Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Deseret News reviews Plain But Wholesome

The original review can be found here.

By Margot Hovley

Brock Cheney's new book, "Plain but Wholesome," published by the University of Utah Press, goes far beyond our usual suppositions about what the Utah pioneers ate. Yes, they ate sego lily roots, just like Primary teachers say, but also wild onions, marrow bones and dishes from their ancestral homelands, like British hasty pudding and Danish ├Žbleskivers.

The book contains sections on tools and equipment used, food ideas taken from Native Americans, trail food, hunting, bread-making, preserving, and foods from the Old World re-created pioneer style — all interesting in their own right.

Recipes are in their original form for hominy, egg noodles, molasses, hard tack, rabbit, and even how to boil rawhide: "Scorch and scrape hair off. After scraping, boil one hour in plenty of water, throwing the water away that had extracted all the glue, then wash and scrape the hide thoroughly, washing in cold water, then boil to a jelly and let it get cold, and then eat with a little sugar sprinkled on it."

Recipes are only a small part of the offering here. Stories about the pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abound in how food was a part of their culture, how it varied from place to place, and how it was procured and prepared. There are many black and white photographs, both historic and from the author's collection. Included are fascinating illustrations showing the interior of a flour mill and the layout of the Lion House.

If you've ever wondered how people managed to preserve food through a winter without the help of freezers, sterilizing equipment or vacuum packaging, this book will tell you how it was done — along with the differences and methods for drying, salting and curing meats. You'll also discover which of our current eating habits have come from the pioneer era.

"Plain but Wholesome" is written in a scholarly but engaging manner — easy to read, engrossing and authoritative. Extensive notes, references, indexes and a glossary are provided. In its pages, readers will glimpse the real lives of pioneers, rather than glorified or overly sentimental versions. Foodways scholars will welcome its addition to the field, and history buffs will appreciate the detail and thoroughness of the book.

Information on Cheney and "Plain but Wholesome" can be found at his blog, pioneerfoodie.blogspot.com.

Margot Hovley's first novel, "Sudden Darkness," was published by Covenant Communications in fall 2012. Find her popular self-reliance blog at www.mynewoldschool.com or read about her writing adventures at www.margothovley.com.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Reviews

Now that the book is out and a hundred or so copies have sold, I thought I ought to put up a place for feedback from readers. Actually the whole blog needs an overhaul. At any rate, if you've read the book and you have anything to say about it, feel free to leave comments, reviews, scathing tirades, etc.

Incidentally, I'm having a reading and signing event in Salt Lake City on Saturday October 20, 7-9 p.m. Drop me a line with your mailing address if you'd like an invitation.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

RadioWest! Tomorrow! Oct.1st!

Hello Friends. It is turning out to be a busy and momentus fall season. Last week I got the first copies of the new book. Yesterday I signed books at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers annual convention. And tomorrow?

TOMORROW, Monday October 1st, I will be a guest on RadioWest, a program on KUER 90.1FM, our local NPR affiliate. The show will air from 11 a.m. to noon if you want to call in with questions and comments. Or you can catch it from the archives via podcast, or the re-run in the evening at 7 p.m.

And of course I'll be having a little book launch party at my home this coming Friday evening, with pioneer treats (maybe even bread) and a reading. And another soiree in Salt Lake City later in the month. Send me an email if you'd like an invite to either of these events.

Has anyone read the book yet? I'd love for someone to post a review...

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's Here!

At long last, I have an actual copy of the book in hand. If you click here you can order it directly from the University of Utah Press. You can get it either in paperback ($20) or ebook ($16). I'm trying to get a button set up to order it here from the blog, but not yet.

I'll be selling and signing copies at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers annual convention this coming weekend, Sept. 29th, at the Davis Conference Center, 1651 North 700 W Layton, UT 84041, from 9 a.m. to noon. I'm also hosting a book launch party at my home on October 5th. Drop me an email if you'd like an invite: pioneerfoodie at gmail.

All in all I'm rather pleased with the final book. There are jillions of footnotes and sources in the bibliography. More than sixty historical photographs of food and food processes. It has a very attractive cover, and an ISBN all my own. On the down side, the font is quite small, it seems to me, so maybe the ebook is the way to go, as you can manipulate the font to a more readable size. Still, if I were shopping for a book about foodways, I'd buy this one, if I do say so myself. I can't wait to hear from my first reader though, for a more objective evaluation. Are you that reader?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Launch!

Well, it is finally here. The University Press has copies in the office. I've ordered copies as well. I'm planning a book launch party at my home in northern Utah on October 5th. A friend of mine is also hosting a party in Salt Lake City on October 20th. I'll give a reading from the book and sign copies. We'll also have some treats made from historical recipes in the book.

If you'd like to join us, please send an email (to pioneerfoodie at gmail dot com) with your address, and I'll send you an invitation with the address of whichever party you'd like to attend. Also, if you'd like to pre-order a book, let me know and I'll have one there reserved for you.

Hope you can join us!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Scandinavian Food Heritage Survey

Well, the editor tells me that my book goes to press today. There should be copies available in six weeks. I'll post a link for ordering eventually, or you could use the ISBN to order from your favorite retailer. The ISBN is: 978-1-60781-208-1

So that means it is time to get serious about the next project, which is the Scandinavian food traditions. Some of you have already talked with me a little, and I'm finding there are plenty of people who still have some Scandinavian food element in their family. For the record, Scandinavia is going to be defined as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland. You would know if you had Scandinavian ancestry if your last name ended with -sen or -dater, which usually means Denmark, but -son could mean Sweden. Or more likely, your grandmother's name ended with -sen.

I've developed a survey which you can access on line to help get started on the project. CLICK HERE FOR THE SURVEY. The survey requires you to submit your email address so I can follow up with an interview. I won't share your personal data with anyone, because you're my friends and that's rude.

Please think about your friends and family in this as well. Maybe you don't have a Scandinavian tradition but you know someone who does. Or perhaps you have only one recipe for Danish dumplings but you know your sister-in-law has a whole card file of Danish foods. Please help me connect with those people.

Thanks for your assistance.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On Writing History

I had an interesting experience yesterday. I spoke with two different women about the Danish food traditions of their grandmothers. One said, "I have a dozen or so recipes. I've never made any of them, but I'd like to help you out." The other said, "I have a whole bunch of recipes and they are mine and I'm not sharing them and I won't even talk to you about them." Guess which food tradition will die first?

I've been putting considerable thought towards the idea of this new book I mentioned previously, about multi-generational Scandinavian food. The more I've thought about it, the more it seems that documentation or lack thereof might be one of the sticky wickets in the project. I've made a few contacts so far (thanks to those who responded here), and it appears that one reason why things die off is that no one makes a record, or the keepers of the record refuse to share it, or the record is insufficient. To that end I thought I would write a post about how to record your family history.

It is easy enough to find a recipe from your mother, or possibly even from your grandmother. Most cooks know of a community recipe book that holds a recipe from their grandmother. Perhaps your grandmother's name is even called out in that recipe book, directly attached to the recipe. Isn't that nice?

Now imagine your grandmother's personal recipe book. It has lots of hand-written recipes, and she didn't sign her name to them because they are obviously hers. But if that recipe book just showed up in someone else's kitchen, they wouldn't know that all that juicy stuff came from Grandma. There's the trouble. Her record would be lost, not because it ceased to exist, but because she ceased to exist.

So if ever you take to writing down your history, the thing that would help future readers of your history would be for you to identify where you got the information, and a little unbiased context about your sources. Usually this comes in the following form:

Author's Name. Title of book or article. Publisher's name and/or where this book could be tracked down if it is privately held.

Here's an example:

Wilhemina Ericksen Morrison. "Finnan Haddie." Manuscript recipe card written by Grandma Morrison, in my possession, Mount Pleasant, Utah.

So often I stumble into what is potentially a great little nugget of history, but it lacks these things. That robs potential history of context. Context is what creates meaning for historians. So for example, I might find what appears to be a historical recipe, written on a scrap of yellowed, tattered paper, perhaps even written with a quill dipped in ink. But there's no author's name, and no date or place, so we don't know where it came from or who it represents. Somebody was robbed of identity.

Even worse, suppose the recipe above were stripped of its clues. Instead of written with a quill on yellowed paper (which would tell us it is rather old), what if someone had transcribed that recipe into their own computer database of recipes, without any identifying clues. Now we really have no clue what it represents, or who.

So remember friends, anytime you compile history, please make note of the original sources. It could be as simple as saying "Josephine Hanks told me this story herself on July 19, 2012." Or... "This came from Irene Cruikshank Potter's recipe file. Irene was the granddaughter of English immigrants who came to Utah in 1872. She was born in Brigham City in 1880." With a few clues, anybody who read your history would have a starting point to follow up with their own research.

And most of all, don't be stingy with your research. The only way foodways traditions stay alive and relevant is if they are shared. Share your food traditions to keep them alive. Traditions of any sort go dead when people stop doing them and stop talking about them. If you're not writing it down, then you better be performing the traditions with your young children, or they will disappear.

Stepping off my soapbox now...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Multi-generational Scandinavian Foodways

They say I'll have the final proofs on the pending book of pioneer foodways any day now, at which time I'll get to start creating the index (fun!). In the mean time I've started thinking about a new project. I'd like to create a book about Mormon Scandinavian foodways that have been transferred over generations. It would have a strong foundation in folklore scholarship, not so much a history like the one I've been working on.

As I envision this book, I think there would be a two page spread on each person who consents to be interviewed about their food traditions, with a personal photo and a short bio, then two more pages showing recipes and such correlating to the traditions, memories and stories from each person. On this model, I think I would need about 40 people to interview. PLEASE CLICK HERE if you'd like to participate in a survey about your family's Scandinavian food traditions.

Currently I have about eight people that I might interview, as well as two good manuscript cookbooks that talk about this multi-generational transfer from Scandinavian Mormon pioneers. So that means I need 32 more people to talk to. Is one of them you? See the tab at the bottom of the page to email me directly...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

From the New York Times, November 13, 1866

I was researching the cowardly murder of J. King Robinson who was killed in Utah, October of 1866. A dispatch from Utah on the subject was printed in the New York Times. As part of the dispatch from Utah came the following on the state of liquor and distilling in Great Salt Lake City, for what it's worth:

"The city authorities have for some time past endeavored to keep this traffic [the liquor trade] within narrow bounds, very latterly having had but one place for its sale, and there "not to be drunk on the premises." This policy has been virulently opposed, chiefly by the "Gentiles," though many Mormons were not well pleased with it. This one place--the "City Liquor Store"--is now closed, through a petition from many citizens. So just now there is no place within the city boundaries where liquor can be legally made, bought or sold. This is the Puritanical extreme and sorely vexes the moderate drinkers as well as the heavy soakers. As one extreme by natural reaction follows another, it would not be surprising if before long the city should deem it advisable to grant licenses to make and sell liquors more generally than it has done for some time past. There is another point. In consequence of recent wet and snowy weather, hundreds of bushels of peaches have rotted under the trees, which fruit, most of it, would have been made to yield "peach brandy," if the distilleries had been working."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Historical Hearth Bread, again

In my book Plain But Wholesome due out this fall from University of Utah press, there's a chapter about bread, with a few recipes. Mostly it is a history or survey about the place of bread in the diet of Mormon pioneers, which is significant. I wasn't ever really satisfied with that chapter though. Constraints of space didn't allow a thorough discussion of the bread-making process in detail.

Two days ago I fired up my brick oven to have a stab at bread in large volume. In preparation I happened to read Miss Leslie's recommendation for bread, found in her Directions for Cookery I was looking at the 1853 edition; a similar edition is found in the Utah Territorial Library catalog of the same year. This extract is not included in Plain But Wholesome. Patience, dear readers, it is a bit lengthy, but has interesting details...

"Take one peck or two gallons of fine wheat flour, and sift it into a kneading trough, or into a small clean tub, or a large broad earthen pan; and make a deep hole in the middle of the heap of flour, to begin the process by what is called setting a sponge. Have ready half a pint of warm water, which in summer should be only lukewarm, but even in winter it must not be hot or boiling, and stir it well into half a pint of strong fresh yeast; (if the yeast is home-made you must use from three quarters to a whole pint;) then pour it into the hole in the middle of the flour. With a spoon work in the flour round the edges of the liquid, so as to bring in by degrees sufficint flour to form a thin batter, which must be well stirred about, for a minute or two. Then take a handful of flour, and scatter it thinly over the top of this batter, so as to cover it entirely. Lay a warmed cloth over the whole, and set it to rise in a warm place; in winter put it nearer the fire than in summer. When the batter has risen so as to make cracks in the flour on the top scatter over it three or four table-spoonfuls of fine salt, and begin to form the whole mass into a dough..."

This "sponge method" is called by most bakers today a "poolish." It aims to grow yeast strength and flavor profile in the bread over time, most typically in breads we would think of as "french bread." This method is described quite similarly in Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible, (2003) and it is the method I use when baking hearth bread from yeast.

Leslie's bread method goes on for 500 more words, still not doing justice to the topic. So, dissatisfied as I was with my treatment in the book, I sat down and wrote a new treatise on the subject, which so far is running on to 20 pages. If I ever get to a point that I'm happy with how the brick oven performs, maybe I'll put this little treatise into a small pamphlet to give to people who come to a bread-making workshop. For now, you can visit The Fresh Loaf for further explorations of bread starting from a poolish.

Monday, July 2, 2012


It's hot, ain't it? Looks like 90's and wildfires for the rest of July and into August. I've been having second thoughts about firing up the brick oven. Hopefully an electric fan might keep a draft out the basement door.

In reading old newspapers, trail diaries, etc. I often run across references to the price of flour. For example, in 1846 Louisa Pratt noted "flour best quality $1.25 per hundred wt." in Bonaparte, Iowa. Leonard Arrington, once historian for the LDS Church, noted in his article, "The Mormon Tithing House: A Frontier Business Institution" that once the Mormons were settled in Utah, the bishop's tithing house used wheat and flour prices to set all other commodity prices in Utah.

So it was with interest that I went to the Big J mill in Brigham City to see what flour costs. At the grocery store I often see it at $1/lb. especially for King Arthur flour. If you buy 20 lb. bags you can often get it down to $0.50/lb. But at the Big J mill I got it for $35 per hundred. Quite an inflation of price from Louisa Pratt's time, but compared to King Arthur, not bad at all.

Now... what to do with a hundred pounds of flour...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mortensen? Mikkelsen? Sorensen? Olsen?

Now that Plain But Wholesome is pretty much wrapped up, I've been wondering what to write next. I've been thinking about a little foodways book that focuses on Utah's Scandinavian food traditions over the generations since the original emigrants. This would not be a history like PBW, but more of a look at folklore and family ties, and how foodways evolve over time.

This would require that I find people with Scandinavian roots and interview them about their foodways. I was in Ephraim, Utah a year ago (an historic stronghold of Scandinavian settlement) and ran into a woman whose last name was Christensen. She didn't know her husband came from this long line of Scandinavian settlers. So I guess she wouldn't be one of my potential informants. On the other hand, I was in Manila, Utah last winter and I met a family who still included tradition lutefisk in their Christmas dinner.

I think there are such people out there. I've met a few. But I need about 40 of such folks. Are there 40? Are there ten? Are you one of these? Is there a Scandinavian food tradition in your family? PLEASE CLICK HERE if you'd like to participate in a survey about your family's Scandinavian food traditions.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Well folks, it's official. The fine folks at University of Utah Press have delivered a cover design for the book. I also got a typeset copy of the book via Dropbox last week. There are a few typos to correct, and the formatting needs a bit of work, but it looks pretty snazzy, if I do say so myself. Through the editing process I got a little worried that all of my personality and humor would be stripped out of the text, but it looks like it came through intact. The cover design you see here is basically how it will appear, except that (thankfully) they removed the little green sticky circle with my name, and put the author credit down by the subtitle. This will appear in the Fall 2012 Catalog which you can find online starting in about October. But lucky me! I got an advance copy of the catalog! My book is right up front, pages 4-5 (a two page spread! with photos! and quotes!), very flattering. The catalog says it will be 6" by 9" and 240 pages. It must be an estimate because the index hasn't been done yet. But all in all... HOORAY!!!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pioneer Trek!

I checked my email this morning and found a note from a neighbor in my small town. She was recently appointed to be the "food chair" for the Pioneer Trek which will be reenacted this summer. In this celebration of Mormon history, teenage boys and girls don old-timey looking clothes and pull carts through the mountains to re-enact the handcart disasters of 1856. My neighbor saw the blog and thought it looked like a fantastic resource, and wondered why we hadn't chatted sooner.

And then I realized I haven't really written much about trail food here on the blog.

I think I should establish a "Pioneer Trek" area of the blog that is accessible only by a subscription fee. I could give lots of explicit recipes and diary entries, tailored specifically for LDS Pioneer Trek leaders. Wouldn't that be a gold mine? Priestcraft here I come!

But back to the subject, I forwarded this lovely little quote I found in the diary of John Jacques, who was part of the Martin/Willie disaster. He was talking about the handcart company, accompanied by several beeves intended for slaughter, crossing a long waterless stretch of prairie. When the beeves finally smelled the water hole ahead for that night's campsite, they stampeded to the water and wallowed around in it. Jacques wrote, “But it was all the water available and so it was used to cooking purposes— making coffee, tea, bread and porridge or hasty pudding, which when made was quite black, but was eaten and drunk nevertheless.”

So then we would need to put this together with another primary source telling us about "hasty pudding." You can find such references in Eliza Leslie's Directions for Cookery, 1853. Its basically gruel made from either flour or cornmeal. Sounds tasty eh? I'll have to check back to make sure they put some mud or dirt in, just for accuracy. Shall I submit an invoice to the Stake President? Or just write it off as in-kind tithing?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bill of Fare: what some Mormons ate...

As I worked at finishing up the last of the images for the publisher I had occasion to visit the Special Collections at University of Utah's Marriott Library. I must say Walter is among the most helpful and kind of any library personnel I've met in the course of this adventure.

Walter brought out an original 1863 copy of a book by Richard Burton called City of the Saints, which is a travel memoir written by a British fellow passing through Utah in 1860. In this book is a reproduction of the Bill of Fare for the 1860 Territorial Ball. It exhaustively lists the menu for this upper crust dinner. The book is also available through Google books online here if you want to read the whole thing. That's where I got the image below.

So... which of a hundred interesting things on the menu surprised you the most?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Oliver Evans

I just received two images from the Library of Congress, scanned by my brother from the original text. The text is Oliver Evans' The Young Mill-wright and Miller's Guide. It is of course the most common guide to "how to build your own flour mill" for American millers in the 19th century, and likely used in Utah as Mormon pioneers set up their first flour mills. It was originally published in 1795 but with reprints and revised editions in 1823, 1834, 1850 etc. It is still in print today, published by the Sociey for Preservation Of Old Mills (SPOOM).

The images below were stolen from another online source as the images I received are reproduction quality and too large for Blogger to download and host. Even so, the images are more than a hundred years old and free of any claims for copyright or royalty. The same images should appear in my book as supporting historical documents which describe the state of flour milling in Utah in the 1850s. I think they are just nifty. Check this out!

Yesterday I received permission for using 50 photos from Utah State Historical Society. The final manuscript and images have all been delivered. I've signed the contract with the publisher (University of Utah Press). They tell me it will be in their Fall catalog, coming out in October. Getting closer. Now just typsetting, proof reading, indexing, etc., etc.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Historical Fruit Trees

Hello Friends. I hope your holiday season was filled with opulent indulgences of seasonal and historical foods. I certainly came out of it with a pound or two or more to lose. You?

I'm working on the images for the book. I turned in the final draft of the manuscript and signed the contract during the holidays. Now I'm just nailing down the images. We decided to not do any "food porn" glamour shots of dishes made from the historical recipes. Instead we're going with mostly historical images like those from my last post, augmented with a few modern photos of historical properties. So I went out and took pictures around northern Utah. Here's a couple of interesting shots that tell a little food story...

The photo above is of a pear tree, about 160 years old, planted at the site of Brown's Fort, the first Mormon settlement in Ogden, Utah. These days the site is managed by Weber County Parks and is called "Fort Buenaventura," a name that never existed in historical documents but makes a good marketing hook. Brown's Fort (a.k.a. Brownsville) was settled by James Brown, a veteran of the Mormon Battalion campaign. About a dozen families lived at Brown's Fort. The pear tree is still alive, but quite beyond bearing.

The photo above is of a pear tree grafted from a scion of the historical pear tree. This pear tree, also quite unpruned and neglected, is planted in the garden area near the recreation of Brown's Fort. I believe it bears fruit. It is about ten years old. If you wanted to steal a historical pear, the fort is located off west 24th Street in Ogden, just over the viaduct and down past the baseball diamond.

I have read that there are several historical apple trees in the urban Salt Lake City area. I also believe that This Is The Place grafted scions from historical trees about five years ago, but that these trees have died from neglect. Such seems to be the case with our historical properties more often than not.

Do you know of any historical food elements on the landscape near your home?