So, in my faith, we add a few fun holidays to the traditional year. The best of these, in my opinion, is Pioneer Day, 24 July, celebrating the arrival of LDS emigrants to the Salt Lake Valley. The great migration was the culmination of several years of increasingly brutal religious persecution, including mobs with tar and feathers, and multiple murders of men, women, and even children. Not a terribly great lead-up to migration.
So we turned it into a party. We’re kind of great at that sort of thing.
As a child, my favorite day of the summer was Pioneer Day. I hauled out my Gunne Sax dress (hand-me-down from my best friend’s older sisters), put on every full skirt I owned as petticoats, grabbed a shawl, and stomped around feeling pioneerish and lovely for the picnic, pies, home-grown little kid parade, games, and visiting that took place that afternoon and evening, at a park by the river near my best friend’s ranch.
Oh, the braids in hair! (Daddy did those… Mom doesn’t braid. She does garden, so she’s very cool.) Oh, the swishing skirts! Oh, the wandering around glancing shyly at cute boys duded up in their best Western wear! Oh, the semi-scandalous sharing-of-homemade-rootbeer-with-cute-boys-having-Not-Wiped-The-Rim-First! (Semi-scandal, I tell you! Sooo much semi-scandal!)
These days, our current area is a little short on the fun traditions I loved best, which is sad. Perhaps I’ll get really motivated this coming winter, and volunteer to do up some committees and reintroduce actual historical fun to the mix? (I’ve been saying that since the first inflated-bouncy-house and puny-production-burger event, about ten years ago…)
If you’re looking for some fun elements to add to a Pioneer Day celebration, here’s my list of the very important bits you need:
Multiple free patterns and projects for pioneer-era styles on my “in real life” website dedicated to LDS clothing and history: Clothing The Saints
Another great blog with scads of projects and tutorials, from my friend Emily: Buns & Baskets Blog
Lisa Arrington has some great stuff; here she is with Fiddlesticks, from the Farewell to Nauvoo album:
Steven Sharp Nelson’s “If You Could Hie to Kolob”, in fine orchestral form, because you need a soundtrack for Pioneer Day baking!
Of course, the Mormon classic, “Come, Come Ye Saints”:
And don’t forget dancing! Lots and lots of dancing!
Emigrant accounts talk of living on beans and bacon, and for a change now and then, bacon and beans. But honestly, you can’t beat a fantastic bean soup, some cornbread, and pie! Lots of pie! With crust made from lard! (I’m serious. It’s splendid. And historic.) These recipes are from Mrs Hale’s New Cook Book, 1857. I’ve updated only the language of the directions.
To Stew Red Beans (page 279): Soak one pint of dried beans (all red, or mixed if you prefer) in two quarts of water overnight. Drain, and put the beans in a large saucepot with two quarts of fresh water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, and simmer until they are quite tender. Use a spoon to mash or break some of the beans, to thicken the broth. Add two tablespoons of butter for richness, then season with pepper, salt, parsley, and a bit of thyme, to taste. Add one small to medium onion, diced fine. Let them simmer over low for another hour or two, to deepen the flavors.
As-is, this is a fine vegetarian meal (vegan if you leave out the butter). If you like a bit more richness, chop a bit of ham to add in the last few hours of simmering.
Indian Bread is mentioned multiple times in the book, without a specific recipe, but my great-grandmother’s recipe includes all the elements Mrs Hale mentions: start the oven heating to 450*; in a bowl, whisk together two cups sour milk or buttermilk, one tablespoon bacon drippings or oil, one teaspoon baking soda, a scant tablespoon of salt, one cup all-purpose flour, one-and-a-half cups yellow cornmeal, one tablespoon of sugar, and one egg. Turn into a well-greased 8×8 or 9×9 or 10×6″ pan, and bake until golden brown.
Apple Pie (American) (page 325): line a pie plate with pastry crust. Layer in peeled, cored, and sliced green apples, such as Granny Smith, strewing with sugar (to taste–1/2 cup will do it if you like some bite to contrast with, say, whipped cream), the zest and juice of one lemon, and a teaspoon or so of ground cinnamon. Cover with a pastry crust, cut some vents, and toss it in the oven at 350* for about 40 minutes, until the crust is lovely and browned, and the juices are bloopy. Let it cool before cutting.
Or, what about a Custard Pie (page 326): Bring one quart of milk to a boil, with a stick of cinnamon and the zest of one lemon. Stir to prevent it scorching. Let it cool to blood-warm, and remove the cinnamon stick. Beat seven large eggs into the cooled, spiced milk. Add about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg. Line two deep pie plates with pastry crust, and “blind bake” it in the oven 3-5 minutes at 375*, to set the crust a bit. Pour in the egg/milk mixture, dividing it evenly. Bake about 20 minutes, and cool completely before attempting to cut it.
Look for Part the Second, with activities and links to stories you can use to enhance your own Pioneer Day celebration!