Book Review – The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark

The Food Journal of Lewis and Clark

Mary Gunderson, culinary historian, chronicles the Lewis and Clark Expedition through paleocuisineology – “bringing history alive though cooking.”

In The Food Journal of Lewis and Clark, Recipes for an Expedition, Mary Gunderson provides an account of the Expedition through a cross country journey of food history. The journals of Lewis and Clark made many references to the food they brought with them and what they found, hunted, and were served during their expedition.

Before the Expedition

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis to “explore the Missouri river … or any other river [that] may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purpose of commerce.” Lewis trained for the journey by studying maps and learning the basics of botany, medicine, and zoology. He asked William Clark to be his co-commander, and after assembling provisions and camping over the winter at Camp Dubois—on the Mississippi River across from the mouth of the Missouri—in May 1804, the Expedition embarked on its journey to the Pacific Ocean.

Chapter One describes Jefferson’s vision about the Louisiana Purchase, the connection between Jefferson and Lewis, and provides several recipes, some “on the menu in Jefferson’s home.” Each recipe includes an introduction, with its origin or other historical facts. Recipes for Virginia-Style Beaten Biscuits, Brandied Spiced Peaches, Harvest Mincemeat, and Raised Waffles are included. In Chapter Two, a list of some of the provisions Lewis assembled and a recipe for Portable Soup—the precursor to bouillon—along with Pepperpot, Scrapple, Cinnamon Buns, and Lemon Meringue Pie offer a look into the life of the Early American settler.

Following Lewis and Clark

The next three chapters cover the early stages of the Expedition. The early American recipes combine the foods of European immigrants, American natives, and the land’s bounty. They include Honey Black-Walnut Bread, Succotash with Cream, St. Louis Apple Tart, Homemade Hominy, Indian Pudding, Greens with Salt Pork, White Catfish with Bacon, (Buffalo, Elk, or Venison) Jerky, Hardtack Biscuits, and Berry Pudding, among others.

As the Expedition traveled further west, encounters with Native American tribes became more frequent. It was during winter camp in 1804 that Sacagawea and her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, became part of the Expedition. Recipes made with provisions include Hominy and Sunflower Cakes, Fort Mandan Pemmican (a fruit and jerky snack), Fort Mandan Corn Balls, Corn and Dried Meat Soup, and Stewed Plums and Berries.

The second spring and summer, Lewis and Clark traveled through North Dakota and Montana. Buffalo, antelope, elk, beaver, and bear were plentiful, and accompanied with roots dug by Sacagawea. Gunderson’s recipes include Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes; Parched Sweet Corn and Turnip Soup; Buffalo, Turnip, and Berry Ragout; Buffalo Boudin Blanc (a mild sausage prepared by Charbonneau); Roasted Salmon; and Hazelnut Cornmeal Pancakes.

In November 1805, the Expedition, after battling the gorges and falls of the Columbia River, reached the Pacific Ocean and set up winter camp at Fort Clatsop. Roots, fish, and fowl were the largest part of their diet. New Potatoes with Hazelnut and Fennel, Fort Clatsop Sourdough Biscuits, Fort Clatsop Salmon Chowder, and Duck Breast with Dried Fruit Sauce are recipes that represent the region.

The last two chapters cover the journey back to St. Louis, and end with a menu that reflects the food served at a Homecoming Ball for Lewis and Clark. On the trip home, Braised Fennel, Roasted Parsnips with Pine Nuts, Roasted Salmon, and Morel Mushrooms may have sustained the travelers. Recipes for a celebration include Standing Rib Roast, Spicy Sweet and Sour Pickles, Nutmeg-Plum Shortcake, Almond Sponge Cake, and Lemon Curd.

The Food Journal Format

With its attractive glossy cover of tan and black, and ragged-edged pages, the soft cover book has the appearance of a journal. Inside, cream-colored paper and deep brown print; hand drawings of maps, cooking utensils, and food; and informative sidebars and shaded boxes carry through with an early American feel.

Throughout the book, actual journal entries from Lewis and Clark add character, while Gunderson’s adaptations of recipes prepared draws readers to their dinner table. An Epilogue, Bibliography, lists of Websites and Mail-Order Sources, Recipe Index, and Historical Index are at the end of the book.

The Food Journal of Lewis and Clark: Recipes for an Expedition

Published in 2003, Gunderson’s book received the 2004 Benjamin Franklin Award, Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book, Non-fiction; the IPPY 2004 Most Original Concept—Top Ten Outstanding Book of the Year ; the Best of Show, Best Cookbook, and Best Interior Design, 2004 Midwest Book Awards; and was an Honorable Mention in the 2004 DIY Awards It was the Official Cookbook of the National Council of the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial.