Yes, they had squirrel for dinner — even though the directions on how to correctly fry rodents is conspicuously missing in Mary Gunderson’s Food Journal of Lewis & Clark: Recipes for an Expedition.
On September 11, 1803, Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal that his Newfoundland dog, Seaman, plunged into the Ohio River to catch squirrels for dinner: “ … they wer fat and I thought them when fryed a pleasent food.”
But who had ever thought that the two explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led the first United States overland expedition (1804-1806) from Camp Hartford (in present-day Illinois) through a wilderness of uncharted terrain to the Pacific Coast and back, also feasted on exquisite truffles Morella and a scrumptious buffalo-turnip-berry ragout? They even bothered to make “delitefull” tarts from wild berries.
President Thomas Jefferson had sent out the Corps of Discovery to study the Indian tribes, botany, wildlife and geology of the newly acquired terrain described as the “Louisiana Purchase,” a vast area of more than 529,911,680 acres (2,144,476 km2) bought from France in 1803.
Food writer Mary Gunderson, who has lived near a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail in what is now South Dakota for much of her life, re-created the expedition as a culinary journey. The result is an award-winning book with deckled edges and ivory paper, published in a series called “History Cooks,” which highlights foods associated with significant historical periods.
Gunderson is a self-proclaimed “paleocuisineologist,” a term she invented to describe her lively, fact-solid approach that brings history alive through cooking. While reading the expedition journals, she discovered that Lewis and Clark wrote about food almost every day. “We know when the explorers ate the last of their butter and when they first tasted buffalo,” she remarks in her introduction.
The Food Journal’s readers get a taste of the journey as it unfolds through the sensory adventure of what the travelers ate: Provisions like Portable Soup (the bouillon cube’s ancestor) brought from St. Louis and Philadelphia, venison and antelope, squash traded with Native American people and gathered roots.
The author blends original excerpts from Lewis and Clark’s journals with brief history lessons and authentic recipes. Her written sources were historical recipes from the early 1800s, as well as the words of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
|Mary Gunderson cooks up some tasty treats on the Missouri River at Yankton, SD.
On July 24, 1806, for example, Captain Lewis wrote: “ … we still have a little bread of cows [roots] remaining which we made a kettle of mush which together with a few pigeons that we were fortunate enough to kill served us with food for this day.”
Mary Gunderson wondered if it tasted good, and cooked up easy-to-follow instructions substituting the birds with Cornish hens, more readily available to the modern hobby chefs.
Not all recipes are convenient campground cuisine in today’s age of practical pasta and canned spaghetti sauce, unless you are a tenting gourmet and don’t mind bringing your sourdough starter for baking biscuits à la Fort Clatsop near the mouth of the Columbia River, between Oregon and Washington, where the expedition party spent the winter of 1805.
Whether you use Mary Gunderson’s recipes for your own expedition or try them in your well-equipped home, they will definitely whet your appetite for a taste of adventure.
The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark: Recipes for an Expedition
By Mary Gunderson
Published by: History Cooks
Publication date: February 2003
Trade Paperback, 176 pages
Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes
8 – 10 Jerusalem artichokes (about 1 pound) (453.6 g)
1 tablespoon suet, lard or butter
1/3 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Scrub the artichokes and thinly peel. Slice in half and arrange on a 12-inch square of aluminum foil. Dot with suet and sprinkle with sunflower seeds, salt and pepper. Bring opposite sides of the foil together and seal the seam. Fold in the ends. Grill over medium coals or bake in 400 degree Fahrenheit (204.4 C) oven for about 50 minutes, or until tender.
Makes 3 to 4 servings.
Note: If using unsalted seeds, add salt to taste.
Reprinted with permission from The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark: Recipes for an Expedition by Mary Gunderson. History Cooks 2003. Retail US$ 19.95