Lewis and Clark trip celebrated with meal

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2001

BOZEMAN, Mont. -- The Jerusalem artichokes had a rich, roasted garlic flavor, the buffalo tongue slathered in caper sauce was succulent and the fishhouse punch, by all accounts, unbelievably intoxicating.

Served on the upside-down hull of a cottonwood canoe, this Meriwether Lewis and William Clark-inspired meal would truly be a diet of discovery. At the ''Dinner with Lewis and Clark'' put on by the Gallatin Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Association, it was an early-1800s culinary trip in a time machine.

''Lewis declared bison hump, tongue and marrowbones to be sumptuous,'' said Leandra Holland, the food historian who researched what the explorers of the Louisiana Purchase ate.

Together with Betty Nason, owner of the Kountry Korner Cafe near Bozeman, Holland extracted the best elements of the Corps of Discovery diet and transformed them into a three-course meal.

It wasn't easy to decipher what the explorers ate and where they ate it. Food wasn't something the discoverers regularly wrote about. But by paying close attention to what food was mentioned and what animals the corps killed repeatedly, Holland strung together some interesting cuisine.

Unfortunately for Lewis and Clark, they did not eat this well, at least not all at once. Rather, the fare Holland assembled is the sum of a diet that changed with the scenery.

Lewis and Clark had home-baked bread, 90 pounds of it, baked by a woman in Ohio who caught the corps off guard when she demanded to be paid. The corps, making its way across the country by river, often hauling its boats upstream, devoured that ration quickly.

They had Boudin blanc, a creole sausage of sorts made of flour, salt, game meat and kidney fat stuffed into an entrail and cooked to bread-pudding consistency. Cooked by the French trapper Charbonneau, the Boudin blanc lasted only as long as the flour rations and the prairie buffalo.

And with the Boudin blanc, they had buffalo. Buffalo humps and tongues were good food for a hard-working crew.

The 30-pound hump is mostly fat mounted to tender buffalo shoulder. Bigger than a large Thanksgiving turkey and very high in calories, the shoulder tastes a lot like beef pot roast, at least the way Nason cooks it. A little 7-Up, an uncola Lewis and Clark certainly did without, is Nason's secret for tenderizing the meat.

The buffalo tongue is served in spade-shape slices about one-eighth-inch thick with caper sauce.

Squash, another food found across the continent, was also a favorite -- at least until the corps hit the Rocky Mountains. Nason serves acorn squash sliced in half, sprinkled with pan-roasted sunflower seeds and baked. The nutty flavor of the sunflower seeds seeps deep into the squash while baking. The squash the corps ate weren't acorns. They were probably native, husky and pumpkin shaped, although quite small.

Along with native squash, the explorers also found Jerusalem artichokes on the trail. In North Dakota, the Mandan and Hidatsu Indians grew the artichokes in gardens. The artichoke's tender hearts are the consistency of roasted garlic cloves when pulled from the oven.

With the artichokes, Nason roasts pearl onions, rich and tender with a removable husk.

But all this campfire cuisine ended at the Rocky Mountains. As the corps traveled through the mountains of Montana and Idaho, they nearly starved, Holland said. The vegetables and buffalo Lewis and Clark found on the plains were nowhere to be found in the mountains. The edible plants mountain dwelling Nez Pierce Indians ate were hard to distinguish from deadly poisonous varieties.

Lewis and Clark went from buffalo and vegetables, to dried salmon rife with bacteria that gave the corps diarrhea. Their reputation for being poor hunters, sick and lost spread among the American Indians, many of whom kept the corps members alive by feeding them acorns and more dried fish.

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