How Did the Pioneers Preserve Food?

The vast majority of food that the pioneers ate was preserved by drying or pickling. Scurvy, a disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency, was a constant risk to the pioneers and a year-round balanced diet had to be available.

Fruits could be dried by covering them with cheesecloth in direct sunlight, possibly on the roof of a homestead. Once it became shriveled and hard, it is was hung in the cellar until it was needed. When consumed, it was stewed in water and sugar, however it was tough and lacked flavor.

A family would hunt or buy meat in a local market, but during the summer the meat could spoil on the same day so preserving meat quickly was important. If it was to be eaten within a few days it would be par-boiled or par-roasted as soon as possible and then the cooking was completed just before eating it. For longer periods of time, meat would be pickled by stacking it in layers in barrels, separated by layers of salt, saltpeter and brown sugar and then soaked in brine.

During the winter, it was possible to hang meat outside in order to freeze it or fill barrels with the meat along with snow to preserve it. Settlers that had access to chopped wood could also use a smokehouse which involved hanging meat above a fire that would last weeks or months at a time.