Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook (University of Nebraska Press, 1974) compiled by Kay Graber explores the dining patterns of Nebraska's pioneers. In addition to sharing recipes compiled from vintage sources, Graber narrates and interprets the evolution of pioneer food from early days on the prairie and brought to the heart of America by immigrants to the elegant meals at the turn of the century. While these recipes are fun to recreate, they also offer a peak into the world that our ancestors lived in.
Take the head, heart, and any lean scraps of pork, and boil until the flesh slips easily from the bones. Remove the fat, gristle, and bones, then chop fine. Set the liquor in which the meat was boiled aside until cold, take the cake of fat from the surface, and return to the fire. When it boils, put in the chopped meat and season well with salt and pepper. Thicken with cornmeal as you would in making ordinary cornmeal mush. Cook an hour, stirring constantly at first, afterwards putting back on the stove to boil gently. When done, pour into pans and mold. In cold weather this can be kept several weeks. Cut into slices and fry brown as you do mush.
Baked Apple Dumplings
One quart flour, two tablespoons lard (half butter is better), two cups of milk, one teaspoon soda dissolved in hot water, two teaspoons cream of tartar sifted into the dry flour, one teaspoon salt. Mix the shortening into the flour after you have sifted it and the cream of tartar together, put in the soda, and wet up quickly just thick enough to roll into a paste less than half an inch thick. Cu in squares and lay in the center of each a juicy, tart apple, pared and cored. Bring the corners of the squares together, and pinch slightly. Bake to a fine brown. Eat hot with rich, sweet sauce.
Preserved Watermelon Rind
Pare off the green skin and cut into strips or fanciful shapes. Line a kettle with vine leaves, fill with the rind, and scatter a little pulverized alum over each layer. Cover with vine leaves, three deep, and pour on enough water to wet that. Cover closely and allow them to steam for three hours, without letting the water boil. Take out the rind, which will be of a fine green color, and throw it into cold water. Let it remain in soak, changing the water every hour, for four hours. Use four lemons, a quarter of a pound of ginger, and six pounds of sugar for every six pounds of the rind. Wrap the ginger root in a muslin bag and boil in three pints of water until the water is highly flavored; remove the ginger, put in the sugar, and boil and skim until no more scum arises. Put in the pieces of rind and the juice of the lemons, simmer gently for an hour; take out the rind and lay upon dishes in the sun until firm and almost cool, put back into the syrup, simmer for half an hour, spread out again, and when firm pack into bowls and pour over the boiling syrup.
One pound of loaf sugar, one ounce of cream of tartar, one and a half ounces of best white ginger (bruised), one gallon of boiling water. Pour the water upon these ingredients, and let it stand till the next morning, when it may be bottled. It is better to strain it through muslin when bottled.
Excerpted from Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook compiled by Kay Graber by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. ©1974 by the University of Nebraska Press.