Eating Like a Voyageur

The following recipe is quoted from:

Mitchell, Patricia B. French Cooking in Early America. Chatham, VA:, 1991. Twelfth Printing, 2008. P. 3

Who, in turn found it in “Sourdough and Hardtack,” American Heritage Cookbook, New York, 1961. p. 49. By Evan Jones.

“Authentic Voyageur Stew:

“The tin kettle in which they cook their food, a traveler wrote, would hold 8 or 10 gallons. It was hung over the fire, nearly full of water, then 9 quarts of peas-one quart per man, the daily allowance-were put in; and when they were well bursted two or 3 pounds of pork, cut into strips, for seasoning, were added, and all allowed to boil or simmer until daylight, when the cook added four biscuits, broken up, to the mess, and invited all hands to breakfast. The swelling of the peas and biscuit had now filled the kettle to the brim, so thick that a stick would stand upright in it… The men now squatted in a circle, and each one plying his wooden spoon or ladle from the kettle to mouth, with almost electric speed, soon filled every cavity.”

Ms. Mitchell continues the theme for Voyageur Stew with her own recipe for a “Rendezvous”* version which adds onion, garlic, and bay leaves – along with salt and pepper – to the above.

Along with the stew, there are “voyageur” recipes and methods for Jerky (pemmican), boudins, and a discussion of egg and flour galettes.

* The Rendezvous, of course, was the annual meet-up of trappers and traders at the end of the season to indulge in all possible vices while trading and off loading their catches of the season. It was basically about the same – in attitude – as our New Orleans Mardi Gras without the parades.

BTW, anyone interested in the French-American culinary tradition ought to have Mitchell’s  little book. (ISBN: 978-0-925117-35-9)

And then there are the academics:

Podruchny, Carolyn. Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Scattered throughout this (very academic) overview of French Canadien voyageur life are numerous references to the culinary culture of these intrepid pioneers of North America west of the Mississippi.

If you are new to cooking or to any form of culinary commentary, one of the first things about food and food culture becomes ‘painfully’ obvious very soon. Any discussion or activity involving food is limited to four groups: proteins (meats), grains (wheat, rye, barley, etc.), vegetables and fruits, and beverages (drink). Humanity in all its myriad forms and expressions has done the most spectacular job in taking these four things and combining them into literally thousands of food traditions and millions of dishes. That group of (usually) men we remember as “voyageurs” were no different. Dr. Podrungny explains that there are several French phrases that came into common use by and about these explorers and traders. Two that easily apply to our topic here are Les mangeurs de lard, “The Pork Eaters”and Tripe de roche.

Les mangeurs de lard, was the (usually derisive) name given to the “low men on the totem pole”. Basically these were the canoe men, who paddled and navigated the huge cargo canoes which plied back and forth along the western rivers between the “North” lands and Lake Superior. Tripe de roche, was rock moss, boiled in water to make a boullion (often prevented starvation).

Beyond that, nourishment was found among the voyageurs in the usual ways. Protein was supplied by the outcome of hunting and fishing activities, by the nuts found in the forests, and the preserved meats such as pemmican or dried buffalo, and similar products like smoked or dried fish. Gathering was another important activity, often done by Native women. Some of there produce included wild onions, plums, various wild berries and fruit, and grapes.

It was such food resources and culinary traditions which were used by Sieur de Bourgmont, the Commandant of the Missouri Valley in the early decades of the 18th century.

Finally a word about the paucity of posts in the past month or so. It is too early to make an announcement, but let’s just say by the end of the week, Part 2 of The Petticoat Rebellion will be complete and then, hopefully, possibly, – interesting things may begin to happen.


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