Notes from the White County Historical Society

By Charlene Shields

Notes from the White County Historical Society as they appear in "The Carmi Times."

Copyright ©2001 by "The Carmi Times" Permission to reprint granted to Cindy Birk Conley and the ILGenWeb by Tammy Knox, editor, "The Carmi Times."

Food of the pioneers

Some early explorers described fine meals prepared by Indian squaws.
Others have said Indian food was terrible. So one hardly knows what to

I had a Hon ancestor living in Kentucky in the 1780s who was captured by
the Indians, along with some of her family. The husband was able to pay
ransom and get back most of his family. However, it was said his wife
had learned to cook "Indian style," and the Indians were reluctant to
give her up. The husband was old and almost bankrupted himself before he
was able to pay the Indians enough to get his wife back.

Some reference books say there were more than a dozen Indian tribes who
roamed the Illinois territory before the white man arrived. Wild rice
grew thick along the many navigable waterways, and great herds of
buffalo grazed the open prairie.

The Indian women planted and carefully cultivated corn as their primary
food. They had about three dozen recipes for preparing corn. They dried
vegetables and fruits in the sun and stored them for the long winter
days ahead. They salted and smoked venison strips. Fish, generally
caught with a spear, and wild fowl and nuts finished out the menu.

The Indians had no written language, so their recipes were not written
down. They imitated their animal friends: followed the buffalo to the
salt licks, washed their vegetables like the raccoons, imitated the
beaver by placing greens in cool waters to make them crisp, and, like
the squirrel, stashed away nuts for the long winter.

Early settlers believed that tomatoes, the "love fruit," were poison.
This idea was passed on from generation to generation. However, the
Indians did eat tomatoes, raw and cooked. So many Illinois settlers
learned to enjoy the tomato, while other parts of the nation shunned

INDIAN PUDDING: Scald four measures of milk and add one quarter measure
of corn meal. Cook until thickened. Add two-thirds measure of molasses
with fat or butter the size of a small egg, salt and spices. Pour into
baking tin and add one measure of milk. Do not stir the last milk. Place
baking tin in a pan of hot water and bake for a few hours, or cover and
cook over boiling water most of the day. (No fast food in their

BOILED EELS: Four small eels, sufficient water to cover them; a large
bunch of parsley. Put them on a stew pan with the parsley and simmer
until tender. (Have you eaten eel? I thought it was a bit like eating

Both of these recipes refer to stew pans. I'm sure the early settlers
and Indians didn't have such an item as a stew pan. So this term must
have come into usage much later when settlers finally got around to
writing down instructions for cooking.


Maybe 2001 will be the year in which you locate that elusive ancestor
you've been searching for the past decade!


Address letters to Genealogy, White County Historical Society, PO Box
121, Carmi, IL 62821.

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