaches
apples Pears Strawberrys & in all the Gardens looked splendid.
June 6, 1864 ...I watered the Hall Lot with waste water. planted a row of Cabbages
& hoed the Carrots in the Orchard Lot.
June 7 …To day I worked in the Orchard Lot hoeing. Sarah & Jos weeded the rows after me…
June 9 …I hoed up the weeds in the Hall Lot & moulded up the Potatoes Jos S. assisted me.
June 11 …To day I finished Hoeing up the weeds in the Hall Lot.
June 14 …To day I recieved the notices when to use the water under the new regulations for the Orchard Lot 1½ houses once a week in stead of two & a half
Hourse twice a week. five the Hall Lot half an hour once a week insted of an hour & half twice a week. watered the Hall Lot.
June 17 …Hoed the Beans in the Orchard Lot.
June 18 …Moulded up my Beans in the Orchard Lot early this Morning & watered bouth Lots during the day with waste water.

As you can see there's a lot of information in just two weeks' entries about food production. Through the course of a year, it looks like a gold mine. I particularly like his details about the irrigation schedule, and also the description of Brigham Young's gardens. But perhaps the gem for June of 1864 is this entry about his interaction with Sarah, his fractious plural wife. Earlier, she was found guilty of hoarding food and hiding it from the other wife. Plural marriage must have been a terrible circumstance. Read on...

June 20 …I took Sarah a Ten dollar order for Crockeryware &
Tallow for Soap & Candles. as soon as I got into the House
she pretended to be verry ill. & weak. but after Grumbling
& finding fault with me for about Half an Hour she showed
her cloven foot & I went to the Orchard Lot to thin my
Carrott Patch. she folowed & commenced to abuse me in the
garden. I advised her to be quiet. but finding she would not
I left & went to the Hall Lot here she folowed me again
& haveing raked up all she immagined wrong about me from the
time she first knew me. she vented her Hellish Spleen upon
me in words & made evil of things that were meant for good
when at last I ordered her out of the Garden & went home

After all, a garden should be a santuary, not a battleground.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Summertime means...

I was reading Ray Bradbury's "Dandelion Wine" the other day, and he used the beverage as a metaphor for the idyllic summer days of youth. And then, cosmic coincidence, I was doing a piece of research just days later, and I came across a cookbook in the DUP archives called How To Cook (Chicago: Belford, Clarke & CO, 1883). It was owned by Mary Clark (mother of Annie Clark Kimball), and on the front blank page someone had written this receipt in an elaborate Spenserian hand:

Dandelion Wine
Boil for half an hour 6 lbs of Sugar 7 quarts of Water and 2 lbs of dandelion flowers or 4 ounces of the roots. When luke warm strain it into a clean cask add 4 ounces of raisins and a teaspoon of fresh beer yeast. Stir daily for 10 days then bung close.

So there's my first post of summer. After you've "bunged it close" I recommend you let it sit in your cellar for six months, and then when winter gets depressing, you can go down to the cellar for a brief reminiscence of those lovely summer days.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


For the last few days I've been trying to establish a few positive ID's on submissions from the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers organization. A lot of DUP stuff tends to be documented very thinly, making it of marginal usefulness. For example, there's this tidy little submission from Hattie Snow:

Peach Preserves
“1 qt molasses or more if not sweet enough—3 lbs. peaches either with or without pits. Simmer for 6 hours. Good filling for Roly Poly”

But who is Hattie Snow? A search on FamilySearch yielded a half-dozen possibilities, some within my time frame and some not. It would really be nice if the DUP offered some sort of provenance for their collected material. Its kind of like someone carrying a boxful of flint-knapped arrowheads in to the state archaeologist's office and saying, "look what I found!" The archaeologist replies, "Sorry, can't use it without context." The arrowhead is only meaningful if we know where it was found, and what other objects were found nearby. Was it found on top of the ground, or under two inches of topsoil? Was there a hearth? Or other animal bones?

Fortunately, Hattie Snow's preserves do have some context. We have other pioneers who mention making preserves by simmering fruit in molasses, though they don't tell the proportions or how it was used. It might be likely that Hattie herself wasn't a "pioneer" but that she was reporting a process that is part of the pioneer experience.

I bet ya a dollar that this stuff is just boring as hell to all of you non-existent readers. It fascinates me, but perhaps a best-seller mormon pioneer cookbook needs more recipes and less philosophy.