On the Oregon Trail: Molasses Butter

The Oregon Trail stretched from the Missouri River to the Oregon territory. During the Great Migration of 1843, settlers from as far as New England traveled its two thousand miles, hoping for a new, more prosperous life in the Oregon territory. They traveled in convoys, and long lines of wagons pulled by weary oxen dotted the trail in an otherwise desolate landscape.

A high degree of organization was necessary during the journey. Danger lurked around every corner: wild animals, famine, hostile natives and unpredictable weather all threatened to disrupt the convoy’s westward progress. The convoy’s leader, usually an official elected by democratic vote at the beginning of the journey, decided on the safest camping sites and kept order among the convoy’s many families.

The Oregon Trail

At night the convoys stopped to rest. Camp fires festooned with cauldrons and pots burned brightly against the dark night of the American wilderness as the settlers gathered to prepare their suppers. The meals were meager, but filling — salt pork, flour, beans and cornmeal made up the bulk of the provisions on the Oregon Trail. When cream was available, the settlers churned it into butter in the wagons as they rocked along their rough, uneven route.

Wagon Train on the Oregon Trail
Wagons along the Oregon Trail

The settlers frequently mixed their fresh-churned butter with molasses and eggs, creating a delightful, spicy spread for cornbread, another food popular on the trail. Here’s a recipe for the molasses butter enjoyed on the Oregon Trail. Serve it with a hearty cornbread or another variety of quick bread, like banana or pumpkin.

Oregon Trail Molasses Butter

1 cup molasses
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Pinch baking soda
2 eggs, well-beaten

Mix molasses, butter, nutmeg, soda and a pinch of salt in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over low heat. Beat eggs in a separate bowl. Stir moderate amount of hot mixture into eggs. Return the egg mixture to the saucepan. Cook and stir till thick, about one minute. Chill. Makes 1 1/2 cups.


Baumgarthuber, Christine. Fermented Foods: The History and Science of a Microbiological Wonder. Reaktion Books, 2021.

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One thought on “On the Oregon Trail: Molasses Butter

  1. When I was a little girl, my best friends Mom used to make this at breakfast but they called it duck butter. I don't think she put nutmeg in hers though and I wouldn't eat it. Now I wished I had tried it. Maybe I'll make it some fine morning when I make some good ole' biscuits to drizzle it on. Thanks for the recipe.


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