Engaging in Family History with Early Pioneer Recipes

July 18, 2017  - by 
How to learn about family history through pioneer recipes.

Early pioneers are an important part of our personal stories and family history. Whether your great-grandfather traveled with a handcart company or you yourself are an immigrant, pioneers pave the way for the generations to come. Pioneer stories open a window to the past, revealing people not so different from ourselves.

One fun way to connect with early pioneers and engage your family in their ancestry is to share some of the culinary traditions the pioneers would have enjoyed. We’ve found some recipes that were made on the trail or that have been passed down through generations to get you started as you explore family history through pioneer stories. Gather your family, and try some of these historical recipes in your own home to get a taste of what life was like for many pioneers.

Pioneer Trail Recipes

On their trek across the plains, pioneers went without many of the luxuries and amenities we enjoy today. Travelers cooked in cast-iron dutch ovens over fires, or they improvised if the weather was poor or their tools broke. They often relied on the resources available within their surroundings. Using both wild fruits—plums, cherries, grapes, gooseberries, currants—and the glorious fresh fruit cultivated so successfully from imported cuttings, early pioneer women were soon making some of the delicacies that reminded them of home, like these currant whirligigs from England. Two other favorites were potato cakes, a 100-year-old recipe that came across the plains with an Austrian immigrant, and hand-mixed bread, as good today as it was in the early days.

Pioneer Hardtack
How to make a long-lasting bread the pioneers made!
Potato Cakes
This simple recipe has been passed down for generations.
Currant Whirligigs
How to find a connection with your ancestors through pioneer recipes!
Hand-Mixed Bread
Try this hand-mixed bread recipe to find a connection with your pioneer ancestors.

Recipes such as these can introduce us to some of the traditions of our pioneer ancestors and can help us embrace the history that comes along with them. Food has a way of bringing the family together and of carrying the emotions of family memories with it. Learn more about how family recipes can create a lasting impact on family history by reading about recipe traditions, or find out more about your pioneer heritage using FamilySearch’s pioneer database.

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  1. Thank you for sharing these recipes. I also have a collection of pioneer recipes. I will definitely add these to the ones that I already have.

  2. I really like this. Can’t wait to try a couple of these recipes. I learned something new as well. I had always been told that hardtack was a candy. I will try this out soon too. Just to see how it worked.

  3. I am from Columbus, Georgia, and Phenix City, Alabama, No this Phenix is different than the Phoenix of Az.
    My grandmother always made Potato Pancakes, and served them either with Grits, oatmill, Scrambled Eggs, and Pork Chops.
    Sometime we would be lucky if dad decided to go to the butcher shop to get fresh Bacon. He did not want to kill the fat Hog we had, didn’t have the heart. We also had Hard tack, so I am familiar with all these things, and I am only 68 and a half. I am fortunate I can pass these food items down to my grandchildren. Thank you.
    Dianne Cash Sabido

  4. Early pioneers and food …

    Is there any information out about John and James P Morgan.
    James P Morgan granted stock options pertaining to JP Morgan Finance,/ bank.
    The beneficiary also having ties to the Dupont , Ford and Hunt family.
    Reported to be the Great grandson of John Bryant Hunt of JB Hunt trucking.

    Is there any history on this?