The Lewis & Clark Cookbook: Historic Recipes
from the Corps of Discovery and Jefferson's American
By: Leslie Mansfield
(Article was featured in 2003 Lewis and Clark
January 18, 1803 "The river Missouri, & the
Indians inhabiting it, are not as well known as is rendered
desireable by their connection…with us…An intelligent officer
with ten or twelve chosen men…might explore the whole…to the
Western Ocean" Jefferson in a confidential message to Congress
Thus, the seed was planted for what would become in the
spring of the following year the most celebrated, controversial,
and profitable piece of trailblazing in American history.
But this military expedition, and it was a military
expedition organized into a distinct hierarchy with two
distinguished Army captains, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
which was ultimately to last over two and one half years,
required an enormous amount of logistical support. In short, the
old adage of "an army moves on its stomach", proved once again
true. The most important part of each and every day was not
necessarily the exploration, but rather the hunting, gathering,
and shepherding of the necessary foodstuffs required to satisfy
the appetites of thirty hearty and hale young men.
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In all, seven tons of foodstuffs constituted, more or
less, plus whatever game and wild greens the party could find during
their mission, the complete nutrition of the expedition. The crew of the
Corps was expected to replenish their larder along the way by hunting
and gathering as circumstances and conditions allowed.
William Clark: "It requires 4 deer, or an elk and a deer, or one buffalo
to supply us for 24 hours." Additionally, 193 pounds of "portable soup"
were ordered as an emergency ration when stores ran out and game was
scarce or unavailable. The soup was produced by boiling a broth down to
a gelatinous consistency, then further drying it until it was rendered
quite hard and desiccated. Not exactly a favorite with the men of the
Corps, it nonetheless saved them from near starvation on a number of
Each man consumed nine pounds of meat per day, when
available, and the designated hunters of the Corps were kept busy
throughout the journey. Raymond Darwin Burroughs tallied the quantity of
game killed and consumed during the course the expedition:
species combined) 1,001
Bighorned sheep 35
Bears, grizzly 43
Bears, black 23
Beaver (shot or trapped) 113
Geese and Brant 104
Grouse (all species) 46
Wolves (only one eaten) 18
Indian dogs (purchased and consumed) 190
(From "The Natural History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition".
Michigan State University Press, 1995)
This list does not include the countless smaller or more exotic
animals that were captured and eaten by the Corps, such as hawk, coyote,
fox, crow, eagle, gopher, muskrat, seal, whale blubber, turtle, mussels,
crab, salmon, and trout. Nor does it enumerate the unfamiliar varieties
of fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seeds, and nuts that were found to be
edible. However, all are mentioned in the Journals along with detailed
and sometimes lively accounts of accompanying adventures.
Deer of many species were ubiquitous in North America and venison
became a primary source of protein for the duration of the expedition.
Bison figured prominently during the crossing of the Great Plains, while
salmon and wapato (a starchy tuber) were the staples when the Corps
roamed west of Rockies. Their diet varied according to the changing
terrain, the shifting climate, and with the passing seasons.
Of incalculable importance to the men of the Corps was the
contribution of native foods by the Indian nations. The Mandan tribe of
North Dakota brought them corn, squash, and beans; the Chinooks living
along Washington’s Columbia River introduced them to wapato, a
much-needed carbohydrate; and the Clastops from the Oregon coast traded
elk, wild licorice root, and berries. A Shoshone tribesmen from what is
now Idaho and Montana offered Lewis antelope and his first taste of
salmon, and the Chopunnish (Idaho and Washington) section of the Nez
Perce tribe, who ranged over Idaho, Washington and Oregon, offered dog
as well as edible roots.
During their stay at Fort Clatsop, members of the Corps developed a
technique for extracting salt from sea water through evaporation by
boiling. Essential not only as a flavoring, of which Lewis was fond and
to which Clark was indifferent, salting was a vital method of curing and
preserving meat, along with smoking and drying.
Despite the apparent bounty of the ever-changing landscape and the
generosity of local tribes, many were the nights when the crew of the
Corps went to sleep hungry. Many were the days when shots went awry and
missed their mark, or game remained hidden from sight. Relentless rain
ruined drying meat, punishing heat spoiled perishable provisions, and
clothing rotted right off the backs of the men. It is impossible to miss
the despair in Clark’s description of their privations:
September 11, 1804 "he had been 12 days without any thing to eate but
Grapes & one rabit, which he killed by shooting a piece of hard Stick in
place of a ball…Thus a man had like to have Starved to death in a land
of Plenty for the want of Bulits or Something to kill his meat." Clark
Fresh meat generally spoils after a few days without refrigeration or
some kind of preservation. However meat laid in a salt brine for several
weeks can be stored much longer. This process, known as corning, allowed
members of the Corps of Discovery, to maintain a supply of edible meat
throughout the cold months of winter.
4 quarts warm water
2 cups kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons pickling spice
1 teaspoon salt peter (optional)
5 pounds fresh beef brisket
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
In a large non-reactive pot, whisk together the warm water, salt,
sugar, pickling spice, and salt peter (if used) until the salt has
dissolved. Place the brisket in the brine and weigh down with a plate.
The beef must be completely submerged at all time. Cover the pot and
refrigerate for 3 weeks. Turn the brisket every 5 days.
After 3 weeks remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well.
Discard the brine. The corned beef is now ready to be cooked.
Remove the corned beef from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Place the
corned beef in a large pot and barely cover with water. Add the onions,
garlic, bay leaves, and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to
medium-low, cover pot, and simmer for 2 ½ hours, or until very tender.
To serve, slice the meat across the grain.