Frontier Recipes – The ‘Real’ Old Stuff From The Old West

“The reason so many Texas cowboys went north and stayed there was because they were tired of cornbread and sowbelly.”
– Teddy Blue
Grub Pile Poem Postcard from Legends' General Store

Grub Pile Poem Postcard from Legends’ General Store

 

On the Frontier Menu:

Ash Cakes

Bannock or Frying Pan Bread

Beef Jerky

Boiled Salt Pork

Buffalo Stew

Fried Camp Apples

Fried Salt Pork

Hardtack

Hoecakes or Johnnycakes

Indian Meal Pudding

Mouse Pie

Cookie at the Chuckwagon.

Cookie at the Chuckwagon.

Pan Hoss

Pemmican

Pease Porridge

Planked Whitefish

Raccoon Fricassee

Rabbit Stew

Ranch Pickles

Roast Beaver

Skirlie

Sonofabitch Stew

 

“Arbuckles Coffee and Canned Cow Won the West! “
— Unknown

Seasonings were bacon or salt fat, pepper, and fresh herbs the settlers grew.

Boiled Salt Pork

2 lbs salt pork
Assorted vegetables as available, chopped:

  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Salt and pepper
  • Water

Freshen salt pork by soaking it in a kettle of water for at least 2 hours. If very salty, repeat soaking.
Cut salt pork into chunks and brown in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Add water to cover and bring to a
slow boil. Add vegetables and cook until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

only a fool argues with the cook

Only a fool argues with the cook. Poster available at Legends’ General Store.

Rabbit Stew

  • 1 rabbit dressed and cut into serving pieces
  • ¼ c flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 T Butter
  • 2 onions chopped
  • ¼ c chopped carrots
  • 1 c potatoes chopped
  • Mixed Herbs

Mix flour and seasonings together. Coat the rabbit pieces with the mixture. Melt the butter and fry the rabbit pieces until browned. Put the pieces in a large pan and add the onion, carrot, and potatoes. Cover with water and season with salt, pepper, and herbs. Cover and cook for three hours.

“Cowpunchers took just what they got – sowbelly, beans, and the ol’ coffeepot.”

– H.H. Knibbs

Camp Cook Marfa, TX - Lee Russell, 1939.

Camp Cook Marfa, TX – Lee Russell, 1939.

Raccoon Fricassee

  • 1 Raccoon
  • 1 onion, sliced into rings
  • 1/2 C vinegar
  • 1 1/2 C water
  • 2-3 T lard or other fat
  • 1 bay leaf

Skin the raccoon, remove the musk glands and dress out the carcass. Soak in salt water overnight to draw out the blood. Baking soda can be added to the water to remove any gamey smell. Cut raccoon into serving pieces and dredge in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown in hot fat. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer for 2 hours or until tender. Thicken the juice with flour and water mixture for gravy. Serve hot with cornbread.

Beef Jerky

  • Several pounds of flank steak
  • Salt and seasoning salt
  • Pepper

Trim fat and slice steak with the grain into l/4- to l/2-inch (1 cm) strips. Lightly salt strips or soak them overnight in a solution of water and two tablespoons salt. Arrange strips on skewers, season with seasoning salt and pepper and hang in a smoker or lay them on oven racks in an oven set to its lowest temperature (175 to 200F), with the door slightly ajar to permit moisture to escape. (If you use an oven, place a shallow pan under the meat to catch drippings.) Drying time varies. In an oven, 8 to 10 hours is usually sufficient. Dried meat should be tough and leathery, not quite brittle. Store in plastic or cloth bags in a cool, dry place.

Pemmican

Equal quantities of jerky and animal fat Dried berries (optional)

Pound jerky to break up fibers. In a skillet, melt fat, making sure it does not boil or smoke. Stir pounded jerky into fat, along with dried berries, if desired. Let fat cool and cut pemmican into candy-bar-sized chunks. Store in plastic, cloth, or rawhide bags in a cool, dry place.

Planked Whitefish

  • 1 whitefish
  • 4-5 strips bacon
  • 2-3 T cooking oil (they used animal fat, so you could substitute Lard)
  • salt and pepper
  • Coarse salt
  • Oak plank

Season whitefish with salt and pepper. Heat oak plank near the fire. Oil the fish and put it in the center of the board. Cover the exposed part of the board with coarse salt to keep it from burning. Spread bacon on top of the fish. Then prop the board in front of the fire and bake for about 45 minutes.

Pease Porridge

  • 1 lb split peas
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T butter
  • salt and pepper

Soak and cook split peas, drain liquid, and puree peas. Mash peas into a smooth puree. Add butter, eggs, salt, and pepper. Pour into a greased bowl and cover tightly so it won’t dry out. Steam for 1 hour. Place the bowl on a trivet in a Dutch oven. Place 2 inches of water in the bottom of the Dutch oven, cover tightly, and bake for 20 minutes at 350F. Leftovers can be sliced and fried in butter. Traditionally served with pork or sausage.

Campfire Cook

Campfire Cook

Skirlie

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 strips bacon
  • 1/2 C oatmeal
  • salt and pepper

Chop bacon into 1-inch chunks and fry. When grease coats the pan, add sliced onion. Cook until transparent. Add oatmeal to absorb the fat, keeping the mixture thick. Stir for 7-10 minutes till cooked. Serve with mincemeat roasted poultry or as a main dish when the larder is bare.

Mouse Pie

  • 5 fat field mice
  • 1 cup macaroni
  • 1/2 thinly sliced medium onion
  • 1 medium can of tomatoes
  • 1 cup cracker crumbs
  • Salt and pepper

Boil macaroni for 10 minutes. While cooking, fry the field mice long enough to fry out some excess fat. Grease a casserole with some fat and put a layer of macaroni on it. Add onions, then tomatoes, salt, and pepper well. Add field mice and cover with remaining macaroni. Sprinkle the top with cracker crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until mice are well done.

Cooking Beans

Cooking Beans

Buffalo Stew

  • 1 buffalo
  • 2 rabbits
  • Salt and pepper

Cut buffalo into bite-size pieces. Salt and pepper. Cover all with brown gravy. Cook over kerosene fire for about four weeks at 465 degrees. This will serve 3800 people. If more are expected, two rabbits may be added. But do this only in an emergency. Most people do not like hare in their stew.

Roast Beaver

Beaver meat is similar to muskrat. The flesh is dark, tender, and soft. This animal has scent glands that are found between the front forelegs, under the thighs, and along the spine in the small of the back. They should be removed immediately after the skin has been removed, taking great care not to cut into them. Beaver fat has a strong flavor and odor and should be cut away completely before cooking. Beaver meat was often soaked in salted water before cooking to draw out some of the strong flavor. Another method was to cover it with boiling water, to which 1 teaspoon of baking soda has been added. Then drain and cook in the usual way.

Take care to remove every speck of fat on the surface of the flesh. Soak the meat in a vinegar bath overnight. 1/4 cup of vinegar with enough water to cover the meat. Wash the meat in cold clear water. Place in a roaster and cut several slits into the lean meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put 4 strips of salt pork over the slits, and dust with a little flour. Put 1/4 cup water in the pan and roast with the lid on until half done. Add more water if needed to keep the pan from going dry. Cut into small pieces, onion, celery, and carrots, to fill a cup and sprinkle over the meat. Finish roasting with the lid off. The meat should be falling off the bones. Add water and flour to the juices to make a gravy.

Pan Hoss

  • 1 hog’s head
  • 4-6 cups water
  • 1 medium onion
  • 6 stalks celery
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • Salt

Simmer the first five ingredients together until meat falls from the bones. Grind and chop meat fine. Neck bones (chicken, turkey, or lamb) may be substituted if hog’s head is not available.

Strain liquid from meat. Boil down to reduce the amount or add water to increase to 4 cups. To boil the liquid, add 1 cup cornmeal, adding more if necessary to make the mush thick. Add one teaspoon of salt. Boil over heat 3-5 minutes. Add ground meat and place over boiling water for 10-15 minutes. At this time, additional seasoning may be added if necessary.

Variations:

  • 1 tsp grated onion, 1/2 tsp ground sage, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, dash pepper, cayenne if available
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme, 1/2 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon celery seed.
  • Pour meat and mush mixture into bread pan rinsed in cold water. Cover and cool overnight. Fry slices in a lightly greased pan using bacon fat.
Frontier Slang, Lingo & Phrases Book by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

NOW IN A BOOK FORM
More Terms, Expanded Definitions + Reverse Lookup + More Pictures

Sonofabitch Stew

From the guts of a young calf:

  • Heart
  • Liver – small amount
  • Tongue
  • Tenderloin
  • Sweetbreads
  • Marrow gut
  • Brains

Cube the top five meats. Add them to a hot Dutch oven with a small amount of lard melted in the bottom. Brown the meats. Slice the marrow gut and add it to the pot. The brains are cooked in a separate pan, and a few tablespoons of flour are added to thicken them. They are then added to the pot. Add a diced onion, salt, and pepper. Cover in water and allow to cook for 304 hours (yes, we mean 304 – not a misprint.) Continue to stir, and do not allow it to stick.

Fried Salt Pork

Soak the slabs of pork in water overnight, or boil and pour off the water. Dredge in flour and fry in a greased skillet until golden brown. Instead of flour, you can dip it in a thick batter of cornmeal, flour, and water.

“We ate breakfast’ fore the sun came up and had dinner after the sun was down. I think the cook planned it that’a way, so we couln’t see what were eat’en.”

– Bob Crouse

A boy cooking.

A boy cooking.

Bannock or Frying Pan Bread

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Water

Thoroughly mix dry ingredients. Add just enough cold water to make a stiff dough. Working dough as little as possible, form a one-inch thick cake. Lay the cake on a greased, pre-warmed skillet. Brown the bottom of the cake, lightly and flip or turn with a spatula to brown the other side. When both sides are lightly browned, prop the skillet in front of the fire and let it bake. Test for doneness by thumping the cake with a spoon handle or stick. A hollow ringing sound indicates doneness. An alternative test is to jab the cake with a twig or matchstick. The cake is done if the twig comes out clean (no clinging dough).

Hoecakes or Johnnycakes

  • 1 cup white cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Water

Combine the dry ingredients and mix well. The flour is optional, but it will improve the cake’s texture. Add just enough cold water to make a stiff batter. Drop large spoonfuls of batter onto a lightly greased skillet and cook slowly.

Ash Cakes

  • 1 cup white cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Water

Mix dry ingredients. Add enough cold water to make a firm dough. Form the dough into thin cakes. Clear coals from an area of the campfire and lay the cakes on the hot earth. Rake coals and ash over the cakes and let them bake for about five minutes. Test for doneness by thumping the cake with a spoon handle or stick. A hollow ringing sound indicates doneness.

Hardtack

  • 2 cups stone ground flour
  • 1 cup water

Combine the flour and water. Knead until smooth. Sprinkle some flour on a smooth surface and roll the dough flat until it is 1/4 inch thick. Cut biscuits out with a can or a glass, making each biscuit about 3-4 inches in diameter. Poke holes into each biscuit with a fork. Place on a floured cookie sheet. It should come out hard and dry. Bake at 400 F for 35-45 minutes.

Indian Meal Pudding

Rub a tablespoonful of butter around the bottom and sides of a smooth iron kettle; when melted, add half a cup of boiling water. This will prevent the milk from burning. Add one quart of milk. Let it boil up and almost over the kettle; then sift in one pint of fine yellow granulated corn meal, sifting with the left hand and holding the meal high so that every grain may be thoroughly scalded. Stir constantly; add half a teaspoonful of salt, and set away till cold. Then add half a pint of molasses and one quart of cold milk. Put into a well-buttered deep pudding dish, cover with a plate, and bake slowly for ten or twelve hours. Let it remain overnight, and serve it for a breakfast.

Fried Camp Apples

  • Apples
  • Sugar
  • cinnamon
  • Lard or meat drippings

Slice the apples, peel core and all, against the core, about ¼ inch thick. Heat a thin layer of lard or dripping in a heavy skillet until apples sizzle in the pan. Add the apples in a single layer, turning frequently until golden brown. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Ranch Pickles

Fill a large jar (about one gallon) with small to medium cucumbers. Add two tablespoons of salt and a large bunch of dill. Fill the jar with boiling water, put the lid on, and set it in the sun for about two weeks.

After the pickles were gone, the cook would sometimes add some hard-boiled eggs to the pickle juice and, let it set for a week or so, and offer the cowboys another treat.

Compiled by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

only a fool argues with the cook

Only a fool argues with the cook. Poster available at Legends’ General Store.

See our other Recipes!

A Hill Of Beans – Baked Beans That Is

The Chuckwagon – Western Recipes

Campfire Recipes

Dutch Oven Recipes

Flavors of Route 66

Good Ole’ Fashioned Recipes