Friday, January 30, 2009

Pioneer Foods Inspired by Sarah Jane's Story

As I develop one of my favorite stories, “Sarah Jane’s Daring Deed,” into a picture book, I consider recipes this 10-year old girl and her family might have prepared in their log cabin in the woods. This would be a good activity to accompany the story when youngsters are reading it, either in picture book format or the longer version in the anthology, Tales of Adventure & Discovery.

I wrote this story, which has appeared in four children’s magazines and the anthology, after researching the history of the Plymouth, NH region for a series on New Hampshire history. It’s also a favorite story with children when I give presentations in schools and libraries.

As I read about the early pioneers while doing research for the history columns, I wondered what life would be like for youngsters in those days. Thus, Sarah Jane’s story evolved.

What Would Her Mother Prepare?

So, what would Mother have prepared over the fireplace? They had to raise most of their food, bringing items like sugar and coffee and tea from stores in Concord (45 miles away) or even Boston (more than 100 miles).

Their flour probably was ground at a local mill from grain they grew themselves. The girls and Mother gathered and dried berries for winter use. Sarah Jane was engaged in picking berries when the story opens. (I was familiar with picking berries from prickly bushes in the hot sun during my childhood on a farm. Although not in the 1770s!)

The family’s meat would consist from what Father and brother Steven caught or shot in the surrounding forest. This might include deer, bear, moose, rabbit and raccoon. The family also would make clothing and blankets from the fur and skins. Fish from nearby streams or river could expand the diet.

Drying Berries – In those days, before canning and freezing, pioneers dried berries and fruit to use during the winter months. Sarah Jane picks and dries berries during the story.

When cooking, Mother simply might stir the dried berries into her recipes. Or she could soak them in water to plump them before use.

Corn Meal – In early pioneer days, the settlers took corn and wheat to the local mills to be ground. The mill was one of the first businesses established in a settlement. From the ground corn, Mother might make corn bread, corn mush and corn cakes. Find your favorite Corn Bread recipe for your pioneer meal. (However, you can bake yours in the oven or in a skillet unless you want to try it over a fireplace.)

Dried Corn – The pioneers also dried corn kernels, on the cob or shelled, to save for winter food. To use, Sarah Jane’s mother would soak the kernels and boil them until they were tender. Then add cream or butter and milk of desired amount, salt and pepper to taste (if she had them).

Corn Potato Soup – To make a soup, she might add cubed, cooked potatoes to the creamed corn mixture. (Or cube raw potatoes and cook them with the corn.) Then stir in more milk until soup consistency.

Succotash – In summertime, Mother might make succotash by cutting fresh corn from the cob and cooking it with lima beans from the garden. Add some butter and small amount of milk to this. Some cooks only add butter.

©2009 Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen researches and writes from her multi-generational home in Plymouth when she isn’t traveling. Visit her heritage quilting site at:; also: . )

No comments: