Foods of the 1800’s

Yesterday, I spent a good eight hours editing some chapters in my upcoming Kasota Spring Romance contemporary series Out of a Texas Night.  A part I’d written a while back brought back memories of  my Granny’s cooking. Here’s a little excerpt:  Since Avery had been staying out at Mesa’s family’s ranch, the Jacks Bluff, she’d had the opportunity to enjoy more than her share of Lola Ruth’s larrupin’ good handmade goodies.  Somewhere deep inside, she figured Lola Ruth had lied for years about not using lard for her famous fried pies.  Somehow, Avery couldn’t see the loveable woman turning to shortening or vegetable oil, much less coconut or avocado oil, after all of this time….

I kept thinking about how wonderful my Granny’s fried pies were and that she fried them in plain ol’ lard.  What changes we’ve had in cooking over the last century.  With Easter dinner nearing and my grandkids coming for the week, I started my grocery list.  While doing so, of course I was thinking about what I planned to blog on today. Suddenly, I remembered a section in a wonderful research book about life in the 1800’s, so I pulled it from the shelf and began getting some ideas.  I thought I’d share a few with you. Coffee: drunk throughout the century, although tea was more popular until after the Civil War. Early in the 1860’s folks began using Borden condensed milk. Chase and Sanborn coffee was sold in sealed cans as early as 1878, while Maxwell House canned coffee came around a few years later.  As I recall from previous research, Arbuckles added a peppermint stick as a treat in each package.

The more I read the more interested I got about things we have today that makes cooking so much easier that were new products in the 1800’s and earlier.

The general store or mercantile were the main source of foods in the 1800’s.  The typical items we use today were available, salt, sugar, spices and the like. Beer, whiskey, molasses and vinegar were dispensed through spigots from barrels. Pickles and crackers were also sold from barrels, while dried legumes/beans were on the floor in bushel baskets.

Canned goods weren’t widely available until the Civil War and after; however beans in tomato sauce were first successfully canned and sold commercially by Van Camp in 1861.  Yes, our familiar Pork and Beans were favorites a century and a half ago.

Baking powder was sold commercially from the late 1860’s. Previously, housewives leavened their cakes and biscuits with sour milk and molasses or pearl ash or saleratus (closely related to potassium bicarbonate, which is similar to soda).   Granny’s chocolate cake recipe that is in back of The Troubled Texan uses soda and buttermilk.  This is what I’ve used for years.

One of America’s favorite foods and one that are especially good at baseball games is the hot dog. To me there isn’t anything better than a good ol’ hot dog. They haven’t been around as long as some of the other cooking items, I’ve talked about.  They were introduced in the 1880’s in St. Louis.

Which of course brings to mind one of the favorite condiments for a dog, ketchup.  Heinz ketchup was bottled for the first time in 1876.  Until then, the housewives made their own by squeezing very ripe tomatoes with their hands until they were reduced to pump, then they put a half a pound of salt to one hundred tomatoes, and boiled them for two hours, stirring frequently.  While hot they’d press them through a fine sieve then add a little mace, nutmeg, all-spice, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and pepper to taste.  Then they’d boil over a slow fire until thick and bottle when cold.  One hundred tomatoes made four or five bottles and could be kept for two or three years.

The original potato chip was invented in 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York,  and applicably named the Saratoga chip.

The Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) opened in 1859 on Vesey Street in New York. Its rows of tea bins contained teas from around the world. By 1880, there were ninety-five A&P stores from Boston to Milwaukee.  And, yes, if you are asking yourself, they are the same A&P Grocery stores that were basically on the East Coast for nearly a century before they filed bankruptcy.

What grocery product would you have trouble doing without?  I’m going to give you my two answers.  Pork & Beans because since my grandkids were little I cut up wieners and put in a can of Pork & Beans, warmed them and they were served with Kraft Mac and Cheese.  My oldest granddaughter will be graduating from college in a few weeks and to this day they all say I’m the only one that can fix P&B’s and Mac & Cheese the way they like it.  Proves that Granny’s (yes, I’m Granny named after my maternal granny) cooking is always the best.The produce I couldn’t do without is soda.  I used it for everything from cookin’ to cleanin’!

So, now tell me your cain’t-do-without product!


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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

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21 thoughts on “Foods of the 1800’s”

  1. Phyliss- I loved this blog, so much history on ourbfoods we eat everyday and take for granted. What our pioneer ladies did to keep spice in their recipes for their families is what makes cooks of past generations still the best cooks ever. A pinch of this and a handful of that, and if they had only written many of these exact measurements down, we could all know the true secrets of their talents. I am reading The Tycoon And The Texan and I truly Love Lola Ruth. I find myself wishing I had one of her ours now. Picante sa use is a must for me on everything. It adds just the right zip to all my dishes. I even love my pickles dipped in it. You have a great day and what an interesting blog. Love your Kansas fan & girlfriend!!!

    • Hi my Kansas BFF. Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. Is it snowing up there? I was at the eye doc with my DH (eye dilated, so I had to go along) and a lady from about 60 miles north of us got a call that it was snowing, but nothing here. Cold and rainy, but true to the Texas Panhandle it’ll be 80 by the weekend! I love the pioneer women’s way of cooking, but sure am glad I didn’t have to do it the way they did. I learned most of my cooking from my granny who was raised in Louisiana but got to Texas when my mother and the rest of the kids were little. My granddad worked for the railroad. Daddy was from Ohio, so we had a combination of truly Southern cooking, Yankee food, and Tex-Mex. Granny did the southern cooking of course. I love writing about Lola Ruth, which happens to be my MIL and mother’s name mixed. Johnson was Mother’s maiden name. I agree with Picante. There’s a plant here Tascosa Hot Sauce Company that makes the best. I have to buy it by the case to send to my girls and their families. Bet you can get it where you live. It’s really, really good. Making me hungry! I’m truly a tad of that and a bit of this…”to taste” it’s known now, huh? I wrote about that in one of the anthologies where my heroine (Kaira from Boston) made beaten bread using tads and bits then had to beat it with a rolling pin. She couldn’t find one, so I’ll leave you all in suspense as to what she came up with. It was one chapter I had total fun writing. I had to look up the story and it’s in “Give Me a Texan” our first anthology. You’ll see a lot of Lola Ruth in future books because she’s the glue that holds the Jacks Bluff ranch together. And, I can’t imagine a pickle in picante sauce. I can’t handle really hot stuff, so Tex-Mex is my choice. A tidbit I learned but didn’t write about is that the first tomatoes were thought to be poisonous until the mid-1800’s. Interesting, huh? I hope you have a great week and remember you don’t have to wait on a blog to write to me! Big hugs from Texas to Kansas, Phyliss

  2. I loved this blog! What a fascinating subject! I’ve always thought about what it took to cook back in the 1800’s. I love that time period, but I honestly don’t think I could do it!!! lol I love my modern stove and my microwave WAAAAAAY too much to give it up! And WOW the effort it took to make Ketchup for their families! I don’t think I would have done it! lol I love my family, but that’s a lot of work just for some Ketchup! (I’m not really a Ketchup fan) but I think I would have to say that coffee creamer is one thing I could not do without! I love my coffee with Italian Sweet Cream! Oooh Soo Good! hahaha Thank you for this wonderful blog! I really enjoyed it!

    • Hi Dale, I’m so glad you stopped by and left a comment. I have to have creamer in my coffee, Sugar Free French Vanilla but I like Italian Cream, too. I guess I could have cooked in the early 1800’s, since I couldn’t have just driven or ridden a horse to the grocery for some hamburger patties. And, of course, I wouldn’t have had a television, eBook, computer, Internet, telephones, and other things to take up my time. I guess making clothes and quilting were time consumers. However, I’m like you, I don’t like ketchup enough to go to all that trouble to make it. I’ve canned tomatoes before and dropping them in boiling water and removing the skins is mucho easier plus of course the canning process itself. I thought it was interesting how early Borden’s condensed milk became available. But, if I had my choice to go back to the 1800’s and cook or do the nuck-a-rator (as I call a microwave) thing, I’ll choose today. Dale, I hope you have a wonderful week and hope to hear from you again. Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

    • Hi Janine, good to hear from you. Thanks for leaving a message, friend. I totally agree with you. I thought when I got the idea to write about food items of the 1800’s that it’d be easy … canning, beef barrels, root cellars and the like. I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many things were developed and available a century and a half ago (some, not all of course). There were a ton more, but I had to pick and choose some things to write about. I hope you have a great day, my P&P friend, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Hugs, Phyliss

  3. Phyliss, what a wonderful and informative post! Love every word. I remember my gram’s pies being the best in the world, and I also remember seeing lard containers in her kitchen when I was little.

    What would I not want to live without? Hmmmm. Possibly a good salsa. It covers so many sins lol. Good luck with the edits, my dear! xoxo

    • Hi my fellow Filly and California friend! Good to hear from you. My grandmother made wonderful fried pies too. A peach-apricot fried pie is in the book I’m writing now, so there will be an ol’ fashioned recipe in the back of the book. That’s one of Lola Ruth’s favorite things to make. Yep, I remember the lard containers and now, if you can find it, they are in rectangles … just like is Crisco Shortening now days. Between spray, the no-grease-needed pans, and good healthy oils, I never use Crisco shortening (shows I don’t make my own pie crush huh?) and little Crisco oil. But, they are good to have when we need them.

      Well, I think salsa is the winner for today’s “food we can’t do without” … but of course, we could make it! Sweet friend, take care of yourself and have a great week. Big hugs and Texas love, Phyliss

  4. Not entering just commenting. How interesting cooking has change in the last 50 years. My grandmother fried in both lard and oil but she would never cook fish. She said since she had to eat fish for the first 16 years of her life she was not going to have that smell in her house so we always went out to eat fish.

    • Hi Kim, so good to hear from you. That’s interesting about your grandmother. My mama wasn’t an outstanding cook, but two things she could fix was fried fish and chicken. We had a little bitty place here, when I was growing up, that sold fresh fish. Man, Mother’s was good. I do agree with your grandmother though … fish does stink but in “those days” (and I was a part of them LOL) we raised all the windows in the house and when you walked up and down the streets you knew who was cooking what for dinner. Thanks again, my friend Kim, for stopping by. Big Hugs, Phyliss

  5. Not entering…what a wonderful history-food post. I learned a lot. Unless you live in the kitchen, who would have time to make ketchup like that. But then, I bet it tasted fabulous. I use organic ketchup brands that I think taste way better than Heinz, etc.
    I also use baking soda in all my baking, and for cleaning. I have no clue what would be my must have … WAIT! Organic cocoa powder, that would be it. I make up all sorts of herbal hot chocolate drinks.

    • Hi Savanna, first thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. WOW! I’m impressed, I didn’t even know they have organic cocoa powder! I’ve never had herbal hot chocolate, but it sounds good. Especially since it’s cold and wet outside and I’ve been out in it!!! I’m using more and more organic foods, since our town had a grocery store shake up and the one that ended up being the biggest has numerous organic sections, from produce to drinks and other foods. I’ve never tried the organic ketchup but I bet my Cal. kids would like it. As I wrote, I use baking soda for both cooking and cleaning. Also, I failed to mention that I use it along with my laundry detergent on my whites. Okay, so I’m now putting organic cocoa powder and herbal hot chocolate on my list of things to check out. Please have a wonderful week and I look forward to hearing from you again soon. Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

  6. I too truly love this wonderful post. Thank you so very much, Phyliss. BTW, I too am just commenting rather than entering.

    I remember my mom using Crisco from a can when I was young (quite a while ago!). I also remember Borden’s milk and the A&P, our only grocery store in a small nearby town that had replaced the small family corner grocery store we had at one time. It was a miracle of the time.

    My mom didn’t make ketchup, but she always made homemade spaghetti sauce from the tomatoes in our garden. Both my parents grew up with gardens that weren’t hobbies but major providers of food for the following year. But when I was growing up, my mom canned and froze most of what we grew that lasted a year, too, from our walk-in pantry, much like my grandmother’s. My dad’s mom continued to have a giant garden and preserve food her whole life well into her 70s that she managed all by herself. Compared to her, I’m a real slacker.

    My mom, dad and I always worked in our large garden together, with me eating bell peppers and tomatoes right off the vines, and peeled cucumbers still warm from the sun. Those times weren’t work to me–although they may have been in my parents’ past as children–but wonderful times together and memories as a family. I continued the tradition for a very long time myself until modern work day hours took up way too much of my time.

    As for what I couldn’t do without: tomatoes, oregano, pasta for food, and vinegar for much of my earth-friendly cleaning. I’ll have to look more into soda as an option too for cleaning that I’ve forgotten, Phyliss. As for cooking and baking, I’m much lazier than I used to be, I confess, sadly eating more pre-prepared foods than homemade. Shame on me after my excellent upbringing!

    • Hi Eliza, I’m sorry that I missed your post when I was answering them earlier. We always had a garden and even when my DH and I married, we had one. I learned to can early on and still have my canner with the pressure cooker lid under the cabinet somewhere. Canned foods are really better than commercial, but I’m like you … who has time now days? Isn’t it great that we have wonderful memories of our folks and grandparents canning and fixin’ goodies for us? We had a Borden’s plant here for years and they bottled and shipped their milk all over this part of the country. I say that because being in the Panhandle not far from us is what is known as four corners. It touches Texas, NM, OK and throw in Kansas and Colorado. I guess they didn’t count Texas. LOL I love your list of “cain’t do without” because they are pretty much mine. I love pasta, so you gotta have all of those. I also loved cucumbers sliced with onions in vinegar. I’d forgotten about pickled cucumbers. Oh how good. Not sure whether we put a little sugar in or salt, but now I burp too much. I use a lot of vinegar, too. White vinegar is good to get rid of the weeds that come up between the curb and sidewalk. And, they don’t harm the birds. Thanks so much for dropping by today. Look forward to talking to you again soon. Hugs, Phyliss

      • Something else we have in common: My husband and I had giant gardens when we got married too and I put away a lot of food myself for years until modern times overwhelmed us. He too grew up on a family farm that was in his family for many generations.

  7. Just commenting. I didn’t know commercial baking soda went back that far! I came across recipes that mentioned saleratus and had to look it up. I remember the story about Arbuckle coffee including a peppermint stick — I read an account where the ranch cook gave the candy to whoever ground the beans 🙂

    These history posts are so much fun to read. Thanks!

    Nancy C

  8. Thanks, Nancy C. Good to hear from you. Like you, I didn’t realize baking soda went back that far, but if I’d thought about it, I have a recipe book that is very old and it calls for baking soda. Thanks for the additional info on the peppermint stick. I just remembered it from research, but sure didn’t know about the ranch cook giving it away. I know the little ones loved them, along with the penny candy bin at the mercantile. I love history, too. Again, thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful week. Big Texas hugs to you from me, Phyliss

  9. Oh my goodness I love to cook so narrowing it down to one product is virtually impossible to me. People are always just amazed by my spice cabinet. I’m the cookie baker in my family but I’d have a hard time picking between baking soda and baking powder. Of course, true to the time period sand tarts and biscuits do not require either baking soda or powder. My grandmother made the best apricot fried pies from dried apricots. I haven’t read one of your books yet but anything Tonya Lucas recommends I want to read!!

  10. Stephanie, I’m so glad you came by and left a message. I’m totally like you about a spice cabinet. I use to buy in large containers but now am down-sizing. I use the green Trevia jars to put spices in. They are easy to stack and take up less space than the ones you get at a wholesale club. But I don’t use Trevia now, so don’t know what I’ll do. I love sand tarts. I don’t know if you read an earlier post, but in the Kasota Springs novel I’m finished up, Lola Ruth makes peach apricot fried pies and I also put a recipe in the back of each book. That’s the one I’m using. My Granny made them from dried apricots, too. I’m so happy to hear from you and a friend of Tonya’s is a friend of mine. Thanks again and a big Texas hug from me to you.

  11. My dad had a Saratoga Chip can in his shop that held bolts and nuts. I always wondered how old the can was but Dad didn’t know. We lived about 10 miles from Newmans Lake House where potato chips are said to have originated. I found the can interesting because our potato chips always came in bags. Baking soda and white vinegar are my favorites for cleaning, too. I also use the vinegar for liquid fabric softener in my washing machine.

    This was a fun blog.

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