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Cookbook author re-creates larder of Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery
Thursday, April 24, 2003
By Suzanne Martinson, Post-Gazette Food Editor
They ate nine pounds of meat a day, when they could get it. About 10,000 calories apiece -- five times more than today's desk jockey needs.
If you go
"Lewis & Clark Cookbook"
WHO: Author Leslie Mansfield
WHAT: Lecture and book signing by the woman who created Historic Recipes from the Corps of Discovery and Jefferson's America
WHEN: noon to 2 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Sen. John Heinz History Center, Strip District
COST: Free with admission to History Center ($6 for adults; $4.50, seniors 62 and older; $3, children 6 to 18; and $4.50, students)
Lewis & Clark recipes
Forty-five men and a woman, who carried a baby on her back.
Tough work, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the great exploration of the American wilderness that is being celebrated across America on its 200th anniversary this year and beyond.
Exploration might not be exactly the right word for the journey that took two years, four months and 10 days.
"Most of their time was spent finding the food, so they could survive," says Leslie Mansfield, the author of "The Lewis & Clark Cookbook" (Celestial Arts; 2002; $17.95).
Yet when she read the abridged version of their journals, she found most of the food references had been taken out.
"They tossed out most food information," says Mansfield, who was interviewed by telephone at her St. Helena, Calif., home. The author will speak Saturday at the Sen. John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center in the Strip District, and at a sold-out dinner tomorrow evening at the Pines Tavern, Pine.
Hunting for food wasn't just a man's job. "Sacajawea was instrumental as far as survival," says Mansfield, 45, a native of Lake Oswego, Ore. "She was always out ahead fishing, and she found needed carbohydrates for the group."
Even Lewis' dog, a huge Newfoundland named Seaman, got in on the foraging. "He pulled in a deer that had been shot in the middle of the river where the men couldn't get it," Mansfield says.
Seaman also barked when the wolves ventured too close at night, but there wasn't so easy a fix for the broken bones, dislocated joints and wounds for the party, which included Lewis' black slave, York.
These were hardy men -- and Sacajawea carried a baby on top of it, she says.
The recipes in Mansfield's book, subtitled "Historic Recipes From the Corps of Discovery & Jefferson's America," use ingredients that would have been familiar to Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and President Thomas Jefferson in 1800s America, rather than just what they ate along the trail.
The Lewis & Clark book is not her first foray into historic foods. Mansfield is also the author of the best-selling "Oregon Trail Cookbook." "I always loved historical cooking and anything to do with Oregon."
She discovered that the Corps of Discovery, the official name of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, didn't start out empty-handed. Mansfield lists these provisions (complete with the chronicler's colorful capitalization and spelling):
"15 bags of parched meal, 9 bags of common meal, 11 bags hulled corn, 30 half barrels of flour, 2 bags of flour, 7 bags of biscuit, 4 barrels of biscuit, 7 barrels of salt, 50 kegs of Pork, 2 boxes of candles, 1 bag of candlewick, 1 bag of coffee, 1 bag of Beens, 1 bag of pees, 2 bags of sugar, 1 keg of Hogs lard, 4 barrels of hulled corn, 1 bag of meal, 600 lbs. of Grees, 50 bushels of meal, and 24 bushels of Natchies Corn Huled."
Mansfield grew up in Oregon and now lives in Napa Valley, Calif., where she and her husband, Richard, own Mansfield Winery. She was inspired to write the Lewis and Clark book after her father sent her a clipping from the Portland-based Oregonian newspaper announcing the bicentennial.
She wended her way through the eight unabridged Lewis and Clark journals, and more than 200 books, articles and research reports, and cites her bibliography as a good reading list for history lovers.
"My husband would build a big fire, and I would read from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.," she recalls. "It was fascinating."
The journals are in English, of course, but were "very halting reading" at first, given the creative spelling and punctuation.
When it came to food, William Clark cut to the chase: "It requires 4 deer, or an elk and a deer, or one buffalo to supply us for 24 hours."
Meriwether Lewis tended to be more poetic in his observations, Mansfield says. "You could get Lewis' train of thought. He could look at something and re-create it on the page. You could feel what he was feeling."
For example, Lewis' praise of the hard-working beavers: "The brush appear to be laid in no regular order yet acquires a strength by the irregularity with which they are placed by the beaver that it would puzzle the ingenuity of man to give them."
Sacajawea brought variety to a diet that was mostly meat. (Talk about high-protein.) "She would occasionally find some roots. ... There were wild onions and lots of wapato, a starchy tuber, which is rather like a potato when roasted," Mansfield says, then sighs. "It actually caused terrible constipation. Thank goodness Lewis had Dr. Benjamin Rush's pills.
"They were a powerful purgative -- almost pure mercury -- that the men nicknamed Rush's Thunder Pills."
But only one man died, of appendicitis, and that was at the beginning of the expedition.
A woman's role
Sacajawea was not an official member of the expedition. She was the Indian wife of Toussant Charbonneau, whom the corps had hired as a translator. (He got paid; she did not.) She was a Shoshone who was kidnapped as a girl during a raid by the Hidatsa tribe in what is now North Dakota.
"Charbonneau actually won her in a gambling game," Mansfield says. "He had another young Indian girl as a wife, but he left the other one at home."
The expedition needed horses and supplies to cross the Bitterroot Mountains along what is now Montana's western border.
"When she was acting as interpreter with a band of Shoshone, they were well into negotiations, when she realized the chief of the band was her own brother," Mansfield says. "She started crying and sobbing, he recognized her, and, of course, there was no problem anymore. They got all the horses they needed."
Sacajawea's baby was born while the expedition wintered at Fort Mandan in the Dakotas. The whole company fell in love with the baby, named Jean Baptiste. Clark, who called him "that little dancing boy," later raised the child and sent him to college.
Mansfield called Sacajawea's husband "a cad."
"He was also difficult and rather lazy, and he would strike Sacajawea, though Lewis and Clark forbade him in doing that. They humiliated him."
But he made a great French sausage.
"When they would find a young buffalo, he would make the boudin blanc," she says. "Lewis called it one of the greatest delicacies of the forest."
After the adventure westward, Clark became secretary for Indian Affairs. He married and had a family. Lewis, sadly, committed suicide.
"He may have been manic depressive," Mansfield speculates. "When you read the journals ... he was such an intense human being. Once he got back into the bureaucracy, he was so frustrated."
Sacajawea's fate is not certain. Some accounts say she died of a fever in South Dakota at the age of 25. Shoshone oral tradition says she returned to the Wind River Reservation and became an influential member of the tribe, where she lived a long life.
Testing 1800s recipes required cooking game, which was a new experience for Mansfield. Unlike the Corps', hers was farm-raised.
Her favorite main dish -- one that some cooks would easily dismiss out of hand -- was the Buffalo Stew with Suet Dumplings.
Lewis wrote: "... to myself I assign the duty of cook. ... I collected my wood and water, boiled a large quantity of excellent dryed buffaloe meat and made each man a large suet dumpling by way of a treat."
A treat they are, says Mansfield. "Suet dumplings taste like the most delicious gnocchi -- light, tender and savory."
She included most of the historic foods. But not all. "It should be to no one's loss," she writes, "that recipes for dog and horse have been omitted here."
Lewis may have disagreed. "The dog now constitutes a considerable part of our subsistence and with most of the party has become a favorite food ...," he wrote in his journal. "I prefer it to venison or Ilk, and it is very far superior to the horse in any state."
The cookbook's historic etchings and color plates play off quotes at the bottom of the page. The handwriting doesn't belong to Lewis or Clark.
"It's actually handwritten from the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson," she says.
Mansfield created recipes that used ingredients available in 1800, though not necessarily what Corps of Discovery ate as they traveled from St. Louis, Mo., to Fort Clatsop, Ore.
"The only exceptions I made were using baking powder instead of saleratus, and powdered gelatin rather than isinglass [fish bladders] and boiled beef hooves," she says.
Good choices, those.
One of her tasters was her nephew, then 7. "Bear meat and turtle meat were his favorites."
If Mansfield had to choose a favorite recipe, it would be Maple Sugar Pie. Although it seems reminiscent of Pennsylvania Shoofly Pie, which some think is so sweet it makes your hair hurt, Mansfield says Maple Sugar Pie is not.
"It's absolutely addictive. I'm not keen on things that are so sweet, but the maple flavor cuts the sweetness. It's unbelievably good."
A president's vision
Mansfield knew of the debate over where the Lewis and Clark Expedition actually began. Local historians put it near Pittsburgh, because that's where the expedition's keelboat was built and where the supplies were collected, according to information from the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center.
"But I actually think it started at the White House with the mandate from President Jefferson."
For the expedition, the president sought $2,500, which Congress granted in 1803; it ended up costing $38,722.25. "Many people were opposed to the Louisiana Purchase," Mansfield says. "But Jefferson had a vision of what the United States should be."
The writer is thrilled that her cookbook's vision is being fulfilled by the comprehensive menu put together for the Lewis and Clark dinner tomorrow night at the Pines Tavern. It quickly sold out.
It's a particularly special night for her husband because they will uncork Mansfield Winery's first vintage release from their grapes, a merlot. After Richard sold his Callahan Ridge Winery in Roseburg, Oregon's sixth largest, he moved to Napa, where he was winemaker for Staggs Leap before planting grapes for their own winery.
The couple live in a farmhouse on the place, which is so remote they have no television. Not that a TV could have taken her away from a good fire and the writings of Lewis and Clark.
It took her a year. It took a year and a half for the Corps to get to Oregon territory, a year to return home. They were homesick.
"They couldn't wait to get home," Mansfield says.
"It was one of the sweetest quotes in the book. They were coming down the Missouri, saw their first cow, and they started yelling, 'It's a cow, it's a cow!