Making the Frontier Home: Stories from the Steamboat Bertrand

"Apples: to Bake Steamboat Style": Recipes for Living on the Frontier

Central to the ideal of Victorian motherhood was proper care of the family, which included the basic act of providing nourishment through wholesome meals. The process of raising healthy children began in the kitchen. Although cookbooks had circulated through society prior to the Victorian Era, production of these remained limited until the 1830s, after which various books came into print.  Many of these later books incorporated new kitchen technologies like stoves and reflected an increasing trend in the standardization of measurements. Prior to the Victorian period, women had gradually turned away from food production and towards consumption of canned and commercially produced foods with the rise of industrialization.  However, the Victorian emphasis on domesticity inspired women to relearn how to cook and care for their family.  Publications, notably cookbooks, acted as teachers for these unskilled women. Cookbooks enabled women of varying abilities to learn and perform the fundamental activities of Victorian womanhood. 


"To the Women of America, in whose hands rest the real destines of the Republic, as moulded by the early training and preserved amid the maturer influences of home, this volume is affectionately inscribed." Dedication from The American Woman's Home by Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe

Away from the comfort of hired and enslaved help, pioneering women were responsible for cooking, as well as other domestic chores.  Cooking and advice manuals, such as such as Dr. Chase's Recipes, or Information for Everybody (1864), were especially important to these emigrants. These books served as a reference for both men and women on nearly any practical subject necessary to thrive on the frontier. Other, gender-specific books, such as The American Woman's Home (1869) by Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, were vital instructors for creating the ideal Victorian woman, even in remote areas. The fulfillment of this role relied heavily on access to and the production of wholesome foods, especially bread. Despite being removed from high-yield agricultural zones and urban markets, larger frontier towns were able to supply a diverse assortment of foodstuffs to their satellite locations. The Bertrand alone was carrying candy, brandied fruit, butter, coffee, flour, essence of ginger, grapes, honey, ketchup (catsup), preserves, lemon syrup, different dried meats, oysters, peppers pickles, canned pineapple, assorted nuts, spices, tamarinds, alcohol, yeast, and much more. These edible luxuries provided contrast to the coarse and redundant suppers of overland travelers and alleviated culinary monotony at competitive prices.

However, availability of these goods depended on the successful voyage of a steamboat up the Missouri. In the case of the Bertrand, these goods never reached their destinations, depriving residents of Fort Benton and surrounding towns of the foods they relied on. During the off season, when the Upper Missouri was unnavigable, food shortages were common and often created periods of distress, such as the flour shortage of 1864-1865 in Virigina City, when prices reached $150 and tensions broke out into violence (see Malone et. al. 1976: 233). Cookbooks and creativity helped women cope with trying times and still provide the necessary care for their families. 

Full Catalog Records:
Yeast powder
Coffee cans 

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