We're coming up on that Mormoniest of holidays, July 24th, the day Brigham Young said, "This is the right place." For Mormons, food is and always has been one of the main modes of celebration. Louisa Pratt Barnes said of July 24, 1849, "“The tables were spread with the choicest varieties of things produced from the richest soil, and by our own hands labor.”
A party of 49ers passing through Utah on that first Pioneer Day was invited to sit in for dinner. Coming from Boston, they were “perfectly astonished to see the abundance and variety with which our tables were loaded, and said [they] did not believe that a greater variety could have been produced in that city.”
The trouble is, no one left a specific menu. What could that meal have been?
We know the pioneers ate lots of bread. This was the main staple of their diet. Look elsewhere in these posts for bread ideas.
They also ate lots of fruit. But in this early year of 1849, fruit trees were not yet established. If there was fruit, it would have been wild berries, in season in the canyons.
Another big Mormon feast gives an idea of what might have been served on this first Pioneer Day. In 1860 a British traveler recorded the menu for the Territorial Ball, as follows:
Bill of Fare, Territorial and Civil Ball.
Social Hall, February 7, 1860
First Course, Soups:
Oyster, Ox-Tail, Vermicelli, Vegetable
Second Course, Meats:
Roast: Beef, Mutton, Mountain Mutton, Bear, Elk, Deer, Chickens, Ducks, turkeys
Boiled: Sugar-corned beef, mutton, chickens, Ducks, Tripe, Turkey, Ham, Trout, Salmon
Stews & Fricassees.
Oysters and Ox Tongues, Beaver tails, Collard head, Chickens, Ducks, Turkeys
Boiled: Potatoes, Cabbage (i.e. greens), Parsnips, Cauliflower, Slaw
Baked: Potatoes, Parsnips, Beans
Third Course, Pastry:
Mince pies, Green apple pie, Pineapple pie, Quince jelly pie, Peach jelly pie, Currant jelly pie
Puddings: Custards, Rice, English Plum, Apple souffle, Mountain, Pioneer
Cakes: Pound, Sponge, Gipsy, Varieties
Fruits: Raisins, Grapes, Apples, Snowballs
Candies Nuts Tea Coffee
Most of the vegetables would be likely candidates for the 1849 dinner, since they could be grown in a single season. Likewise, the wild meats would be accessible, as well as domesticated beef, pork and poultry. The interesting food group here is puddings. Largely vanished from our culinary palate, puddings were a main course item for many pioneer meals. While some puddings might seem familiar (custard or rice pudding being somewhat akin to the Bill Cosby versions), other puddings would require the use of a knife. Here's a "Pioneer Pudding" circa 1860 from Martha Bitter Ricks:
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup ground suet
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
About ¾ cup milk
Mix milk with other ingredients to make a stiff batter. Put in a cloth pudding bag and tie tightly. Cook covered with boiling water for three hours. Cut and serve with brown gravy.
The treatment using a cloth pudding bag speaks of the antiquity of this pudding. By mid-19th century, pudding tins were more common, as they hastened cooking time. As a modern equivalent, this might be closest to a Yorkshire pudding, in a different shape.
For our Pioneer Day feast, I'll be bringing baked beans in a dutch oven to the potluck dinner. Hope yours is tasty too!