Unlike the ladies of the abundant Pennsylvania Dutch country (see “Fill Yourself Up, Clean Your Plate,” beginning on page 56), the army wives who followed their officer husbands to the American frontier in the nineteenth century faced difficult problems of supply with respect to niceties of the culinary art. There was always plenty of beef—beef, beef, and more beef. But many vegetables as well as dairy and poultry products were persistently hard to get, and when it came to desserts, the logistics of the situation were sometimes just short of disastrous.
Yet mere circumstances offered no exemption from the demands of military social life. The adobe quarters of Indian-fighting garrisons, furnished with rough, soldier-made tables and chairs, often saw banquets where brassbutton protocol was observed as punctiliously as it was back in Washington, D.C.
6 tablespoons of cornstarch
Essence of lemon
Blend water and cornstarch to make it creamy thick when cooked. Add essence of lemon. Sugar to taste. Serve in custard cups.
1 medium can of soda crackers
Essence of lemon
Soak soda crackers thoroughly in water. Then warm until soft. Break carefully but not too fine. Add essence of lemon. Blend in sugar and a great deal of nutmeg; bake in pastry, with a top crust to the pie. You will feel sure it is apple pie (if you do not make it yourself).
It is not surprising, then, that from the general’s wife on down, the ladies soon learned to disguise the meanest ingredients, and to take great pride in their culinary deceptions. When the bride of Lieutenant Faye Roe produced a fine “chicken salad” out of veal, for a supper at Fort Lyon, Colorado Territory, in 1872, she reported that what pleased her most were the compliments from other officers’ wives who were reputed to know “how to make more delicious little dishes out of nothing than anyone else.” But for classic examples of gastronomic fraud on the American frontier, it would be difficult to outdo these recipes for the banquet favorites of Mrs. James Biddle, wife of the Inspector General at Fort Whipple, Arizona Territory, in 1878.