Food was basic but surprisingly tasty
If eating the same thing day after day seems like a nightmare, then the Oregon Trail wound not have been for you. This was hardly a gastronomic journey. Instead, practicality and logistics trumped any ideas about taste, and most people packed almost all the food they would need before they set off. While certainly dull, and often tasteless, it was surely better than relying on your hunting skills to eat fresh meat along the way.
Historical research carried out by the National Oregon-California Trail Center found that a typical family would have needed to pack 600 pounds of flour, 100 pounds of sugar and 200 pounds of lard for the road. Alongside this, they would most probably pack 100 pounds of sugar and 60 pounds of coffee, to be made fresh along the way when they found water. To supplement this, a wagon would often carry rice and even dried fruit. And then there was the bacon, the one real treat of the Oregon Trail. But even this was relatively tasteless since it would usually be heavily salted since it was stored in brine or packed in barrels of bran.
But still, the food wasn’t all that bad. There was often fresh bread. Plus, several Trail recipes survive to this day. The pioneers were highly adept at improvising and making the most of both what they packed and what they could find along the way. Dishes that were created through necessity on the Oregon Trail include Johnny Cake, a type of cornbread or tortilla, as well as corn pancakes, buffalo jerky, and the delightfully-named cornmeal mush. One extra-special treat for the pioneers was molasses stack cake. Made with eggs, molasses, cinnamon and nutmeg, this was usually saved for weddings or other special occasions, with fresh apples on the side making it even tastier.