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Settlement of Galesburg, Illinois, Including Noble Phelps and Family

Food and Clothing in Early Galesburg


At first the settlement was completely self-contained. Everything they ate, as well as nearly all their clothes, were produced by their own hands. The staples were corn and pork-hog and hominy—the pigs killed and dressed, cured and smoked, the lard rendered by the husband and wife; the corn ground in a hand-mill, generally a hollow stone. Sometimes it was rubbed while still green and soft on a home-made grater—a piece of tin punched with holes (the old-fashioned tin lantern made a good grater). More often it was beaten with a pestle in a mortar made by burning out the inside of a hardwood stump.

Until their own gristmill was set up, all grain had to be carted many miles to be ground—60 miles to Moline, 75 to Rushville, 125 to Aurora. The trip took days, with often long waits because the water was too low to turn the mill, or there were too many already in line.

Although some wheat was raised, the main dependence was corn. It was already known to the Indians, who taught the settlers some of their dishes—succotash, for instance, a savory mixture of corn and beans. The Yankees were not above adopting the Hoosier's recipes, whatever their opinion of their housekeeping. The coarsely ground corn was prepared in several ways. Shortened with lard rendered in the big kettle, it made Johnny-cake; baked in lumps, it was corn-dodgers; the dough raised with yeast—generally "pearl ash" made by burning corncobs—it became corn-pone. Indian pudding, the most delicious of the many corn dishes, was inspired by neither aborigines nor the Hoosiers, but brought by the housewives from New England. It can seldom be met with today in its most appetizing state. The simpler form of cornmeal pudding was the famous hasty pudding. Even good cooks and good etymologists get these two confused.

The baking was done on a flat board or a piece of sheet iron slanted in front of the fire, or in a Dutch oven. Mush and milk was a standard supper dish; also hominy, that is samp, hulled corn, the hard covering peeled off with lye. The horse pail, which served first to water the stock, did duty as a laundry tub, and then scrubbed to a shining whiteness became a mixing bowl for bread, but wheat bread was rare, and coffee and tea great luxuries.


Extracted from They Broke the Prairie: being some account of the settlement of the Upper Mississippi Valley by religious and educational pioneers, told in terms of one city, Galesburg, and of one college, Knox. By Calkins, Earnest Elmo, 1868-1964. New York: Scribner's, © 1937.