Christmas in Nauvoo Food / Ideas

From Mary K. Stout, “From a Nauvoo Pantry,” New Era, Dec 1973, 42

Christmas in Nauvoo was not celebrated in our traditional gift-giving manner, nor was it a particularly festive occasion. It would be many years before English immigrants would introduce carols, yule logs, and presents into the Puritan tradition of members of the Church.

The first recorded glimpse of a celebration is written on Christmas 1843 by the Prophet Joseph Smith. The entry marks a new outlook among Mormons toward the day:

“This morning, about one o’clock, I was aroused by an English sister, Lettice Rushton, … accompanied by three of her sons, with their wives, and her two daughters, with their husbands, and several of their neighbors, singing, ‘Mortals, Awake With Angels Join,’ which caused a thrill of pleasure to run through my soul. All of my family and boarders arose to hear the serenade, and I felt to thank my Heavenly Father for their visit, and blessed them in the name of the Lord. They also visited my brother Hyrum, who was awakened from his sleep. He arose and went out of doors. He shook hands with and blessed each one of them in the name of the Lord, and said that at first he thought a cohort of angels had come to visit him, it was such heavenly music to him.”

Later in the day the Prophet wrote the following took place:

“A large party supped at my house, and spent the evening in music, dancing, etc. in a most cheerful and friendly manner.”

Since that time many of our traditions associated with Christmas bring to mind special foods that are served to friends and relatives. Yet there is no record that the Saints in Nauvoo prepared any uniquely Yuletide treats. Most likely a Christmas dinner would have consisted of the same items available during the rest of the winter. Households usually had in supply flour, sugar, potatoes, beans, corn, salt, and dried meats and fruits. Lacking precise measuring utensils, the housewives of Nauvoo were accustomed to adding a “pinch of salt” or a “handful of sugar.” Oven temperatures were tested by the feel of heat upon the hand, and baked bread had a certain look as well as texture when ready to be removed from the oven. A big favorite of early members was ice cream that they made from snow, sugar and a little flavoring. Candy was made from molasses; and currants were worked into delicious jellies and jams.

In a more traditional sense citizens in Nauvoo might be treated to recipes such as potato pancakes, applesauce cake, ginger cookies, and rusk, a cornbread cereal. All recipes require the basic ingredients common in Nauvoo homes and have been adapted to modern-day ovens for New Era readers. However, today’s grocery prices may not correspond with those listed in the Nauvoo Neighbor. The going rates in St. Louis included cornmeal, 25 cents per bushel; ginger, 11 cents per pound; lard, 3 1/2 cents per pound; and dried apples, 50 cents per bushel.

Extra gingery cookies, very taterish pancakes, surprisingly moist cake, and super crunchy cereal will invoke the pioneer spirit in you, your friends, and your family.

Potato Pancakes

4 large potatoes
3 eggs, beaten until light
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Peel, wash, and grate the potatoes. Add the eggs and seasoning to potatoes. Use no baking powder or flour. Fry in hot drippings (ham, bacon, or sausage). Have pan very hot as for hotcakes.


Make cornmeal bread according to your favorite recipe. After it has cooled, allow to dry for several days then bake slowly in a warmed oven until it is thoroughly dry and slightly browned. Grate it on a coarse grater or crumble it with a rolling pin. It can be eaten with cream and sugar, or with hot milk and honey poured over it. This makes a tasty, quick mush. (Recipe used by the Nahum Curtis family at Nauvoo.)

Ginger Snaps

1 tablespoon ginger
1 tablespoon lard (shortening may be used)
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
3 cups flour

Blend together all of the above ingredients except the flour. Gradually stir in the flour—will be a very thick consistency. Knead until dough is soft. Roll thin and cut into squares. Sprinkle top with sugar. Bake at 375° for six to seven minutes.

Applesauce Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup apple sauce
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 cup chopped raisins (optional)
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Cream butter and sugar; add whole egg and apple sauce. Beat well. Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture; add raisins and nuts. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.

Other Information

If you’re planning a Christmas in Nauvoo event (styled after the A Night in Bethlehem activity, you could include with it a hasty exit — the saints were packing and leaving for the West at Christmas of 1845.

IF YOU DO THIS ACTIVITY please comment below and tell us how it went! Sounds like fun!

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