What did voyageurs eat?

What did voyageurs eat? Only pea soup? Really? (Mara, age 9) Why didn’t they catch fish or shoot game on the way instead? (Jenner, age 14) Or eat something else, like rice or beans? Didn’t they get bored with the same food? (Aubry, age 12) Well, back in that day, nobody had the wide range of choices — and nobody complained about their food. But the voyageurs’ diet — pea soup twice a day — does not seem very nourishing. To do the continuous work of paddling for 12-14 hours or the harder work of portaging, voyageurs needed 5,000 calories a day! That’s two and a half times the fuel that adults today need. It’s more than marathoners burn in a race. A little history: In the early fur trade days, canoemen found their own food by hunting, fishing or trading when they came upon friendly Indians with extra provisions. However, that took extra time each day and meant the brigade could not travel as far to trade. Then, fur trade companies realized the wisdom of having brigades carry their own food from Montreal to the rendezvous. Along with the 55 packages of trade goods each canoe carried, they also toted several bushels of peas, and several hundredweight of biscuit and of pork or grease. Every night a cook from each canoe poured about nine quarts of peas in their kettle, added a strip of bacon or pork and lake water and hung it on a tripod over the fire to simmer until daylight. In the morning four biscuits were crumbled and added to thicken it, enough so that the stirring spoon stood straight up. Now filling the kettle to the brim, the pea porridge provided two full meals that day for the eight to 12 men in the canoe. They paddled for a hour or so before stopping for breakfast; supper came about 8 p.m. Over time, when the brigades arrived at Sault Ste. Marie, they could purchase other food supplies, like pemmican made by aboriginal women of various Great Plains tribes. Pemmican is a mixture of dried and pounded buffalo meat and fat, with berries added to improve the flavor. Moose, caribou or even fish might be substituted for buffalo. The mixture was crammed into buffalo-skin bags and topped off with melted fat to make a 90-pound parcel. It could last for months or even a year...
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