Friday, July 31, 2020

Food, Glorious Food, Mount Rainier Edition

I’m working on my third book for Revell, set on and around what would become Mount Rainier National Park. This story has the latest date of the American Wonders Collection so far—1893. I shared how little and how oddly the early explorers of the Grand Canyon ate, as I discovered while researching for A Distance Too Grand (October 2019), which is set in 1871. You would think more than 20 years later, things would be better.

Not so much!

Mount Rainier was a tantalizing figure on the southeast horizon for many in the burgeoning cities of Tacoma and Seattle, not to mention the state capital of Olympia to the west of the mountain. Some of those who decided to venture onto its icy slopes seemed to be a little spare on the food. Jerked venison is frequently mentioned, as is coffee. But some of the men who climbed claimed to have only taken flour and coffee. At least one account describes each man “eating” a half cup of flour as food each day. I searched and searched to find what they added to it and how they cooked it. It appears they didn’t.


At least others came better fortified. Philemon Van Trump, who made the first successful ascent in 1870 and returned several times over the years, brought such staples as flour, bacon, coffee, canned Boston baked beans, jerked venison, oatmeal, potatoes, butter, sugar, condensed milk, and canned apricots, peaches, and pears. He did, however, have a pack horse as far as Paradise, a little more than a third of the way to the top. Little of that made it to the summit.

Some of the items he took surprised and intrigued me:

  • English breakfast tea. I hadn’t known it was named that then, but that was what he wrote in his own report of the climb.
  • Codfish balls. Apparently canned.
  • Potted tongue. Also canned.
  • Liebig’s extract of beef. This was apparently a thick, dark paste. It may have been used like we use bouillon cubes today, as there are records of “beef soup” being served in the crater by those spending the night among the steam vents.

There was one other item that was mentioned on a number of visitors to the mountain, and it’s no stranger to campfire cookery today.


S’mores, anyone?


QNPoohBear said...

1870s is very early for chocolate bars. Hershey bars weren't around yet, milk chocolate didn't exist yet either. I wonder if he meant drinking chocolate? Chocolate was considered a health food for invalids. Doing some digging on Google reveals that chocolate (drinking) was part of military rations in the 1860s.

Regina Scott said...

Van Trump first climbed in 1870, but the list I shared is from his 1883 climb, QNPoohBear. That said, the position of chocolate on his list (right after coffee and English breakfast tea), may indeed indicate that it was drinking chocolate. On the other hand, when Fay Fuller climbed in 1890, she mentions stuffing chocolate in the pockets of her blouse and "eating" it when she reached the summit, so I'm thinking that at least was in bar or drop form. But no worries. My heroine doesn't bring any form of chocolate with her in 1893. :-)