Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987 Page: 26
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The Republic of Porkdom
by Ellen N. Murry
Reprinted with permission of the Star of the
Republic Museum, Washington, Texas. Notes,
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Eating vegetables was not a
common practice in the 1830s.
Fresh fruit, warned the New
York Mirror in 1830, "should
be religiously forbidden to all
classes, especially children."
t( ^uring the early nineteenth
century, America and especially
the South were often referred to as
the "Hog-eating Confederacy" or the
"Republic of Porkdom." The label is just
as appropriate when applied to the Texas
republic. The stereotype of a frontier
"hog and hominy" diet is a viable and realistic
assessment of what the average
Texan was eating in this period. In an examination
of foodways, it is not enough
to ask what people ate, but also why.
As on any frontier, the first Texas
settlers existed primarily on game, honey,
and wild vegetation. Often this was the
only food until crops could be raised.
Deer, bear, wild cattle, mustangs, buffalo,
and antelope were numerous, along with
smaller game such as raccoon, rabbit,
fox, opossum, and squirrel. Venison was
the most widely eaten meat until pioneers
were able to procure pork and beef. Noah
Smithwick's first meal in Texas was "dried
venison sopped in honey." Buffalo tongue
was a favorite. Bears were plentiful and
"esteemed excellent." Bear oil was often
used in place of lard for seasoning and
frying. There were also large flocks of
geese, turkeys, ducks, quail, prairie hens,
pigeons, and doves.
Pork and beef were the most commonly
used meats, and one estimate suggests
that annual per capita meat consumption
in the decade 1830-1839 was 178
pounds. In contrast to the 3,400 calories
consumed per day now, in the early nineteenth
century people consumed 4,0005,000
calories per day. Since cattle had
more value as breeding animals, work
oxen, and milk cows, they were not eaten
as often as pork. They actually came to
represent a "circulating medium" in a
cash-poor society-one cow and calf
were the equivalent of ten dollars during
the republic period.
Pork was considered a form of condensed
corn. It yielded a quick return,
and no animal shared its distinction of increasing
in weight one hundred and fifty
fold in the first eight months of life. Another
significant factor in the popularity
of pork was its "good keeping qualities"the
flavor was said to improve as a result
of the preservation process.
Many people actually had an aversion
to fresh meat in this period and a prejudice
that it was unwholesome. While
many meats were smoked or jerked, the
most commonly used method was pickling
or curing the meat in a barrel of
water, salt, sugar, saltpeter, and potash.
This predominance of saltpork in the diet
inadvertently contributed to the development
of the American sweet tooth. Molasses
was habitually used as a condiment
and poured over the pork.
The greatest problem in raising poultry
was protecting the fowls from the ravages
of foxes, hawks, and chicken snakes. Yet,
both eggs and poultry were plentiful in
Texas during this period. Still, very few
travelers mention chicken for eatingapparently
both chickens and geese were
used for eggs. Eggs were sold in town for
25-50 cents a dozen and were considered
Fish, turtles, and oysters were a regular
part of the diet in coastal areas of Texas.
A visitor to Quintana described the
"finest oysters you ever saw-as long as
"Raising corn was a matter of life and
death" and a fundamental factor in the
conquest of the wilderness, as corn was
easy to grow, harvest, and prepare for eating.
The most common species of corn in
this period had a much higher sugar content
than later nineteenth-century varieties,
so it had a natural sweetness without
the use of sugar or molasses.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1987, periodical, Summer 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45437/m1/26/: accessed July 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.