This excerpt pertains to the types of food and food items one ate in Michigan during the frontier days. This excerpt comes from Pioneer Collections Volume Five by A.D.P. Van Buren.
The settler's daily fare, from a lack of abundance and variety in his larder, was necessarily frugal. The provision in store was wheat, corn, pork, and potatoes. There was no fruit save the wild plums and the various berries that grew in the woods and lowlands. The bill of fare for the table was bread, pork, and potatoes. Pork, as we have said, was often very scarce, families often going without meat, save the wild game they killed, for a whole season at a time. Salt was also often very scarce; at one time it was twenty-one dollars per barrel. Thomas Kewney's family went without a particle in their house for six months. We were told when we first came to this State that we would get the "Michigan appetite" after we had lived here a short time. We found this to be true. And when it did come, which was during the first year, it was ravenous. With this appetite pork and potatoes were dainties. We relished them, as such, for a good square meal; and when we got through with that, we had only to reverse the order and eat potatoes and pork for the richest dessert—such was the keenness and relishing power of our appetites. It seemed that all we labored for was—to get enough to eat. Fruitless toil, for we were hungry all the time.
Mrs. Thomas Kewney and her daughter Ann, afterwards Mrs. Stevenson, came to visit us one afternoon. My mother was really puzzled to know what to get for supper, for we had no bread in the house, nor anything of which to make it; but like a good housewife she was fruitful in expedients. Looking over her store she found about two quarts of wheat, which she requested me to grind in the pepper-mill. This I did. She then took the unbolted flour, and of it made a shortcake for her company. We had an amusing time at table over our frugal repast, which consisted principally of this Grahamitish cuke.
Tea, coffee, sugar, and butter were rarely seen on the settler's table. An herb called the tea-weed, a kind of wild Bohea that grew in the woods, was used by some of the settlers. The leaves were steeped like our imported teas and the decoction was drank. But it was soon abandoned when the green or black teas could be had again. Crust coffee, or a coffee made from wheat or other grains browned, was in common use for drink at table. Our pioneer mothers and their daughters found many occasions when they could not enjoy the accustomed tete-a-tete with their lady visitors over cups of fragrant Young Hyson or Bohea. But their tea-table chats were had over their flowing cups of crust coffee, and there was many a wish, from the young ladies, for the good time coming when they could once more "turn up their tea-cups" and have their "fortunes told." Tea-pots were ransacked and old tea-grounds were saved by the girls for the purpose of having their fortunes told by some of the older matrons, who knew something of the gipsy art of divination. The usual meal consisted of a platter of boiled potatoes, piled up steaming hot and placed on the center of the table; bread or Johnny-cake; perhaps some meat boiled or fried; and an article largely partaken of was a bowl of flour gravy, looking like starch and made something like it, of flour and water, with a little salt, and sometimes it was enriched by a little gravy from a piece of fried meat. This was the meal; and it was eaten and relished more than the sumptuous meals on many of our tables now-a-days. The table was, at any rate, swept erf all the edibles on it. Nothing but the dishes was left after a meal. The dog, the pigs, and the chickens fared slim. "Tell me what a people eat and I will tell you their morals." The old pioneer bill of fare was simple and wholesome, its morals can easily be deduced. What shall we say of the modern bill of fare? There have been various reasons adduced as to the cause of this appetite. To me there has ever been but one good cause, that is—hunger. We seldom got enough to eat, and hence were always hungry and ready to eat. "Quit eating while you are hungry," the health reformers say. We carried out the letter and spirit of this rule, and will vouch for its producing a splendid appetite. It was called the Michigan appetite, as though it was aboriginal and belonged to this State. Perhaps it did, and originated with the Indians. The first settlers may be said to have fared like the Indians for the first year or two after they pitched their tents here, and hence got their appetites and a little more; for, as the rude phrase had it, the pioneers were usually hungry enough to eat a "biled Indian." We had no cases of dyspesia—our digestion was as sound as our sleep. The dyspepsia was with the rich and dainty dishes east.
Fireplaces & Life on the Frontier Part 1
Fireplaces & Life on the Frontier Part 3