Monday, October 6, 2008

Frontier Cuisine

Whenever we talk about the 'Opening of the West,' we dwell on such prominent historical artifacts as the Pennsylvania long-rifle, the Winchester, the Colt Model P, and other such romantic props. But we also owe a debt to the homely stuff pictured above: parched corn, jerky, and dried fruit. For this was the stuff that made possible so much of the early exploration of our western frontier.

I took in the last of my corn yesterday, and since it was past its prime for table fare I cut the kernels off and parched it in the oven for a couple of hours at very low heat. It's good: sweet, crispy, and very satisfying. I always keep a supply of home-made jerky on hand. This batch had dried red peppers pounded into it before drying. Can't claim credit for the dried cherries: they came from a farm store. When I hunt, or just plain travel, I always carry a few small ziplocks of this stuff. It's compact, nourishing, and relieves hunger pangs faster than anything I know of.

It's the stuff that our earliest frontiersmen carried with them into the wilderness as they began their first tentative thrusts into the Alleghenies and further south across the Appalachians into what is now Kentucky and Tennessee. Game was much less plentiful than we might imagine, and the vast tracts of dense forest were especially sparsely furnished with edible species. Ammunition was precious and shooting off guns was decidedly dangerous in most of that new country. So they subsisted largely on what they could carry. And a man could carry several weeks of his own provender in this light, compact form. We owe it a lot more credit than it gets. But rather than memorialize mine, I plan to eat it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered how those fellows supported themselves for long periods of time in the mountains. You imagine them blasting down deer at will, but it isn't that easy in the first place and a shot does advertise your presence for miles around. I have Turners book on his travels in the Great Plains during the 1840's. Seems like dried meat played a big part in keeping alive.