Historical Event

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Date:

January 4, 1802

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Short Description:

Fur traders of the Nor West company didn't have access to many plant foods, but would use berries, saved flour, and maple sugar to spice up his diet of meat and fish.

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Title:

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The Savage Country

Topics: (click to open)

Pemmican
Trapping, Exploring, Hunting
Vegetable Produce
Carnivore Diet

Important Text:

The Nor'wester, whose Indian wife cooked for him, soon accustomed himself to the eating habits of the natives; and le could speak with equanimity, if not enthusiasm, of a meal of "five Indian dogs, bear, beaver, mountain cat, and raccoon, boiled in bear's grease and mixed with huckleberries." 


In the delicatessen department, so to speak, the Nor'wester had little to choose from, although certain luxury items did appear on his table now and then. He highly esteemed the tail of the beaver, the tongue of the buffalo, and the snout of the moose; and from the Indians he learned to relish the sweet and highly nutritious marrow in roasted buffalo bones. 


Most important of his luxuries, perhaps, was the flour he had brought all the weary miles from the Grand Portage. Sometimes he made with it a kind of thick flour-and-pemmican soup called rubbaboo. More often, he fashioned galettes, small unleavened cakes, which he baked in the ashes. When he had chicken or gull eggs, he made up a pudding of some sort, or "fritters," which were probably an approximation of our flapjacks. It can also be assumed that, without yeast, he made sourdough bread whenever his cabin was warm enough to promote its rising. And at the Grand Portage and some of the big Interior posts, he baked proper loaves of bread: there were ovens, for instance, at Rainy Lake House. On the great fete days, flour and a little sugar always accompanied rum as a special treat. 


As for fruit, the Nor'wester had none except what he could find growing wild. But these he must have enjoyed greatly; for he always has time especially Alexander Henry to pause in his journal and tell us: "We found an abundance of sand cherries, which were of an excellent favor." or, "Red raspberries are now ripe and very good . . . the panbian is fine and large, and of a beautiful red, but requires the frost to ripen it." He seems, indeed, to have had not only great quantities, but also many varieties of wild fruits and berries to eat fresh or dried, in his pemmican, or with his meat and fish. 


In addition to his regular winter provisions, each Partner was allowed certain luxuries: six pounds of tea, four of coffee, four of chocolate. Clerks received a lesser allowance, each according to his rank. The Partners also took biscuits with them, which were invariably so crumbled at the end of the trip that they had to be eaten with a spoon. 


Now and then a gourmet among them brought along a hamper of wine; and we have Duncan Cameron writing: "Invited my neighbor to dine with me and gave him good Madeira to drink" . . . and adding ruefully that his neighbor seemed to prefer rum. Alexander Henry once concocted a cordial of Jamaica rum, wild cherries and a few pounds of sugar. 


Salt, when he could get it, was used by the trader as a condiment and sometimes to preserve meat, although freezing and drying usually served the latter purpose. At every post, no effort was spared to obtain a supply from some nearby salt pit or saline spring. And so the Nor'wester and his voyageurs maintained their defenses against starvation, and sometimes even feasted on plenty. But what, one wonders, of the children, so numerous at every post? What did their Indian mothers feed them? For a long time, of course, they were nursed at the breast perhaps for two or three years, as was the custom with the tribes. But when the child was weaned, at last, his diet was one that Dr. Spock himself might have approved. As described by John Long, it included a pap made of Indian corn and milk, if it could be obtained; wild rice, pounded fine, boiled and mixed with maple sugar; and the broth of meat or fish. And Wither kind of pap, he adds, was made of a toot called toquo, which was also baked into a kind of zwichack for the infans of the posts.

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