Pioneers along the Oregon Trail in the mid-to-late 19th century not only traveled stoically, risked their lives, spent their savings and suffered, but cooked and ate as well. ``Simply surviving the trip was not the only goal,'' Williams ( Lowfat American Favorites ) notes. ``Food was a primary way of providing some pleasure and variety during the endless days of riding and walking.'' Her culinary history of an essential episode of the American story calls for its facts on diaries and letters written by the voyagers, newspapers and magazines of the era and period cookbooks. The result of research is a dutiful chronicle distinguished more by the information imparted than by much verve in the telling. How, let us say, did boudin blanc come to be cooked by travelers on the Trail? It was ``an ancient recipe for sausages'' made new, based on buffalo cow meat killed fresh while the settlers were en route. (Williams supplies the complete recipe, seductively archaic: cooks are instructed to make ``love to'' the ``lower extremity of the large gut of the Buffaloe'' with ``forefinger and thumb'' maneuvering the gut to keep what is needed and eject what is not.) Faithful readers will find lore like this interspersed with rather dull prose. (Aug.)
This book holds an encyclopedia of information culled from diaries and contemporary newspapers. I can't think of a more intimate account of the lives of the overlanders, how they turned their rude wagons into homes, how they made meals both a comfort and a celebration. Some readers will want to try out recipes; others will read in awe as in the midst of difficult travel, women made certain their families marked the Fourth of July with cakes-fruit jelly and sponge-puddings, and ice cream-and clean underwear!" -Lillian Schlissel, author of Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey and Western Women: Their Lands, Their Lives.