Having written in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange about my travels to Pierre, South Dakota over the past decade and a half, and discovering—firsthand–the importance and impact of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, I was thrilled to learn of a cookbook on this subject. Everywhere you go throughout South Dakota, and especially in Pierre, the State Capitol, pioneer history is alive and present and this is especially evident with regard to the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
“THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION” by Mary Gunderson (published 2003) is a cookbook from History Cooks Publishers.
Author Mary Gunderson explains, “Much of my life, I have lived near a portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail in what is now South Dakota. My great-grandparents settled along the Missouri River sixty years after the Expedition passed this way. Several of the Expedition landmarks are among my geographic touchstones, including Spirit Mound, near present-day Vermillion, South Dakota, and Calumet Bluff, near Yankton, South Dakota. …” (the first thing I had to do was get out my map of South Dakota and look for Yankton and Spirit Mound. Both places are considerably south-east of Pierre, near Sioux City).
“I am,” Mary Gunderson tells us, “one of thousands of people for whom the Lewis and Clark Expedition is as much personal history as American history…”
When Mary first began to think about writing about the foods of the Lewis and Clark Expedition some years ago, she wondered if the food tasted good. She had to determine, she recalls, if it made sense to recreate Expedition foods for modern people and sensibilities. While Mary was reading the Lewis and Clark journals and letters, she discovered that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark wrote about food almost every day. “The more startling entries,” she writes, “—eating several pounds of meat or dining on tainted meat—are offset by the countless other details of gustatory satisfaction…”
Mary says, “A picture of daily life across early nineteenth-century North America begins to emerge, starting with the culinary pursuits of the Expedition’s originator, Thomas Jefferson, with the dynamic culinary climate in Philadelphia where Lewis made journey preparations, and through the food wisdom and practices of the people in each American Indian tribe who made contact with the Expedition….”
“We know,” Mary explains, “when the explorers ate the last of their butter and when they first tasted buffalo. Lewis delighted in Toussaint Charbonneau’s* boudin blanc.” (Toussaint Charbonneau was Sacagawea’s husband. Boudin Blanc was a mild sausage made of buffalo).
Mary continues, “John Ordway, one of the sergeants, praised the Mandan and Hidatsa women who prepared corn, beans, and squash for the visitors during the winter of 1804 to 1805. Both Lewis and Ordway recorded the day, 4 July 1805, when the Corps of Discovery drank their last whiskey rations. After the harrowing seventeen days spent crossing the Bitterroot Mountains, the command, near starvation, gratefully received hospitality from the Nez Perce, who offered food from their abundant stores of roots, berries, nuts, and fish. Sacagawea saved wheat flour and made a kind of biscuit for her son, Jean Baptiste, and shared some with William Clark during the winter at Fort Clatsop…”
Mary explains that, in seeking to understand the Lewis and Clark Expedition in terms of food, she “traveled across time and cultures…”
She combed the journals the travelers kept and relied on a wide range of research about the Expedition and its members, as well as information about everyday lives across the continent in the early 1800s. Mary says that her key written sources have been the words of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, Thomas Jefferson and others, especially as found in “The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition…Besides dozens of other written sources, including cookbooks and recipes from the early 1800s…” Mary also talked with experts about such subjects as sausage making, grape varieties, basketry, corn parching, Latin names of plants and animals, and applied these facts and inquiries to what she calls “paleocuisineology” ®–“bringing,” she says, history alive through cooking—to make a history book with recipes….”
I was enormously excited when I first learned about “THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION”, for the subject matter is one near and dear to my heart on several levels. I have been curious and interested in pioneer food most of my adult life. I really began to think about the enormity of the Lewis & Clark Expedition when I first visited Pierre, South Dakota, to visit my grandson, Nathanael, when he was a toddler. I also wrote “Kitchens West” originally for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange and more recently for my blog, also as part of a never-ending curiosity about American food history).
Didn’t we all learn, in history class, when we were children, of Thomas Jefferson’s 15-million dollar purchase of the “Louisiana Territory” from France? This was a real-estate deal that doubted the size of the nation. Jefferson then sent a crew, led by Lewis and Clark, on a historic journey to explore the new frontier. For the $15 million, Napoleon sold to us the Missouri River and all lands drained by it.
President Jefferson, a man of great vision, wanted, Mary Gunderson explains, “accurate maps and careful field notes to detail the landscape and all animals, plants, and natural formations.”
Lewis and Clark assembled their crew of nearly four dozen men and began a two year 8,000 mile trek which began on May 14, 1804, at the mouth of the Missouri River near St. Louis. The Expedition traveled by keelboat and two pirogues, (dugout canoes). Most importantly to us, two hundred years later, is that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were prolific journal-keepers. Prior to embarking on their epic Expedition, which one writer has likened to our traveling in space, today, Lewis met with a number of prominent men and began to obtain the provisions they would need. One of the largest single food provisions that Lewis purchased was portable soup, a kind of forerunner of today’s bouillon cubes, for which Mary Gunderson provides a recipe. She notes that Lewis also purchased “brass kettles, tin tumblers and metal spoons, as well as beads, especially China blues (to trade for food with tribal communities), cloth, writing materials, and equipment for hunting and fishing,” and she provides us with partial lists of the provisions.
When the provisions had been purchased, Lewis hired a horse and driver to carry the 3,500 pounds of supplies to Pittsburgh. During the summer of 1803, Lewis returned to Pittsburgh and watched while their keelboat was completed. Then he and the crew started down the Ohio River on August 31, 1803. In Louisville, Kentucky, Lewis stopped to pick up his partner, William Clark, and ten young men including Clark’s slave. The Expedition left from the Falls of the Ohio on October 26, 1803. They spent the winter on the eastern side of the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
Most of the pioneer-related cookbooks I have acquired over the years are presented to us “as is” – by this, I mean, recipes (or receipts, as they were usually called) are published exactly as they were printed a hundred – or even two hundred – years ago. What interests me most about “THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION” is that author Mary Gunderson has provided updated recipes that can be prepared in today’s kitchen. Her book is replete with many fascinating facts and sidebars about the Expedition and each of the recipes included in her book is accompanied by a bit of historical information. So, along with a recipe for Hoe Cakes is an explanation for its name. Included with a recipe for Grill-Roasted Turkey with Sausage Stuffing, we learn from Mary that, “Lewis first noted a turkey shot on 1 September 1803. The hunter brought in turkey again for Christmas. Plump domestic twenty-first century turkeys,” Mary notes, “do not resemble wild turkeys, either those of 1803 or of the present. Wild animals choose their own diet, unlike farm-raised animals that eat what they are offered…”
You will be pleasantly surprised with the recipes in “THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION”—it is filled with mouth-watering, tempting recipes such as Chicken Fricassee and Pepperpot, (a kind of soup with African and Spanish origins), Hazelnut Cornmeal Pancakes, Fort Clatsop Salmon Chowder and Duck Breast with Dried Fruit Sauce. There is an early-American recipe for Scrapple, another for Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon, White Catfish with Bacon, Cornish Hens with Sweet Potato Stuffing—and much more. You’ll also find unusual recipes for Deep-Fried Venison and directions for cooking a bear (one would expect it to start out with instructions to “first catch your bear”) as well as Braised Elk Brisket. There are numerous recipes (over ninety) in “THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION” and a history lesson on every page.
Few cookbooks provide an Epilogue. Mary suggests, “Cookbooks rarely have conclusions, perhaps because a cookbook author accepts that a recipe is a fluid thing, subject to the whims and mood of the cook.”
However, she says, history books require a summation. “We know,” she writes, “the rest of the Lewis and Clark story. The Expedition forms an important piece of Thomas Jefferson’s Presidential legacy…..”
She notes that Meriwether Lewis adjusted poorly to a more settled life and died by his own hand on October 11, 1809.
Clark moved to St. Louis with his first wife, was twice widowed and saw three of his seven children grow to adulthood. Clark served as chief Indian Agent and as Governor of the Missouri Territory and lived an active, full life. William Clark died September 1, 1838, in St. Louis.
Sacagawea sent her son Jean Baptiste to study in St. Louis under the wing of the Clark family. She is believed to have died in 1812 in what is now South Dakota.
Mary Gunderson is a nationally-noted food writer and culinary historian who wrote the first book about Expedition food, “COOKING ON THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION” as well as “Today’s Herbal Kitchen” with the Memphis Herb Society, “Pioneer Farm Cooking”, “Cowboy Cooking”, “Oregon Trail Cooking”, “Southern Plantation Cooking” and “American Indian Cooking Before 1500”.
Mary says, “I don’t remember a time I didn’t like to cook. In fifth grade, I started baking and eased my way into contributing to family meals. I started to read cookbooks in high school and organized an international food fair.”
Mary learned more about international foods as an exchange student in Chile, where she first tasted pesto and lasagna and many other native Italian-Chilean dishes. When it was time to go to college, she chose Iowa State because she wanted to study home economics with an emphasis on food and nutrition. During Mary’s freshman year she began writing for the Iowa State Daily. By the time she graduated in 1977 with a degree in Home economics, she knew she would be a food writer.
In 1982, she took a trip that changed her life. Not being married or having any children, with nothing to tie her down, Mary took a trip around the world, starting in Asia and coming back through Europe. That trip was, she says, “just the beginning of the rest of my life.”
Mary returned to the Midwest but was restless and wanted new challenges. She knew that being a food writer was not enough. She began to research food and culture. Then, one day, she got an idea. Drawing from her childhood, Mary began to research the Missouri River and discovered that not much had been written about it. An idea was born. Mary was approached by Capstone Publishing to produce a set of children’s books that combined history and cooking. She recalls that they wanted a book about the Revolutionary War but she convinced them that they needed to do Lewis and Clark. A book about food and the Missouri River was born. Mary wrote “COOKING ON THE LEWIS AND CLARK EXPEDITION and five other books in the series, “Exploring History Through Simple Recipes” and discovered that this was what she always wanted to do, combining the two things she loved most – food and history. “THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION” consequently, is the adult version of what started out as a children’s book.
I would be remiss not to mention that, for those who are interested in bibliographies, there is a comprehensive bibliography and list of further reading at the end of “THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION.”
Mary lives today in Yankton, South Dakota, on the Missouri River, where her company, History cooks ® has its headquarters. The company published innovative culinary history books and offers presentations across the United States for many audiences, for radio and television, in regional and national publications and on the website http://www.historycooks.com.
Mary Gunderson is a graduate of Iowa State University, where she majored in journalism with an emphasis in food and nutrition. She covered the food and culture beats as staff writer for the Minneapolis STAR and as a food editor for BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS. She has worked as a consultant for clients that include General Mils, Pillsbury, Land O’ Lakes, and Meredith Corp. Mary has also written for HOME, MIDWEST LIVING as well as other publications.
“THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION” which has been designated the official cookbook for the National Council of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial is a beautiful cookbook, reasonably priced at $19.95 per copy, plus $6.00 shipping for the first book and $2.00 for each additional book. You can order this book by writing to History Cooks, PO Box 709, Yankton, SD 57078, or online at www.HistoryCooks.com.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith
For additional information about the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail, call (608) 264-561- or visit them online at http://www.nps.gov/lecl.
The Lewis and Clark Visitor Center at Gavins Point Dam provides a hands-on introduction to the Expedition. Exhibits cover the history of the Missouri, the tribes who lived along the river, and Lewis and Clark as trailblazers. The Center is located on the Nebraska side of Gavins Point Dam at Yankton.
THE FOOD JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK/RECIPES FOR AN EXPEDITION” by Mary Gunderson (published 2003) is available on Amazon.com for $2.77 used, or $9.98. Numerous other books about Lewis & Clark can also be found on Amazon.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith