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Basic Pioneer Beans

Another quite fatty staple for homesteaders is the infamous Salt Pork. Less meaty than modern bacon, it was preserved in a very salty brine rather than smoked. Most pioneer households had a barrel full of chunks of salt pork to help see them through the winter.

To make salt pork edible, parboiling was necessary before cooking to leech out as much salt as possible.


  • 1 pound of dried beans (pinto or navy work well)
  • ½ pound of salt pork or ¾ pound of bacon, diced
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 Bay leaf, 2 cloves of garlic (minced) if you have them, and salt/pepper to taste


Pick over beans and wash thoroughly.

Place in large stock pot and cover with water so that it's at least 4-5 inches above the beans. Leave to soak overnight.

In the morning, drain and rinse the beans in a colander.

In the same stock pot you soaked the beans in (rinse it out before you use it again), cook the salt pork or bacon on medium heat until it begins to render its fat and becomes translucent.

Add the onions and continue to cook until both the bacon and the onions start to brown.

Throw in the garlic if you have it and the bay leaf and cook for one more minute, making sure the garlic does not brown or burn (it will turn bitter!).

Add the beans back to the pot and cover with enough water to reach about two inches above the beans/onions.

Cook on low heat on the stove (or on the warming side of a cookstove, or in a crockpot, or in the oven in a dutch oven) for several hours, until the beans are soft.

When the beans are soft, test for salt . . . the salt pork or bacon should add more than enough, but you never know! Pepper to taste.

To be honest, these will probably taste fairly bland to the modern pallet, but, then again, the pioneer diet was largely 'plain' cooking. Without access to our modern array of international seasonings, nor our penchant for over-salted, over-produced foods, they often cooked very simply.

That said, I have seen reports that oregano was sometimes added (where did they get THAT????), wild onions and garlic, wild greens (like dandelion greens), any game they happened to have on hand, or any vegetables that were going 'off' in the cellar.

So, to keep in the spirit of the prairie, improvise!