MO Bicentennial Minutes: What Did Missourians Eat and How Did They Preserve it in 1821?
Corn and pork dominated Missourians’ diet in 1821. For example, the Moses Austin household required 900 pounds of pork monthly. Hogs were easier to feed because they could forage in fields and woodlands and fatten on nuts in fall. Families often had one or more milk cows. Most kept a few chickens, which were susceptible to predators, and many kept sheep, but mostly for wool.
A diversity of cereal grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and buckwheat were grown infrequently. Settlers also grew various vegetables native to Europe, Africa, and the Americas in kitchen gardens, including peas, beans, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, lettuce, Irish and sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkins.
Game was common except near settlements, and elk, deer, turkey, pigeons, prairie chicken, and bear comprised the diet of back woodsmen. Indeed, more than one traveler remarked that smokehouses were most likely to contain bear hams. Many families ate cottontail and squirrel because they were easy to trap, and fish were common in the diet.
Missourians had abundant natural plant foods, including walnuts, pecans, hickory and other nuts; fruits such as plums, pawpaws, and blackberries; and a number of native plants and plants used for greens, especially in late winter and spring. Sweeteners included maple sugar and honey.
Preservation included burying or storage in a cool place. Otherwise, different foods were dried, salted, pickled, fermented, or smoked. Corn was stored in cribs, semi-open buildings, but were still subject to pests. Most corn was ground and stored, or fermented and distilled as corn whiskey. Apples could be stored for a time in a dug cellar or cool place near a spring, or distilled into hard cider.