Canned Foods on the Frontier?

L BrodayYears ago I watched a John Wayne western filmed in 1948 called “3 Godfathers.” Ward Bond played alongside him. In the movie, John Wayne and the others were outlaws on the run. They came across a wagon train that had been attacked. All were killed except for one woman. John Wayne and Ward Bond assist her in giving birth and it made for a scene that was both funny and heart wrenching because the woman dies minutes after delivering. John Wayne and the others vow to care for the babe and see it safely across the desert. Amongst the supplies, they find a tin of Carnation milk so they make a baby bottle using that.

CANbessCanned milk and other foods actually were used on the frontier. In 1856, Gail Borden, an American, successfully produced sweetened condensed milk in cans for the first time and was granted a patent. With financial support, he launched the New York Condensed Milk Company in 1857. During the Civil War it was introduced on a large scale.

But to my surprise, canned fruits, vegetables, and some fish and meats were produced in 1812 by a small plant in New York. They were sold in hermetically sealed containers, not tins.

cansThe cans were very heavy, requiring a hammer and chisel to open. Quite an arduous process. The first can opener came out in 1858 and resembled a bayonet. Talk about dangerous! In 1870 a safer model was introduced.

Canned peaches were very popular. I used both milk and peaches in TWICE A TEXAS BRIDE.

Rand Sinclair dearly loves peach pie so he keeps lots of canned peaches on hand. The story takes place in the dead of winter and canned ones are all that’s available.

Later in the story, he and Callie Quinn, the woman he finds hiding in a run-down outbuilding, take in a three-month-old orphaned babe. When the outlaw Nate Fleming has them under siege, Rand can’t get out to milk the cow. The only option for the babe is a couple of cans of evaporated milk.


TwiceTexasBride smWith the ticking clock on the mantel loud in the room, Callie sat by the window with the Winchester propped on her lap. Rand occupied a chair nearby at the other window with another rifle and his Colt. Toby played quietly with the babe. When they spoke, they kept their voices low, as though Nate and his brothers might hear and charge into the house with guns blazing.

Two o’clock in the afternoon came and went.

No sign of anyone on the road. The gunfire outside had ceased.

No one moved. It was like they hung suspended over a wide chasm and any sound or movement might send them plummeting over the edge.

Though Toby didn’t complain, she knew the toll this took on the six-year-old. Feeling responsible somehow for what his father did, he carried a huge weight on his young shoulders. What was worse, she didn’t know anything she could say that would lift his burden.

Three o’clock.

After Callie changed the baby, she and Rand went to the kitchen. While he kept watch, she made another bottle using the canned milk. The remaining can on the shelf sent ripples of concern through Callie. How would they stifle Wren’s hungry cries when they ran out? With the bottle in hand, she and Rand returned to the parlor where she fed the babe and put her down for a nap.

“Is anyone hungry? Rand, I could fix you something.”

His blue eyes met hers. “Not hungry, darlin’, but Toby probably is.”

Toby looked up from the floor where he was stared dully at some carved wooden soldiers. He shook his head.


“I need to check your bandage. See if you’re bleeding, Rand.” Callie moved to the chair where he sat. Some blood had seeped through the wrappings. She gathered more clean cloths and rebound the wound.

Four o’clock and still no sign of anyone on the road. Callie’s nerves couldn’t take much more of this endless wait. The sun would go down soon. When it did, Nate and his brothers would mount an assault. Would they be able to hold them off by themselves?

At five o’clock with no glimpse of Cooper Thorne, Rand stood and put his coat on.

“Where are you going?” Callie’s heart pounded with fear.

He pulled her against him. “Cooper isn’t coming, darlin’. No one’s coming and I can’t huddle inside this house like a jittery jackrabbit. Wren needs milk. We’re almost out of the canned stuff.”

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Canned foods are so common today. Which do you use most? For a chance to win a copy of TWICE A TEXAS BRIDE leave a comment. Winner gets to choose either e-book or print.


Canned Foods on the Frontier? — 4 Comments

  1. I use canned vegetables and fruits mostly. I would rather have fresh but we can’t always keep the fresh ones around.

    • Hi Quilt Lady! Thank you so much for stopping by to see the new blog. I’m always thrilled to see you. I’m sure most of the people on the frontier would agree with you on the subject of canned foods. Fresh is always so much tastier. I keep canned goods on hand but if I can have fresh, that’s what I want.

      Thank you again for coming, sweet lady!

  2. A few months back I was watching a program about the early artic explorers in Canada. Their ship became stuck in the ice and they lived on canned goods. Unfortunately, they died of lead poisoning from the cans used to contain the food. Well, what the heck?
    For the life of me, I cannot recall this movie with John Wayne. I can’t imagine I could have possibly missed one. Canned milk was a definite staple in the 1930’s and 1940’s. People depended on food they could store during the times fresh food wasn’t available. My dad used canned milk in his coffee and an older couple I knew used it to make ice cream. I even remember making snow cream with canned milk. Both my mother and grandmother were canning maniacs (not in cans though.)
    Quite an interesting blog, Linda. I wish you every success with TWICE A TEXAS BRIDE (glad I have a copy, too.)

    • Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for coming by. I’m very happy to see you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post about early canned foods. I’m sure lead poisoning was a hazard for sure since no one knew much about metals and that sort of thing. Even when someone died they often never knew what killed them. They had a lot to learn about a good many things. I keep a supply of canned foods on hand but as I was telling Quilt Lady I really prefer fresh veggies. They’re great to have in a pinch though. My mother always kept Carnation milk on hand. She used it a lot in gravy, ice cream, and candies, plus many other things. I never use it. But when I make fudge, I buy the Eagle Brand milk.

      That movie “3 Godfathers” was an excellent one of John Wayne’s. It had a lot of funny scenes with the baby. They fought over who was going to take care of it. All three wanted to be the primary caretaker and doted on the little thing. I can’t remember the ending though. I think they ended up keeping it.

      Thank you for your best wishes for Twice a Texas Bride. I’m hoping readers will like it. I really hope you do. 🙂