Take a look at what our pioneer ancestors ate and the chances are you’re not going to envy them very much. Compared to the food on offer in any modern American grocery store, the frontier diet was pretty basic. Choices were more limited, and meals were a lot more basic.
As preppers, though, we should be giving the pioneer diet a close look. After all, these were meals that could be cooked from simple ingredients without a lot of equipment. They didn’t rely on modern preservation methods – no freezing, refrigeration or synthetic chemicals. Maybe most of all, the pioneers ate food that was ideal for a physically active lifestyle that involved a lot of hard work outdoors.
Let’s be honest here: Who was physically tougher – a modern professional who eats all the latest health food crazes, or a 19th century farmer living on a simple, traditional diet? That isn’t a hard question to answer. Now think about your lifestyle after the SHTF. It’s going to be a lot closer to that pioneer farmer’s than to anything the modern diet evolved to suit. If you want to stay healthy and well fed in a crisis, you could do a lot worse than turning to the recipes our frontier ancestors used. Here are a few to get you started.
Making bread takes time and effort – and a good bit of skill. Soda biscuits are much easier. They don’t take long to make, they’re tasty and they’re versatile. You can serve them with meat and gravy, or dip them in syrup as a dessert or sweet breakfast item.
- 4 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- Milk or buttermilk
Put the flour in a mixing bowl and add milk, one tablespoon at a time, until you have a stiff dough. Mix the baking soda with a tablespoon of milk and then mix that with the dough. Add the salt and knead it thoroughly to get everything well mixed.
Roll the dough out to about half an inch thick and cut into biscuits. You can use a cookie cutter or just slice it into squares or triangles. Bake in an oven preheated to 425°F, or in a Dutch oven, for about 12-15 minutes. When the sides are brown and the biscuits are no longer doughy, they’re done.
Related: Turning Flour into Hardtack Biscuits With Over 100 Year Shelf Life
These small cornbread pieces can be eaten as a snack or served with stew, chili or even thick soups. They’re tasty, filling and simple to make.
- 2 cups cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tsp baking powder
Mix all the ingredients, except the baking powder, in a hot Dutch oven. Once the butter has melted and it’s all thoroughly mixed, remove from the heat and let it stand for about five minutes, then mix in the baking powder. With a tablespoon, drop spoonfuls of the mix into another Dutch oven or skillet and cook until the edges turn brown.
Is it a pancake? Is it a dumpling? Who cares? These are light but filling, very tasty and extremely versatile. Spread with syrup, or break into chunks and drop into a stew before you serve it.
- 2 cups cornmeal
- ½ cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 2 tablespoon molasses
- 2 eggs if you have them
Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the milk and molasses. If you have eggs, they’ll make the finished product even fluffier. Once the batter is thoroughly mixed, pour it into a greased 9” skillet and cook on a high heat for around 20 minutes.
Related: How to Make a Trench Cake: WW1 Survival Food
Potatoes are a robust vegetable that’s easily stored through the winter. They’re also a great source of carbohydrates and can be used to bulk out flour reserves by making tasty potato cakes. These are great with apple sauce or even maple syrup.
- 6 large potatoes
- ½ cup milk
- 1 cup flour
- 2 eggs 2 tbsp salt
Wash, peel and finely grate the potatoes. Mix the other ingredients into a batter then combine that with the grated potatoes. Heat some shortening or lard in a pan, then drop in spoonfuls of the potato mixture and cook, turning once, until the cakes are golden brown on both sides.
Gravy adds a lot of flavor to simple foods, especially biscuits and potatoes. How do you make gravy when all you have is preserved ingredients, though? Simple: Use jerky!
- Chopped jerky
- Lard or grease Flour
- Salt and pepper
Heat grease in a skillet and fry the jerky until it’s crispy. Scoop out the jerky (it makes a tasty snack when it’s cooled). Mix the flour and milk into a batter, then pour it into the grease and slowly stir it until you have a smooth gravy. Put the jerky bits back, unless you’ve already eaten them, and season with salt and pepper.
Related: How To Make Beef Jerky
Dutch Oven Sweet Rice
Sweet dishes are always good for both energy and morale, but it’s hard to store enough dried or preserved fruit to make them regularly. You can turn a prepper staple into a tasty pudding, though – rice.
- Cooked rice (1 cup per person)
- Milk (1/3 cup person)
- Eggs (1 per 2 people)
- Sugar (1tbsp per person)
Put the milk and rice in a Dutch oven, and add the other ingredients to taste. Heat, stirring slowly, until the eggs are thoroughly cooked.
Recipe books did exist in the pioneer days, but they weren’t like modern ones. Quantities, temperatures and cooking times were often vague, because even a domestic coal stove didn’t allow the near-scientific precision you can get from a modern oven. You had to vary cooking times to suit your own stove, and that goes double when you’re cooking on an open fire. It takes practice to judge when things are done, when they’re cooking too quickly or slowly, or when they’re in danger of burning. Master that, though, and you’ll find these pioneer recipes are a great way to make quick, tasty and nutritious meals even when you’re reduced to basic food supplies.
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Another one to print.
Nice list, I might try a few of those and see what the family thinks. On those potato cakes, a few chopped onions would up the flavour quite a bit.
Yes! I’d add some chopped onion to those Corn Doggers too! In North Carolina they’d be called Hush Puppies!
I would suggest adding a small bit of onion to the potato pancakes if serving them as savory. Also parsley if it’s available.
Wouldn’t it be great if we got together an Ask a Prepper cookbook featuring recipes and survival cooking tips contributed by the readers?
OT (but just a bit), I read an excellent how to article on how to make a fireless cooker. With content reprinted from the original article written about 1890’s, it would be a good experiment for us to try out.
the “ultimate prepper cookbook” thing would be a good idea,but there’s just so many users on this site it would be virtually impossible
Actually young prepper a cookbook could be very interesting with everyone adding a favorite recipe and memory. Groups do it all the time as fundraisers.
i suppose, considering the very flaw that i mentioned prior is also a strength,although that book would likely be about the thickness of a harry potter book at least,and thus be quite the load in terms of weight for one book,although it’d be worth the weight load
Just need to proof the different quantity listings ie Potato cakes with 2? Tablespoons of salt?
Some lists have two items per row — should separate.
The cook book would be a good idea, with one requirement – only submit recipes that the sender can provide ingredients and cooking method during actual SHTF environments. Items like parsley will generally be low on the list when in survival mode with hungry mouths hanging around the pot as it cooks. We tend to forget just what will be missing in a real long term crunch…. just some thoughts.
HughS -:Beg to differ with you about the parsley! Culinary herbs not only add flavor, but lots of nutrition to any dish. Whether growing wild or cultivated, knowing a thing or two about culinary herbs and how to use them is a real good thing!
I love these recipes. I was raised on all of them. With the potato cakes we used left over potatoes. And the sweet rice we called it rice pudding. I still cook that way. My favorite cornmeal is the yellow cornmeal.
The link to the story about the fireless cooker is at http://www.preparingtosurvive.com and was from 1908.
I almost forgot. With the corn dodgers sometimes I leave out the sugar and add chopped onions. They go great with buttermilk. They also go great with beans. All kinds of beans. I use corn dodgers as hush puppies.
Very Useful information.
Thse were all staples I raised my family on except we made Irish soda bead in a Dutch oven and the biscuits were made with baking powder. If you don’t have the buttermilk just add 1 or 2 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Its the acid that activates the soda. Hubs like biscuits and gravy with his eggs on top, cooked medium, so the soft yolks blend into the gravy. Set all that on top of hash browns and I’m happy till dinner time.
I like sweet rice with raisins or almost any other dried fruit. Since we have apricots in abundance the years the tree produces I often still have dried apricots to cut up with scissors and drop into the rice. Hubs liked crushed pineapple in his rice with raisins and cinnamon. My neighbor cooks too much sometimes for their big family and they will bring over enough for us to have two meals. Hot, or cold with milk, its still good. Cornmeal mush with raisins is pretty good too. Cold mush sliced and lightly browned in butter and served with syrup made my boys happy too.
Amaranth seed is also good this way. It’s also not bad cooked with just water and salt and served with some butter rather like grits would be eaten. Mostly I add some seeds and leaves to soups. Some folks use lambs quarter seed the same as amaranth but I prefer them as sprouts in salads or sandwiches. Some leaves and fresh seeds added to soup is pretty good. I like lambsquarters leaves the best, cooked and eaten like fresh spinach.
You know it’s funny you bring these items up, I spent my summers at the farm in Saskatchewan, and all these items were made by my great aunt, who was a Ukrainian immigrant (1890’s ) . That and waking up to the smell of fresh bread, going out to the garden to pick fresh raspberries to put on our breakfast cereal with morning fresh cream. ( and my parents wondered ” Why” I was so anxious to forget every year ). But sitting around the table eating Johny cake, or sweet pudding with homemade bread, cabbage rolls to die for etc. Brings back good memories. That generation is all gone now, but they were poor homesteaders for many years s and these foods, even after they were established, continued as a stable. And by the way , they lived into their 90’s and 100’s. So good food, simple as it maybe, has a prolonging effect. Thank you for the memories.
where do you get the flour?
how do you make all this flour?
All of these are tasty and easy to make…..
Rooster. Grow corn and wheat or just buy that as part of the few staples you don’t grow. I have a hand operated flour mill. Does fine but a lot of work.
Baking powder or baking soda for those biscuits? There is a difference and results will be good or bad because of a printing error.
These biscuits were traditionally made with baking soda. That’s why the recipes always include milk – the acid in the milk reacts with the soda to raise the dough.
I remember my mom and dad fixing some of these recipes when Dad’s union went on strike.
VERY strange. It is 5:07 PM Central time.. the page says there are 17 comments to this article, yet when I scroll to the bottom to read them, I am informed “No comments”.
Either we are being silenced even more, now that President Trump has joined the censorship fight, or everyone posted just moments ago and they haven’t shown in the list.
Time for a beer? or a gun?
These kinds of recipes are also great to have when you need to stretch a dollar, or find ways to feed a crowd on a meager budget. I print and save them for future times. Thanks!
Dove-Hoser remarked of his fond memories, I absolutely live them every time these topics come up. I tear up remembering my mom, grandma and aunts make the most fabulous food of my life. We were told it was poor folk food, and I’m proud to be one. Each time I get a new (to me) idea about how to cook these memories, I corral my 73 year old girlfreind and we cook and reminisce together.
What about hardtack?
Here is one recipe for hardtack: There are many recipes but they are all similar.
2 cups flour
1/2 tablespoon salt (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Combine flour with salt in a mixing bowl. Add water and mix with hands until the dough comes together. Roll out on a table to about 1/3 inch thickness. Use a knife to cut 3×3 squares from the dough. Place on baking sheet, and use a dowel (see note above) to make 16 evenly-spaced holes in each square. Bake for at least four hours, turning over once half-way through baking. Cool on a rack in a dry room.
Personally I would heat the oven to 125°F and double the time, turning the biscuits over at the four hour mark. The intent is to dry them, not cook them. Once cooled, vacuum pack them or store them in a mayonnaise jar in a cool dark place, but not on Funk and Wagnals back porch. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the last little bit.)
How much flour for the pioneer gravy?
2 tablespoons fat..bacon grease, oil, butter ..whatever
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
In frying pan heat fat and stir in flour so there are no lumps. Heat till just bubbly then stir or whisk in the milk. Cook till thickened.
I like to use a pan where meat has been fried such as chicken or bacon. The little bits in the pan add flavor. Restaurants fry and crumble up sausage and incorporate that in the gravy to serve over baking powder biscuits.
So far, this is the BEST ‘survival/prepper’ information I have found.Please keep up this type of article!
I have a WWII cookbook. It has a lot of good recipes in it.. It even tells how to cook possum.
I have many old cookbooks. French, country, Betty Crocker et. I love the old ones because they are real scratchcooking. Most, with the exception of food for entertaining, are basic easy good cooking. The cookbooks that used dutchovens are old and interesting. I even have a WWII Army cookbook with recepies broken down for 25 or 100 servings. They are large servings intended for hardworking fighting men. We used the cinnamon roll recipe from that cookbook as part of our fundraising for building a church. We also sold Indian Tacos, tomallies, cakes, and cookies. Food sells. There were repairs being made on the interstate near us. We’d put out a sale sign listing meals and deserts. Most of the truck drivers would come to buy lunch and head right back to work.
I have one favorite book from the late 1700s that was handed down from a several times great grandfather. It has instructions for making things to sell like 100 gallon drums of vinegar. Ideas on farming and husbandry. Housekeeping tips and many recepies using measurements like “gill” (a tea cup). Family used it for treating animal wounds and cooking. I have a church cookbook that was a gift from a great grandmother to my mother when she married in 1920. Really good country cooking from Centerville Presbyterian Church in southwestern PA. Most cakes are dense and rich with not too sweet cooked frostings. Very different than today’s mixes. One of grandmas favorite cakes was whole wheat flour and Corn meal with molasses, raisins and dried apples. It’s moist and slices beautifully. I like cinnamon in it but it didn’t call for cinnamon but used a little freshly grated cardamom. It was her winter cake because it didn’t have to have an egg to be good. It would be a good prepper desert.
Not just pioneer cooking, this was pretty typical of the Texas cooking I grew up on. Never cared for rice pudding. My Mom always made extra soda biscuits Fridays and Saturdays cause my Dad liked to butter up a half dozen left over biscuits and leave them overnight in the warm oven. Next morning they were one of the best crunchy soft in the middle buttery treats ever!
I had a funny thing happened about 30 years ago. I had found a recipe for drop biscuits. So one day I made it. My nephew asked me what they were. I told him they were drop biscuits. He said,”Oh rock biscuits.” He was right they were like rocks. I think I accidentally made hardtack . I didn’t know about hardtack back then.
I love the articles with food and old recipes!! Thank you for sharing.
The recipes are a good start, but where do we get the milk if we don’t have a goat or cow and the stores are out of business.. eggs are easier to get in my area, no one has cows and only one place has goats. I wonder if beer or ale can be substituted .. we do have a off grid brewery in our town 🙂
those are good recipes, but, where did they get the milk and eggs? Most folks dried off the cows and goats after they had to put them up in a barn. Chickens then laid about 150 eggs at the most. I’m not shaking a finger, but after SHTF this is what we go back to. niio