Pioneer Recipes

This summer (2003) my home town of Lloydminster celebrated its 100th anniversary.

It was a time to reflect on the struggles and accomplishments of the people who settled on the prairie. A time to recognize their hardships and praise their successes. A time to think back . . . .

Pioneer life was not easy and the daily chores of managing a house where more than a full time occupation. Cooking was a major part of each day. Early settlers butchered their own meat and made corned beef, sausage, smoked and dried meats. Large gardens yielded produce for canning, pickling and other preserves. Root cellars stored potatoes, carrots, and onions. Milk was separated into cream for butter and baking and milk for drinking. Breads, cakes and pies were of course all baked at home from scratch from whatever was available.

For the most part meals were informal and the food hearty. Nothing was wasted. Dried bread was made into bread pudding; a bone was turned into soup and extra milk was made into pudding or cheese. Often there was a shortage of some ingredient. As you will see from the recipes, many are based on very basic ingredients and several on how to make a meal with only a few ingredients. Recipes would not only be for food but also for perfume, home remedies, wine and soap making.

Recipe books were not common and cooking was very much a passed down art or trial and error. It is interesting to read recipes from this period, as often they are vague and written with a few small hints that only the person who wrote them would understand. The three day bun recipe and by guess by gosh gingerbread are good examples of this.

It truly is hard to imagine how they successfully fed themselves. When I started to research this article, I was surprised by the variety of foods. Although basic there was still a vast number of recipes to choose from. I was also surprised by the ingenuity of the recipes like Mock Apple Pie and Butterless, Eggless, Milkless Cake and by the fact that I and many other prairie people still commonly make some of these recipes like boiled raison cake and cookies. It proves that these recipes although practical in the past still are alive today because of their flavour.

If you are interested in reading more on this topic B.M. Barss has written several books such as The Pioneer CookbookCome’n Get It, and Favourite Ranch Recipes. Her books include recipes from the past which have been updated for today as well as first hand accounts of pioneer life.

Sea Foam

3 cups brown sugar 750 mL
water enough to moisten (about 1/2 cup/125 mL)
vinegar (about 1 tbsp/15 mL)
2 egg whites, beaten still 2

Boil sugar, water and vinegar until it forms a hard lump in cold water. Beat 2 egg whites stiff. Beat syrup in egg whites gradually. Spread on an oiled cake pan to cool. Break into chunks.

Source: United Farmers of Canada Saskatchewan Section Limited (Women’s Section) Cookbook, published in 1940.

Chinese Chews

1 cup dates 250 mL
1 cup walnuts 250 mL
3/4 cup flour 175 mL
1 cup granulated sugar 250 mL
2 eggs 2
1 tsp baking powder 5 mL

Spread 3/4 inch thick in a pan and bake slowly for 20 minutes. Remove while hot. Cut in squares. Roll in icing sugar.>

Source: United Farmers of Canada Saskatchewan Section Limited (Women’s Section) Cookbook, published in 1940.

Three Day Buns

At noon put into a quart sealer 1cup (250 mL) flour, 1 cup (250 mL) water, 1 yeast cake. Let soak till next morning. Then add 1 cup (250 mL) sugar, 1 cup (250 mL) shortening, 6 cups (1.5 L) cold water, handful salt, flour to stiffen. Knead well and keep kneaded down. Let stand till night. Mold into buns at night and bake the next morning.

Source: United Farmers of Canada Saskatchewan Section Limited (Women’s Section) Cookbook, published in 1940.

Three Day Buns

1 pkg yeast or 1 yeast cake 1
1 1/2 cups potato water or cooled scalded milk or lukewarm water 375 mL

Stir in enough flour to make a stiff batter. Leave overnight. In the morning, add 4 cups (1L) cold water, 1 cup (250 mL) sugar, 1/2 cup (125 mL) melted butter (not hot), 1 tsp (5 mL) salt. Mix and add enough flour to form a stiff dough. Knead every half hour throughout the day (this is very important). At night form into small balls and place 1/2 inch apart in greased tins. Let rise overnight. Bake 10 to 15 minutes the next morning.

Source: Saskatoon Fair Pion-era Cookbook No. 1, published in 1966.

Mock Apple Pie

It is hard to tell this is not apple pie. Texture is the only give away!

Boil in a pan:

1 1/3 cups sugar 325 mL
1 1/2 cups apple juice 375 mL
1/2 tsp cinnamon 2 mL
1/2 tsp nutmeg 2 mL
1 tbsp butter 15 mL
1 tsp cream of tartar 5 mL
1 tsp vinegar 5 mL
1/2 tsp salt 2 mL
1/2 tsp vanilla 2 mL

Line your pie plate with pastry. Break 14 soda crackers into the plate and pour the boiled mixture over them. Cover with top crust and bake 45 minutes at 350°F (180°C).

Source: Saskatoon Fair Pion-era Cookbook No.3, published in 1968.

Butterless, Eggless, Milkless Cake

Amazingly this works. However, it is best eaten fresh out of the oven.

1 cup brown sugar 250 mL
1 cup cold water 250 mL
1 1/2 cup raisins 375 ml
1/3 cup shortening 75 ml
1 tsp cinnamon 5 mL
1/4 tsp nutmeg 1 mL
1/2 tsp cloves 2 mL
1/2 tsp salt 2 mL

Boil the above together for 3 minutes. Let cool. The add:

1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 2 tbsp (25 mL) hot water 5 mL
2 cups flour 500 mL
1/2 tsp baking powder 2 mL

Bake in a flat pan at 350°F (180°C) for 35 to 40 minutes.

Source: Boomtown’s Second Edition of Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Development Museum Cookbook, published in 1966/1967.

Roasted Rabbit

Wash rabbit in cold water, season with salt and pepper. Insert dressing and sew up. Roast at 325°F (160°C) for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours.


1/2 lb sausage meat 250 g
2 cups dried breadcrumbs 500 mL
1 tbsp onion juice 15 mL
1 tbsp parsley 15 mL
salt and pepper

Source: Boomtown’s Second Edition of Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Development Museum Cookbook, published in 1966/1967.

Spoon Bread

1 cup boiling water 250 mL
3/4 cup cornmeal 175 mL
3 tsp butter 45 mL
3 eggs 3
1 cup buttermilk or sour cream 250 mL
1 tsp salt 5 mL
1 1/2 tsp baking powder 7 ml
3/4 tsp baking soda 4 ml
3/4 cup flour 175 mL

Separate eggs, beat whites stiff. Sift dry ingredients. Pour boiling water over cornmeal, slowly; stir until cool. Add butter, egg yolks and flour mixture alternately with buttermilk to cornmeal mush. Beat well; fold in egg whites. Pat in 1 1/2 quart (1.5 L) baking dish. Bake.

Source: Boomtown’s Second Edition of Women’s Auxiliary of the Western Development Museum Cookbook, published in 1966/1967.

Old Time Sheep Sorrel Pie

During pioneer times lemons usually were very scarce. In order to satisfy their taste for lemon pie, women learned to use the pink-flowered sheep sorrel that grew wild on the prairie as a substitute for lemons. They used a regular lemon pie recipe but substituted a cup of shredded sheep sorrel for the lemons. The pie has a tart lucious flavour, similar to real lemon pie.

Source: Saskatoon Fair Pion-era Cookbook No.1, published in 1966.

By-Guess By-Gosh Gingerbread

Pioneer recipes were seldom as specific as recipes today but this one has me puzzled. She wrote, “I always take some flour, just enough for the size of the cake I want to bake. I mix it up with some buttermilk if I happen to have any around, just enough for the flour. Then I take some ginger; some like more, some like less. I put in a little salt and pearl ash, and then I tell one of my children to pour in molasses until I tell him to stop. Then the children bring in wood to build up a good fire and we have gingerbread for company”. No doubt Grandma got better results from this recipe than I would.

Source: Saskatoon Fair Pion-era Cookbook No.1, published in 1966.

Old Time Beauty Hints


Spread fresh, unsalted butter on two plates of the same size. Then fill one plate with roses, jasmine, violets or any other flowers you wish. Turn the other plate over it and let stand for 24 hours. Then scrape off the butter from the plate and add a little alcohol or whiskey. Cork tightly.

Note: This must have been the equal of “My Sin” or “Parisian Nights” for anybody’s money in the pioneer days.

For Spring Fever: For curing ” Spring Laggin’s” is the interesting title for this recipe I found in my Grandma’s “receipt” book. “Take sasparilla, yellow dock, black alder bark, burdock root, sassafras bark, wintergreen. Of each, one ounce mixed with four pints of syrup. A wine glass of this three times a day.

Source: Saskatoon Fair Pion-era Cookbook No.1, published in 1966.

“Food for a Barn Raising”

This bit of information was found in a quaint, old handwritten recipe book from great grandmother’s day. It included here mainly for the purpose of giving us a peep into the past. As many of us know, a “barn raising” was quite an event during those early years. When a new barn was built, all the friends and neighbours came on the specified day to help put up the framework of the barn. This policy is still carried out in some communities where neighbours are neighbourly. Homemakers of our day will no doubt be astounded at all the food consumed in one day. What is more difficult to believe is that it was all made in great grandmother’s kitchen. Here is the list:

115 lemon pies
500 fat cakes (doughnuts)
15 large cakes
3 gallons applesauce
3 gallons rice pudding
3 gallons cornstarch pudding
16 chickens
3 hams
50 lb roast beef
300 light rolls
16 loaves of bread
red beet pickles and pickled eggs
cucumber pickle
6 lbs dried prunes, stewed
1 large crock stewed raisins
5 gallons stone jar of white potatoes and the same amount of sweet potatoes
enough food for 175 men!

Boiled Raisin Cake

2 cups raisins 500 mL
2 1/2 cups water 625 mL
1 cup butter or oil 250 mL
2 cups brown sugar 500 mL
2 eggs 2
1 tsp vanilla 5 mL
2 1/2 cups silfted flour 625 mL
2 tsp baking soda 5 mL
1 tsp baking powder 5 mL
2 tsp cinnamon 10 mL
2 tsp nutmeg 5 mL
1 tsp salt 5 mL

Simmer the raisins and water for a few minutes. Cool. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add the raisin juice. Sift the dry ingredients together and add to other mixture. Stir. Fold in raisins. Pour into a greased, floured 9 x 13 inch (3.5 L) cake pan and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 40 minutes. Cover with Caramel Icing.

Caramel Icing

Melt 1/3 cup (75 mL) butter. Add 1 cup (250 mL) brown sugar and boil over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in 5 tbsp (75 mL) milk and heat until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Stir in 11/2 & 2 cups (375 & 500 mL) sifted icing sugar and beat until thick enough to spread.

Source: Canadian Prairie Homesteaders, published in 1979

Ranch House Stew

4 lb beef rump or stew meat, cut into cubes 2 kg
4 large onions, chopped 4
3/4 cup flour 175 mL
1 tsp paprika 5 mL
1 cup canned tomatoes 250 mL
1 glass beer (optional) 1
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce 10 mL
4 cups brown stock or water with beef bouillon cubes dissolved 1 L
3 bay leaves 3
1 tsp parsley 5 mL
1/4 tsp thyme 1 mL
2 cups mushrooms, whole or sliced 500 mL
1 tsp salt 5 mL
pepper to taste

Trim fat from meat. Place pieces of the fat in a heavy pan to render fat. Discard the dried bits. Brown meat in fat (add lard if there is not enough). Remove meat and brown onions. Return the meat to the pan. Add flour and paprika. Stir well. Continue cooking for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, beer, Worcestershire sauce, stock, bay leaves, parsley and thyme. Cover and bake in a 300°F (150°C) oven or simmer on top of the stove for 3 hours, until meat is tender. Add mushroom, salt and pepper. Pour stew into a 3 quart casserole or two smaller casseroles. Serves 8 to 10.

Source: Come ‘n Get it At the Ranch House by B.M. Barss

Turnip Puff

4 cups boiled, mashed turnips 1 L
4 tbsp butter 60 mL
2 tsp sugar 10 mL
1 tsp salt 5 mL
2 eggs, separated 2
pinch nutmeg pinch
pepper to taste

Add the butter, sugar, salt, nutmeg, pepper and egg yolks to the turnips. Beat together. Whip the egg whites until stiff, as for meringue, and fold into the turnip mixture. Pile into a buttered 1-1/2 quart (1.5L) casserole dish and bake at 300 to 360°F (150-180°C) for 15 to 20 minutes.

Serves 6.

Source: Come’ n Get it Cowboys and Chuckwagons by B.M.Barass.


1/2 head cabbage, shredded to make 4 cups ( 1 L) 1/2
2 tbsp vinegar 25 mL
1/2 cup vegetable oil 125 mL
3 tbsp sugar 45 mL
1/2 tsp salt 2 mL

In a jar shake together vinegar, oil, sugar, and salt. Add to cabbage and mix. Refrigerate for several hours.

Serves 4 to 5.

Source: Come’ n Get it Cowboys and Chuckwagons by B.M. Barass

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