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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Swell Eats

In 1849, many Wisconsin men were lured West by the California Gold Rush. Among them was George Snyder of Milwaukee, who recalled his trials and tribulations to the Milwaukee Sentinel many years later. One of the memories that stuck with him was of the food his party ate along the trail.

Although inexperienced in the kitchen, Snyder ended up in charge of the cooking. His first foray into the culinary arts was trying to cook rice. He dumped a quarter of a peck (2-3 pounds) of rice into a pot and cooked it in water "'til "she dried up" and then added more water to keep it cooking. Soon the rice began to swell and overflow. "You'd a thought it was snowing," Snyder recalled. "I kept spooning it back into the kittle, but still it kept running over – burnt such a crust on the outside, so that if turned upside down that pan 'ud a made a nice stove pipe hat!"

Snyder also remembered that by the end of the trip all the men had left to eat was cracker dust, all the crackers having broken down during the journey. Eating that was a delicate art, he said. You had to make sure that once you had some dust in hand you didn't breathe, causing it to scatter, and it required much washing down with coffee. Trying to eat too big a handful at once, the dust would swell when it hit the tongue and fill the mouth, causing "a riot," as Snyder put it.

Snyder and his Wisconsin companions survived the 3,500-mile trip and became prospectors. Even 70 years later, though, he refused to disclose how large a fortune – or how small a one -- he'd brought home in gold.

:: Posted in Curiosities on January 30, 2011

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