Sunday, March 28, 2010

Over the Chilkoot Pass

My newest novel, Gold Fever, the second in the Klondike Gold Rush series is due to be released next week. The first chapter has been posted on my web page, if you’d like to take a look, and Rendezvous Crime, the publisher, has done a nice publicity page here.

Food was, perhaps needless to say, nothing fancy for the men and women who ventured over the Chilkoot Pass to Dawson and the gold fields. The environment is not exactly friendly to agriculture, and the people who arrived did not intend to spend any of their time fishing or hunting or gathering their own food (and most were from the cities so wouldn’t have known how to in any event).

In the winter of 1897-98 Dawson approached starvation levels, so when the authorities realized that tens of thousands MORE people were poised to flood into the territory as soon as winter ended, the Canadian government insisted that every person arriving had to bring in a year’s supplies.

You’ve all seen, I am sure, the iconic photographs of people climbing the Chilkoot Pass with their goods on their back. In most cases they made twenty or third trips to get all their stuff to the top, at a load of approximately 70 pounds per trip.
What would an adult need in the way of food for one year? Here is an extract from one of the many guide books that were available to help the prospective prospector.

200 pounds of bacon
400 pounds of flour
85 pounds assorted dried fruit
50 pounds cornmeal
35 pounds rice
24 pounds coffee
5 pounds tea
100 pounds sugar
15 pounds soup vegetables (meaning dried)
50 pounds oatmeal
50 pounds dried potatoes
50 pounds dried onions
25 pounds butter
100 pounds beans
4 dozen tins condensed milk
15 pounds salt
1 pound pepper
8 pounds baking powder
2 pounds baking soda
1/2 pound mustard
3/4 pound ginger
2 dozen yeast cakes

Notice something missing? Anything fresh of course: lovely plump red tomatoes, fresh green vegetables, chicken, beef, herbs and spices (I wonder why they liked ginger so much?) eggs, chocolate, sausages, noodles, pasta, breakfast cereal (except for oats), not to mention Italian Espresso coffee or white chocolate truffles. Also nothing conveniently prepared in shrink-wrapped dried food packs.

Imagine living on that for a year. As Fiona MacGillivray says, "Once I leave the Yukon, I will never eat bacon and beans again."

Of course, those who either brought money or made money found there was plenty to buy once they had arrived although the prices could be exorbitant. I’ll talk a little about that next time.


Jill said...

I'd miss fresh produce, bu I would gladly eat bacon for a year!

Peach Blossom Hill said...

How interesting! I can't imagine. As I am new to your blog, I didn't even realize you are a published author! I will have to read your new book! Congratulations!


Dana Fredsti said...

I would absolutely miss fresh produce, but yes... bacon... Yum!!!

What a fascinating time period...