My grandfather, some six generations back, who arrived here on the extreme western frontier of America back in the 1820s, was named Francis Marion Noland.

My grandfather, some six generations back, who arrived here on the extreme western frontier of America back in the 1820s, was named Francis Marion Noland. He would have been considered a first-year pioneer here on the wild Missouri frontier.

A person could only wonder if he and the family actually celebrated Thanksgiving that first year after arriving, but I would be willing to bet they did. In fact, they probably dressed out a wild turkey to go with their boiled beans and corn, the basic foods of the Missouri pioneer family.

The folks ate beans and corn in some form at almost every meal. The pioneers raised corn as their chief crop because it could be used in so many different ways and kept well in any season, from the hot Missouri summers through the cold winter nights. After the corn was harvested from their little corn patch, the kernels would then have to be ground into corn meal. The homesteaders used the meal to make mush, porridge or various kinds of corn bread – ashcake, hoecake, Johnnycake or corn pone. For a special treat, ears of corn were roasted in the fireplace.

The pioneers raised cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens. They also hunted wild fowl and other game for much of their meat supply. Many meals consisted of wild duck, pigeon or turkey; or bear, buffalo, deer, opossum, raccoon, rabbit or squirrel. Boiled or roasted beaver tail was considered a delicacy.

The pioneers had no refrigeration, but they knew how to keep meat from spoiling. They would cut some kinds of meat into strips and dry them in the sun. They also smoked the strips over a fire. Other meats, especially pork, kept well after being salted or soaked in brine.

So salt was in great demand on the frontier for preserving and seasoning food. Salt brought a high price from traders who traveled the back roads selling it by the barrel from the back of a wagon. Instead of paying the high price, some homesteaders would band together once a year and travel to the Boone salt licks in Saline County, where natural salt formed on the ground. A trip to the salt lick was worthwhile for the settlers. There was good hunting at the salt lick, and the men folk took home enough salt to supply the settlement for a year.

Chopping firewood in Saline County was a wintertime job. After the salt was mined, the water had to be boiled out of it, which took a great deal of firewood. Many a pioneer hired themselves out to the salt makers during the long winter months to cut cordwood.

Raising vegetables and herbs was a job for the women and girls of the family. Most of the vegetables planted by the pioneers could be cooked into hearty meals – beans, cabbages, potatoes, squash and turnips. In the summertime, no table was complete without wild greens such as dandelions, dock, wild lettuce and lamb’s-quarters, which grew abundantly across Jackson County. There were also mushrooms and wild honey, fruits and berries such as raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries and mulberries. Persimmons, paw-paws, wild plums, and crabapples were thicker than fleas on the old coon dog.

Milk from the family cow and sage tea were the chief mealtime drinks. Coffee was too expensive and was only served when company came a callin’. Whiskey, made from corn, was a popular drink for the men. The pioneers sometimes mixed corn whiskey with milk, added some sweetening, and served it to the entire family. Common sweetening on the Missouri frontier included honey, molasses and maple syrup.

Reference: “Corn,” by Winifred Hammond.