Home Recipes 29 Old Time Recipes for Homesteaders

29 Old Time Recipes for Homesteaders

by Aden Tate
old time recipes in a homestead kitchen

There was a time when homesteading wasn’t the romanticized, peaceful living we often associate it with today. Life was hard. Days were long. Survival was uncertain.

Times were lean, and that often included what was served at the dinner table. Homesteaders had to make do with what they had around them and make the most of these “wild” foods.

Today I’d like to show you 29 old time recipes that you can easily make while camping, in the backcountry, or in a grid-down type scenario that will still allow you to eat tasty and nutritious meals when it is difficult to find “traditional” ingredients.

If you are interested in more old time recipes and ways of cooking, then there are several books that I highly recommend:

Old Time Drinks

cowboy coffee
In line for coffee at a Colorado BBQ (1940).

Cowboy Coffee

  • 6 cups of cold water
  • 4-6 tbs. of ground coffee

First, bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the coffee and then set it to the side of the campfire in a location where the water will quit boiling but still stay warm. Let the coffee sit for a few minutes to brew (the longer it sits, the stronger it will be). Then it’s ready to drink.

It’s rugged coffee, but it’s coffee.

If you are stocking up for prepping purposes, you will need a stash coffee beans, of course. Know how to store coffee for the long term and how to roast green coffee beans.

Birch Tea

  • The red, inner bark of a sweet birch (preferably from the stump or roots)
  • A pot of boiling water

Remove the dry, outer layer to the bark, saving the red inner bark. Cut this red inner bark into small pieces and allow it to dry at room temperature. Boil a pot of water, and then allow it to cool for 3-5 minutes. Add the roots to the water, let it steep for 7 minutes, and you’ll have birch tea.

You may have to tinker with the amount of time that you allow your water to cool, in order to get the maximum amount of flavor from your roots.

Chicory Coffee

  • Several chicory roots

You need to first dig the long taproots of several chicory plants. Once these have been collected and cleaned off, roast them slowly in your oven until they are very hard and have a dark brown color on the inside when broken open. All you must do now is grind up the roots and use them exactly as you would coffee grounds.

Homestead Fruits

canned fruits and vegetables
Canned fruits and vegetables in Northome, MN (1937).

Blueberry and Cream Dessert

  • One pint of cream
  • Sugar to taste
  • Blueberries

Whip one pint of cream into a big, fluffy concoction. Add sugar to taste. Now fold in as many blueberries as you can fit into the whipped cream. Chill in a bowl until very stiff, and then serve cold.

Persimmons

I’ve found that there are very few Americans who’ve ever eaten a persimmon. Even fewer know what ones to actually eat. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the frost which makes a persimmon sweet. Time is the only factor involved in a persimmon’s sweetness.

You do not want to pick the persimmons which are round and firm. The best persimmons are the ones that look like grocery store castaways. You want them to be soft – squishy even. These are the persimmons that you will enjoy. Any others may make your mouth pucker something awful.

Pawpaws

Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) is another fruit that I’ve found people rarely know how to eat. You want these things to ripen as long as possible. Otherwise, they end up tasting like minty bananas. It’s not pleasant. Let the pawpaws ripen outside as well. You won’t stink up your house that way.

Like persimmons, find the pawpaws that are soft. These are the ones that have a mild banana flavor. Simply cut the pawpaw in half lengthwise, and then eat it with a spoon.

Vegetables

old vegetables roadside
Vegetables for sale along a road in Greenfield, MA (1939).

Mashed Jerusalem Artichoke

  • Jerusalem Artichoke tubers
  • Butter to taste

While it is in bloom, mark where you find Jerusalem artichoke. Come back in the fall after the first frost to then harvest the tubers. Wash and peel them much as you would a potato. Then boil them until they are mushy like a cooked potato. At this point, pour off the water, mash the J-chokes that you have in the pot, and add plenty of butter to taste.

I would recommend every gardener plant some Jerusalem artichokes (buy them for planting). They generally cook like potatoes and are very resilient. A great addition to a survival garden.

Winter Cress Florets

  • Whole bud clusters of winter cress
  • A pot of boiling water
  • Salt and butter to taste

Place the dried clusters in a kettle. Now pour boiling water atop. Leave for 30 seconds before draining the water. Now add fresh boiling water to the buds and boil them for 3 minutes before draining the water once more. Season with salt and butter, and then serve.

Mustard Greens

  • Mustard greens
  • Salt to taste
  • A half-dollar size of olive oil

This is one of my all-time favorite “wild” plants. I’ve found that the smaller leaves tend to taste better than the larger. If you do end up with larger leaves, rip off the leaf part from both sides of the spine, and then discard the spine. Add some Mustard Green heirloom seeds to your supply.

Add about a half dollar size of olive oil to the bottom of a cast iron skillet that is set on low heat before throwing in your mustard greens. Stir in salt as you periodically stir the mustard greens about.

They are done when they turn a very dark green color, roughly 3-5 minutes after you begin cooking them. Then eat them as a side dish or with scrambled eggs.

Cream of Wild Onion Soup

  • Roughly 1-2 cups of wild onion bulbs
  • A pot of slightly salted water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs flour

Gather a host of wild onions, bulbs and all. Wash off the dirt and chop off the stringy little roots at the bottom of the bulbs. Boil these little bulbs for ½ an hour in slightly salted water. Remove the onions after this time has elapsed (at which point you will enjoy them if coated in butter), and add 2 tbs of butter and 1 cup of whole milk per quart of the broth that you’ve just made. Now blend 2 tbs of flour with enough milk to make a smooth concoction, and then add this to the broth as well.

Cook on low heat until the soup is simmering, and then serve hot.

Dahlia Roots

After frost, dig up the dahlia roots. Clean off the tubers thoroughly. Peel them with a potato peeler, and then slice the tubers into thin cross-sections. Eaten raw in this manner they will taste akin to radishes. You can also use what you have just created as something of a potato substitute in other recipes as well.

Burdock Root

  • Burdock roots
  • A pinch of soda
  • Salt and butter to taste

Pull up the roots of several burdock plants, and then chop off the roots. Peel off the thick rind that covers the edible core of burdock root. Slice these roots thinly before adding to boiling water for 30 minutes with a pinch of soda added. Once the time is up, drain off the water, and then add enough water to just barely cover the tops of the burdock roots. Cook the roots for ten minutes in this water, adding salt and butter to taste.

Dandelion Crowns

Dig down 2-3” below the soil, right at the root bundle of a dandelion to gather the crown. This is a collection of blanched leaf stems which reaches right up to the surface and sunlight. You’ll be able to know the crown by its white color. Cut off the crown just low enough so that all the leave stems stay together on one end, and then slice off where the color green begins to appear on the other end.

Once you have collected several, wash them in a strainer to remove all the dirt and grit that is bound to be present. After this process, soak the crowns in salted water until you are ready to eat them raw in a salad.

Fried Daylily Buds

  • Roughly two cups of daylily buds
  • Butter, salt, and pepper to taste

Gather a harvest of unopened and full-sized daylily buds. Boil them for roughly three minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter, salt, and pepper. Now they are ready to be served. 

Old Time Meat Recipes

meat market
Old time meat market sign.

Baked Fish

Place a whole and cleaned fish directly onto hot coals. Turn over when it has cooked on one side. You’ll have to guesstimate when this is due to the varying heat of campfire coals. Once the fish is done cooking, take it off the coals and sprinkle some salt and pepper on it. 

Boned Fish

To prepare a fish meal that has been deboned, begin by boiling a whole, cleaned fish. Leave the head attached to do so. After around 10-15 minutes of boiling, the meat should begin to fall off the bone. You can then easily strip the meat off the bones by hand afterwards.

After tossing away the bones, you can keep the water as a soup stock. In lean times, there is no sense in wasting valuable nutrients and calories.

Fish Chowder

  • A cleaned fish
  • 4 Tbs of dried onion
  • 4 Tbs of dried vegetables (whichever you like)
  • 8 cups of water
  • ½ cup of margarine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the fish, onions, and vegetables in water for 10-15 minutes. After the time has passed, remove the fish, debone it (it should easily fall off the bone), and then return the meat to the chowder. Add the margarine at this point, and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to a simmer at this point, and your chowder is ready to eat. 

Snapping Turtle Soup

  • One snapping turtle
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • 2 cloves
  • Pinch of allspice
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Little pinch of cayenne
  • 2 onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbs oil
  • 1 tbs flour
  • 1.5 cups tomato juice

Processing the Turtle

Grab a live snapper by the tail and when he sticks out his head, chop it off. Hang him by the tail to allow him to bleed out after this. After he quits twitching, scrub the turtle off with soap and a stiff brush (like a toilet brush designated for the occasion), and then rinse all the soap off with a garden hose. Then lay the turtle on its back and cut out the bottom shell. After opening the turtle, remove the guts and other innards. Rinse the turtle off once more before placing him on his back in a kettle and using the lower shell as something of a lid on him once more.

Cooking the Turtle

Add the water, the bay leaf, thyme, cloves, allspice, lemon, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Boil until the meat falls from the bones, and then remove the turtle until it is cool enough to be touched. Once it has, cut out all the bones, claws, shell, and black skin. Cut up the actual meat into bite-sized chunks and add them back to the broth.

Sauté your onions, garlic, and oil and then stir in the flour. Once slightly browned, add the tomato juice. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Once done, add this to the broth. Bring the soup to a boil, and then it is ready to enjoy.

Turtle Soup

  • 2 turtles
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 sprig of parsley
  • 1 handful celery leaves
  • 1 diced carrot
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 5 yolks of hard-cooked eggs
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 cup scalded cream
  • Salt to taste
  • Cayenne to taste

Scrub the turtles with a stiff brush and soap, after chopping off their heads and allowing the blood to drain. Boil for 10 minutes, then place in a bucket of cold water and scrub the turtle once more with the stiff brush. Afterwards, place the turtles in a kettle so that an inch of water resides over top of the turtles. Ensure that this water is salty. Add the bay leaf, onion, parsley, celery leaves, carrot, and garlic. Boil for one hour. After, remove the turtles from the broth until they are cool enough to handle. Pull out the claws (they should do so easily), and then cut off the lower shells. Remove and discard the tails, entrails, sandbags, and other inside offal.

Remove all bones and shell and chop up the meat into bite-sized chunks. Work the yolks and butter into a paste. Combine the meat and 1 cup of the stock in which the turtle was initially cooked in and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the yolk-butter mixture and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes more. Add the scalded cream, and then add seasoning to taste. Serve this dish hot and enjoy.

Frog Legs

  • Frog legs
  • A beaten egg
  • A small amount of olive oil
  • Whatever batter you use to fry chicken

You’ll need a number of frogs for this one to really be worth your time. Take the frogs and skin them. After you have done that, cut off the hind legs. You then want to fry them like you would chicken drumsticks. Dip the frog legs into your batter, then dip them into a beaten egg, and then once more dip them into the batter. Now throw them in a skillet with ¼ inch of oil on the bottom and fry them until they’re golden brown.

Crawdads

I really only know of one way to prepare crawdads. I boil a kettle of water, and then throw the crawdads into them live just like you would with a lobster. I keep the water boiling until all the crawdads turn a very bright red, normally around 5 minutes later.

Groundhogs

Simply clean the groundhog like you would any other animal and cut the meat into pieces. Allow this meat to soak in a ¼ cup salt and ½ cup vinegar solution for 24 hours. After this time has passed, add this meat to a pot full of fresh water. Also add the onion, bay leaf, and salt to the water. Boil this for 3 hours, at which point, the meat should readily fall off the bone. Drain off the water, and your groundhog is now ready to eat.

For solution

  • ¼ cup of salt
  • ½ cup vinegar

For dish

  • A groundhog
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp of salt

Muskrat

Muskrat meat should be soaked in a ¼ cup salt and ½ cup vinegar solution for 24 hours prior to eating in order to help remove the gamey flavor. Keep in mind that this is done after the muskrat has been skinned and dressed. Then place the muskrat meat into a colander and pour boiling water through it. This will help to remove the vinegar-salt solution.

Now put the meat in a iron skillet with ½ cup of water, ½ teaspoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of salt, a pinch of sage, and bacon to taste. Add enough peeled potatoes around the meat to help add flavor and volume to the meal. Bake in an oven at medium heat until all is tender.

For solution

  • ¼ cup salt
  • ½ cup vinegar

For dish

  • Muskrat
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • A pinch of sage
  • Bacon to taste
  • ½ cup of water
  • Several peeled potatoes

Raccoon Pie

First clean the raccoon. Now take the meat and soak it in a ¼ cup salt and ½ cup vinegar solution for 24 hours to remove the gamey flavor. The next day, set the meat and solution in a kettle full of water and boil for 30 minutes. Drain off the water after this. Now place the meat back in the kettle and cover it with fresh water. Simmer the raccoon meat until it is fairly tender.

At this point, add the onions, potatoes, and carrots. When the vegetables are tender, remove both them and the meat from the broth. Dice the meat. Brown 2 tablespoons of flour in 2 tablespoons of butter, and then add this back to the broth. Season to taste. Place the meat and veggies into a baking dish at this point, and then pour the broth over them. Add a pie top with a commercial biscuit mix that you’ve flattened out to fit over the entire top. Bake until the dough is browned.

For solution

  • ¼ cup salt
  • ½ cup vinegar

For dish

  • Raccoon (preferably dead)
  • 2 onions (diced)
  • 4 potatoes (diced)
  • 3 carrots (diced)
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 2 tbs butter
  • Commercial biscuit mix

Rotisserie Opossum

Stuff the cleaned opossum with your stuffing mix, and then skewer him. Dust the outside of the opossum with paprika and salt, and then place in the roaster. Roast on high heat until brown, and then roast on low heat for 2 hours more.

  • Commercial stuffing mix
  • Opossum
  • Paprika
  • Salt

Nuts

cracking black walnuts
Children in Creek County, OK cracking black walnuts grown on the farm (1940).

Black Walnuts

Collect a large batch of black walnuts. Using a sturdy pair of boots, stomp off the husks, and then add the nut into a 5-gallon container full of water. There very well may be maggots inside the husk, but they won’t be able to penetrate the hard, woody shell, so don’t worry. Even those walnuts are still good to eat. Any walnut that floats in the bucket should be discarded, as it is not fit to eat.

Those that sink are saved after pouring off the water. Then scrub off what remnants of the husk is still attached to these nuts. Take what you now have and spread them out single layer on a baking tray, screen, or some other area where they will receive adequate airflow. They need to be cured this way for 2-4 weeks before they will be good to eat. If you leave them outside, they will be eaten by rodents, so you need to ensure that your nuts are protected.

After this curing time has elapsed, crack open the shells in a vise and pick out the nut meat inside. You now have black walnuts to eat, a rich source of important fats and vitamins.

Gingko Seeds

Collect a bucket full of fruit after it has fallen to the ground in fall. Wearing gloves, pick up these fruits and squirt the seeds into a separate container. Discard the squishy fruit part. Wash away any fleshy remnants from the seeds after you have gotten the nuts out of every fruit. Take these nuts and bake them for one hour at 300 degrees. After cooking, take the nuts and shell them to find edible nut meat inside.

Flours, Spices, and Seasonings

freight car with flour
Freight car loaded with flour in Minneapolis, MN (1939).

Acorn Meal

  • Acorns
  • A pot of boiling water
  • A jelly bag

Collect as many dry and raw acorns as you can. Crack apart the kernels and throw away the shells. Then grind the kernels into a powder. This is easiest accomplished with a food grinder, food chopper, or gristmill. Boil a pot of water at this point and mix the ground meal in with it. Then dump the entire concoction in a jelly bag (without burning yourself) and press the liquid out of the meal. Begin boiling another pot of water as you do this.

Once you’ve pressed as much liquid out of the jelly bag as you can, add the acorn meal back into the new pot of boiling water and repeat the process. You may have to repeat the whole process three times or so to get enough of the bitterness out of the acorns that you can actually enjoy eating them.

Once you have finished boiling off the bitterness, thinly spread the acorn meal in a shallow pan and either dry it in the sun or in a very slow oven. It’ll probably form clumps after this point, so you’re going to have to ground the meal once more.

You now have acorn meal, which you can use as a form of flour.

Spruce Sugar

  • 2 cups of spruce
  • 2 cups of sugar

Think of this as more of a way to gather a seasoning than to actually prepare a meal. In early spring, spruce branches send out new growth which is readily identifiable by its much brighter green color compared to the rest of the needles. Cut off this new growth.

Once you have collected a reasonable amount, add two cups of spruce to two cups of sugar and put it through a food processor until you end up with a finely chopped concoction. Spread this mixture out thinly on a cookie tray and allow it to dry at room temperature. Once it has done so, store what you have in a jar until you are ready to use it in other recipes.

Cattail Flour

Collect the bright yellow pollen of several cattail plants. This can easily be done by holding a bucket underneath the corndog part of the plant and rubbing the pollen off with your hands. You’re going to want to sift this pollen through a very fine sieve after this in order to help eliminate debris from your pollen. You can substitute up to a half of the amount of flour called for in a recipe with cattail pollen in order to make whatever it is that you are baking.

Old Time Recipes Wrapped Up

There are plenty of other old recipes to be had. Cooking in this way is almost a forgotten art, but one that would prove useful for both homesteaders and preppers. Best of all, many of the older cookbooks are available for free online. It only takes a matter of actually cooking some meals the old school ways to learn the art.

Do you have a favorite old time recipe I didn’t include? Share it in the comments.

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