Tag Archives: food

Food history of the Fraser Canyon

Before the Fraser River gold rush, the Nlaka’pamux and neighbouring peoples relied on the rivers and mountains for their well-being and economy.

The deep cliffs of the Fraser Canyon were a perfect place to dry prepared salmon. The major salmon runs were in July and August at a time when the Fraser Canyon was hot and dry and warm winds blow through it continuously. In the daytime, as the sun beat down on the rocks, the wood framed drying racks were protected from direct sunlight by fir boughs. The open shape of the drying rack allowed for the south winds to travel through. At night, as the wind blew north, the drying racks captured the heat emanating from the canyon walls.

Fishing stations were inherited and shared with members of an extended family.  While waiting for the salmon—all five types of salmon were caught—people stayed in two-sided, slant-roofed shelters nearby. These summer shelters were left standing all year round and rarely collapsed as the snow slid off the sloped roof. Salmon were caught with dip-nets, conical bags of hemp fibre, held by rings around a wooden hoop that was secured to a long handle. A fisher would hold the net open by means of a hemp cord, and pull it closed when a fish entered the net. Stationary nets were also used.

Steelhead and Dolly Varden were caught and usually eaten fresh. Larger trout were caught with salmon-harpoons; smaller ones by trout harpoons, small-meshed nets, and hooks sometimes made from tying crab-apple thorns together.

Large and small game were abundant as were vegetables and fruits. In early spring the shoots of thimbleberry and nettles were harvested. Wild potatoes, Saskatoon berries, blueberries, huckleberries, and trailing blackberries could be preserved when harvested in the summer and stored for winter consumption. People carried out controlled burns to increase the quantity and quality of the wild vegetables such as wild carrot, dog-tooth lily root, rice root, nodding onion. Fires were set when people were certain that it would rain in a few days. Cinquefoil and elderberries, currants were found in swampy areas.

Temperance in the BC gold rush

liquor ad 1861

liquor ad 1861

In contrast to the many saloons and breweries which were successfully established in Victoria during the Fraser River gold rush, a temperance movement also began. Temperance movements were dedicated to the moderation, or in some cases complete abstinence in the use of intoxicating liquor.

On June 23, 1859, John T. Pidwell placed an advertisement in the Victoria Gazette celebrating the efforts of the eastern temperance movement and advocating the creation of a B.C. division.  Pidwell, future father-in-law of David Higgins, had arrived in Victoria in 1858 from New Brunswick where he had taken an active role as a member of the Sons of Temperance.

In his essay the Passing of a Race, Higgins remarked that certain well-regarded businessmen were profiting from selling so-called ‘liquor’ to the local tribes while the police and government turned a blind eye.

It was a notorious fact that certain firms were never disturbed. They were immune from the visits of constables, and Justice was not alone blind—she was so deaf that she could not hear the plaintive cries of the wretched victims…

From the British Colonist newspaper September 30, 1862:

Last evening a meeting of gentlemen was convened at the rooms of Messrs. Franklin for the purpose of forming a Temperance Society and Debating Club, when a certain well-known citizen was unanimously voted to the chair, which he took with many thanks for the honor conferred, and sitting down, rested his chin upon his right hand and appeared absorbed in deep thought. Several motions were made, but the chair paid no attention to them for several minutes, when the wondering audience discovered that the chairman whom they had unanimously chosen was in an advanced state of “How-come-you-so” —just in good trim for a small tea party at which whisky formed the principal beverage, but hardly the right thing for a temperance meeting…

The following is a recipe from “Six Hundred Receipts Worth their Weight in Gold” by John Marguart printed in 1867.

How to make Silver-top, a temperance drink

Take 1 quart water, 3 1/4 pounds white sugar, 1 teaspoonful lemon-oil, 1 tablespoonful flour, with the white of 5 eggs, well beat up; mix all the above well together. Then divide the syrup, and add 4 ounces carbonate of soda into one part, and put it into a bottle, and then add 3 ounces tartaric acid to the other part of the syrup, and bottle it also. Take 2 pint tumblers, and put in each tumbler 1 tablespoonful of the syrup (that is, from each bottle of the syrup) and fill them half full with fresh cold water; pour it together into one tumbler. Superb.

Plum Pudding: food of the gold rush

Puddings were very popular during the 19th century. According to food historian Dorothy Duncan, the Danes introduced the plum pudding  to Great Britain in 1013.  The pudding first resembled a soup-like consistency. Eventually, the pudding became thicker as batter puddings were becoming more popular.

Pudding cloth became available  which allowed for easier pudding making.
The British developed hundred of pudding recipes. Here is a recipe for Plum Pudding from “The Dinner Question” by Tabitha Tickletooth 1860.

“To three ounces of flour, and the same weight of fine lightly grated breadcrumbs, add six of beef kidney-suet chopped small, six of raisins, weighed after they are stoned,  six of well cleaned currants, four ounces of minced apples, five of sugar, two of candied orange-rind, half a teaspoonful of nutmeg mixed with powdered mace, a very little salt, a small  glass of brandy, and three whole eggs. Mix and beat these ingredients well together, tie them tightly in a thickly floured cloth, and boil them for three hours and a half. We can recommend this as a remarkably light small rich pudding. It may be served with German wine or punch sauce.”

From A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (1852)
Plum or Currant Dough Pudding

2 pounds of dough from the baker’s
4 ounces of plums or currants
pinch of allspice
pinch of salt
1 gill of milk


Mix all the above ingredients together in a pan; tie up the pudding in a well-greased pudding-cloth, and place it in a pot containing boiling water, and allow it to continue boiling for two hours; at the end of this time the pudding will be done, and may be turned out on its dish.

There are several stories of gold seekers celebrating Christmas with a ‘plum duff’ without the plums. Here is an interesting account from a traveller who noticed some unusual fruit growing near Boothroyd’s Bar near Lytton. Quite possibly, this fruit could have made a good substitute:

The leading feature [in this area]…was the growth of red wild cherries of small size but for the most part intense bitterness; in some cases they appeared to cover acres of ground. They are almost invariably surrounded by a wide fringe of wild filberts; one species of cherry, rather larger, are very palatable and juicy; they are black.

Prior to opening the Globe Hotel in Lytton, Louis Hautier owned and operated the Confectionery and Pastry Cook Store in Victoria. In addition to having the finest choice of bonbons, syrups and ‘luxuries unparalleld in the history of the country’, he offered Christmas Plum Puddings.

Cast iron cooking stoves of the gold rush

“Cast Iron Cooking Stoves” promised to be of first rate quality and guaranteed to “bake well” were advertised in the Cariboo Sentinel newspaper. These cast iron cooking ‘stoves’ were described as between 6 to 9 inches in diameter.

English dishes such as fried fish, doughnuts or fritters required “frying pans” as distinguished from other kinds of pots such as stewpans.  Frying pans were manufactured in varying depths to suit the cook’s need of lard or butter.

A typical frying pan in the 1830s had a flat thick bottom, and was made into an oval shape – 12 inches long and 9 inches wide with perpendicular sides.

John Keast Lord, a member of the British North American Land Boundary Commission during 1858–62, wrote:

“I never carry more than a frying pan and a tin pannikin; the former I strap behind my saddle…It is wonderful what a man can do with a ‘frying pan,’ it is equal to any emergency. Why, it would make any civic dignitary’s mouth tingle with delight if his nose only sniffed the rich appetising odour that exhales from a moose steak…fried in its own fat. Then I can bake bread in my frying pan, make and fry pancakes, or ‘slap-jacks’ as trappers call them,roast my coffee, boil the salt out of my bacon before I fry it; I can also stew birds, or putting a crust over, produce a pie few would be disposed to turn away from…”


Olympia oysters: food of the BC gold rush

Olympia oysters were a much sought after delicacy, starting from the California gold rush through the Fraser River gold rush and to the late 1860s.

Label on a can of oysters 1850s

Label on a can of oysters 1850s

Wild oysters were abundant in the San Francisco area but soon became depleted as demand outstripped supply. As a result, people looked for Olympia oysters further north. They became a lucrative source of trade for people living in the Puget Sound area. The town of Oysterville, Washington, sprung up directly because of the demand for oysters. Vancouver Island was another source for oysters.

Despite the fact that they were serving the same species of oyster, many saloons distinguished between the source of their oysters – either referring to them as Olympia oysters or Island oysters.

In Victoria, there were oyster saloons. Some oyster saloons were attached to another larger saloon as in the case of the Theatre Saloon, or they stood on their own. Here is a notice from June 27, 1859:

“Fire! Last evening the roof of Rudolf’s Oyster Saloon, Waddington street, was discovered in a blaze . Fortunately the rain prevented the shingles burning.  Had it occurred a day or so ago when the roofs were dry and the wind blew furiously, no one could guess at the result…”

Oysters were eaten on the half shell, fried, or they were made into soup, sauce, patties and as a main ingredient in many other creations and combinations. Oysters were typically served with other types of seafood and meat. They were also served with welch rarebit (known today as welsh rarebit) and even ice cream.

The Occidental Hotel in Victoria had its own oyster stand where oysters were sold by the “bag, gallon, quart, etc.”

Bakery and Coffee Saloons

When one thinks of the gold rush era, saloons come to mind. But what type of saloons do you think there were? How about a bakery and coffee saloon?

Coffee saloons were a place where you could order coffee, tea, chocolate and pastries. Other than beverages, nothing else was usually served hot.

The lines blurred a little between coffee saloons and restaurants; some coffee saloons offered meals and some restaurants advertised coffee and pie available at all hours.
There were three notable bakery and coffee saloons in Barkerville during the Cariboo Gold Rush.

The first and most well known was Wake Up Jake Bakery and Coffee Saloon operated by Andrew Kelly. The Wake Up Jake still stands in Barkerville.

Another bakery and coffee saloon was simply called Williams Creek Bakery and Coffee Saloon operated by G. Miller and Co. which promised ‘meals ready at all hours’.

Who could forget the Hit or Miss Bakery and Coffee Saloon in Richfield owned by Jacob Heinson who advertised “Breads, Pies and Cakes constantly on hand.”

The high cost of food at Wild Horse Creek

The summer of 1865 marked the height of the gold rush at Wild Horse Creek. Over 1,500  goldseekers travelled to Wild Horse Creek in the Spring to seek their fortune from the “shallow diggings”; however, many were prevented from panning for gold until the high water level receded.

Food and wage costs at Fisherville (Wild Horse Creek)

Food and wage costs at Fisherville (Wild Horse Creek)1865

Peter O’Reilly, gold commissioner for Wild Horse Creek, made note of the prices of food and supplies compared to wages. There were numerous reports that there was a scarcity of provisions and the miners were idle, restless and broke. As one gold seeker put it:

“The season was very late here, and when grub came in the camp was in a starving condition and everybody in debt (claim holders in particular), and are still so; the water is so high that the creek claims are laid over until August; some of the bar claims pay very well, that is for this country, but they are all owned by men that came in last fall, and all strangers to me.”

Applesauce: favourite food of the gold rush

Fresh Pork and Green Apple Sauce Dinner (July 22,1865)

Fresh Pork and Green Apple Sauce Dinner (July 22,1865)

Did you know that applesauce was common fare during the Cariboo Gold Rush? Applesauce was usually made using dried apples. In the notice above, printed in the Cariboo Sentinel, Cameron’s Pioneer Hotel advertised “Green Apple Sauce” – whether this was from fresh apples or green ones, we will never know. My guess is that they are referring to fresh apples, as another of the Hotel’s advertisements described a dinner with “plum pudding and green rhubarb.”

Apple trees were grown on Salt Spring Island as early as 1863.

Here is a recipe for applesauce from the “Canadian Housewife’s Manual for Cookery” printed in 1861:

Apple Sauce for Goose and roast Pork

“Pare, core, and slice, some apples; and put them in a stone jar, into a saucepan
of water, or on a hot stove. If on a stove, let a spoonful or two of water be put
in to hinder them from burning. When they are done, bruise them to a mash, and put to them a bit of butter the size of a nutmeg, and a little brown sugar. Serve it in a sauce-tureen.”

Pork Sweetbreads Recipe from the 1800s

pork sausages

pork sausages (creative commons image)

While researching what miners ate during the Fraser River gold rush and the Cariboo gold rush, I came across an advertisement in the British Times Colonist for groceries.  The ad listed ‘pork, extra clear’  and ‘pork, mess’ – what is that?

According to a grocer handbook published in 1882 by Artemas Ward:

Clear Pork shall be packed from sides of extra heavy, well-fatted hogs, cut, selected and packed in the same manner as Mess Pork, the backbone and half the rib next it to be taken out.

Extra Clear Pork: Same as clear, except that all the ribs and backbone shall be taken out.

Mess Pork shall be packed from sides of well-fatted hogs, cut in strips not exceeding six and one half inches wide and flanked according to diagram as nearly as possible, and not back-stripped, 196 pounds of green meat, numbering not over sixteen pieces, including only the regular portion of flank and shoulder cuts; four layers to be packed in each barrel, with not less than forty pounds of Turk’s Island [salt], St. Ives, or Trepanne, or 45 pounds of other good qualities of foreign or domestic coarse salt and clear brine as strong as the salt will make it.”

It’s interesting to note that in the mid 1850’s it was common practice that the internal organs were removed and cleaned for cooking. Pork liver and kidney were considered delicacies. Even glands like the pancreas and thyroid, known as “sweetbreads” were often fried for dinner.

Here is a pork sweetbreads recipe from Eliza Acton’s book, Modern Cookery for Private Families (1868):

Curried Sweetbreads

Wash and soak them as usual, then throw them into boiling water with a little salt in it, and a whole onion, and let them simmer for ten minutes; or, if at hand, substitute weak veal broth for the water. Lift them out, place them on a drainer, and leave them until they are perfectly cold; then cut them into half-inch slices, and either flour and fry them lightly in butter, or put them, without this, into as much curried gravy as will just cover them; stew them in it very gently, from twenty to thirty minutes; add as much lemon-juice or chili vinegar as will acidulate the sauce agreeably, and serve the currie very hot.

Here is her recipe for curried gravy:

“Slice, and fry gently in a little good butter, from two to six large onions (with a bit of garlic, and four or five eschalots, or none of either), when they are coloured equally of a fine yellow-brown, lift them on to a sieve reversed to drain; put them into a clean saucepan, add a pint and a half of good gravy, with a couple of ounces of rasped cocoanut, or of any of the other condiments…which may require as much stewing as the onions (an apple or two, for instance), and simmer them softly from half to three quarters of an hour, or until the onion is sufficiently tender to be pressed through a strainer…After the gravy has been worked through the strainer, and again boils, add to it from three to four dessertspoonsful of currie powder, and one of flour, with as much salt as the gravy may require, the whole mixed to a smooth batter with a small cupful of good cream. Simmer it from fifteen to twenty minutes, and it will be ready for use.”

Samuel Nesbitt’s Cracker Bakery

 Here is an advertisement as it appeared in the March 25, 1862 British Times Colonist:

Cor. Yates and Broad streets

Notice to Families and Housekeepers.
I have this day commenced to retail
Soda, Boston, Butter, Sugar, Water and Pie Nie Crackers,
Navy Bread and Pilot Bread,
At Prices far below that of any other establishment in this city.
A large and fresh assortment constantly on hand.
Samuel Nesbitt

Originally from Ireland, Samuel Nesbitt left California after a successful venture there and moved to Victoria in 1858 where he set up the first commercial bakery.  Later he established a bakery specializing in crackers. He also obtained a lucrative contract to supply the navy with bread and crackers and soon became known as the “Cracker King.”

Pilot Bread is the American term for hard tack. Here is a recipe I found:

Hard Tack Bread Recipe
5 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp salt
1 1/2 cups water

Mix flour and salt and add just enough water so that mixture will stick together, producing a dough that isn’t sticky. Knead dough until stiff. Roll out pieces to 3 inches in length and approximately 1/2 inch thick. Cut dough into 3×3 squares, and poke a 3×3 series of holes in the center, evenly spaced on both sides. Bake in preheated oven, 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until dry and lightly golden brown. Turn hardtack over mid-way when baking. Remove from oven, let cool and store in a dry place.