Mormons Ate Best

mormons dining food true west

Of all the pioneers who settled Arizona Territory—Indians, Mexicans, the military, miners, cowboys—the Mormons ate best. As Daphne Overstreet reports in her “Arizona Territorial Cook Book, 1864 to 1912,” “While many of Arizona’s other pioneers were subsisting on salt pork and beans, the Mormons were eating cheese and milk from their dairy herds, eggs from their laying hens, and produce from their gardens and orchards.”

Mormons arrived in Arizona Territory in wagon trains sent out from Salt Lake, looking for new places to settle and farm. The first wave, of about 200 missionary families, arrived in the 1870s.

One bachelor’s packing list for the trip included this: two barrels of nails, a frying pan, bucket, tin plates and cups, a hoe, pitchfork and rifle. Also four bushels of wheat, one bushel of potatoes, five hundreds pounds of flour, forty gallons of molasses, twenty pounds of apples, one ham, six pounds of butter, candles, soap, matches and garden seeds, Overstreet notes.

She quotes a 1909 historian praising, “It must be acknowledged that the Mormons were wilderness breakers of high quality. They not only broke it, but they kept it broken; and instead of the gin mill and gambling hell (sic) as the cornerstones of their progress and as examples to the natives, they planted orchards, gardens, farms, schoolhouses and peaceful homes.”

They also left us with delicious recipes, especially desserts. Like “Aunt Annie Larson’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies.” Cream together 1 ½ cups sugar and 1 cup shortening and add 2 beaten eggs. Then add 1 cup sour cream, stir well and add 1 tsp. vanilla or lemon extract. Sift together three times, 5 cups of flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda and ½ tsp. salt. Mix all ingredients. Chill overnight. Roll and cut into any shape. Sprinkle with sugar before baking and bake in moderate oven till brown.

Or how about “Molasses Taffy”: Cook 2 cups molasses and 2 tsp. vinegar in a saucepan slowly, stirring constantly until syrup becomes brittle when tested in cold water. Remove from fire and add 1 ½ tbl. butter or fat, 1/8 tsp. alt and ½ tsp. soda. Stir until mixture ceases to foam. Pour into greased pan. When cool enough to pull, draw the corners toward the center. Remove from pan and pull until light in color and firm Roll into thin rope or break into pieces. For a different flavor, add a few drops of oil of peppermint before pulling.

And for a tangier taste, how about “Husband Cake”: Blend ¾ cup shortening with 1½ cups sugar. Combine 1 cup tomato juice with ¾ cup water. Add 1 tsp. soda. Mix 3 cups flour, ¾ tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp cloves, and 1½ tsp. nutmeg. Mix all ingredients, adding 1½ cups raisins an 1½ cups chopped nuts. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until done. Makes three layers.

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