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Pioneers such as Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea and York can inspire us today

Sunday, April 27, 2003

By Suzanne Martinson, Post-Gazette Food Editor

It might have been the Lewis and Hooke expedition. When Capt. Meriwether Lewis was in Western Pennsylvania in 1803, he recruited Lt. Moses Hooke as a backup, in case William Clark decided against making the trip to the Pacific Northwest.

You know how it is. When you're taking a long trip, things don't always go as planned. Lewis was ready to take off from Pittsburgh, but his keelboat wasn't ready on July 20 as promised.

Reward yourself with pie

Leslie Mansfield was so enthusiastic about the Maple Sugar Pie that we had to try it. Aside from a fresh raspberry pie made out of season, we've never had a $20 pie before. It was worth it. Leslie's right -- the intense maple flavor cuts the sweetness.

The cookbook author says President Jefferson had hoped that American-made maple sugar would replace cane sugar from the Caribbean and that would spur the end of slavery in America.

That didn't happen, but Maple Sugar Pie is a way to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

What makes maple sugar so expensive? It's one step beyond maple syrup and if you've seen maple trees tapped and the boiling that goes on, you know it's a precious commodity. Prices vary.

Among places to buy maple sugar:

Soergel's Orchards, Wexford.

Whole Foods, East Liberty.

East End Food Co-Op, Point Breeze.

Mail order: Maple Grove Farms of Vermont (1-802-273-3330) or Maple Syrup Producers at www.PennsylvaniaMapleSyrup.com

-- Suzanne Martinson


The boat builder made plenty of promises, but according to research collected by the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, "Lewis discovered that the man contracted to build the boat was a liar and a drunk. However, although a poor businessman and of questionable character, the builder was obviously skilled, for the keelboat, once it was launched (in Pittsburgh), performed magnificently on its long journey down the Ohio, up the Missouri to the Mandan villages (now central North Dakota) and back to St. Louis."

You won't find the "strategic forks of the Ohio" or Pittsburgh mentioned in most schools' history of the expedition or shown in encyclopedia maps. They put the starting place for what eventually would be called the Corps of Discovery near St. Louis. But we do have a stake here. President Thomas Jefferson chose Pittsburgh as the assembly and launch point -- all purchases of supplies and trade goods were directed here.

Lewis recruited two members of the expedition, John Coulter and George Shannon, here, and there was another addition to the crew as well -- a Newfoundland dog named Seaman (not Scannon, as recorded by many historians). Clark said yes to Lewis on Aug. 3, 1803.

We don't want to get in an argument with the historians about where the Lewis and Clark Expedition really started, but my husband, Ace, and I do know where it ended. We visited Fort Clatsop near Astoria, Ore., this year. It's one thing to see what we've come to think of as the "end of the trail" on the Columbia River on a grade school map. It's quite another to see a full-scale reproduction of it in person.

We toured the fort in mid-January, and as it tends to do at that time of year, it was raining. Looking on the sunny side, the bad weather was just another way for us to glimpse what the explorers had endured. It had rained every day but 12 of the 106 days they wintered at Fort Clatsop.

"We know what that's like," said Leslie Mansfield, an Oregon native who read the eight unabridged volumes of the explorers' journals and studied more than 200 books about the 1800s to write "The Lewis & Clark Cookbook." She grew up in Lake Oswego, a Portland suburb not far from where Ace and I met, in Gresham, Ore.

The January day of our visit, we were the first car in the interpretive center parking lot, but National Park Service staff members expect a huge spike in visitors this summer and beyond for the bicentennial celebration. It was a beautiful spot despite the drizzle. Thick with evergreens, Fort Clatsop is a study in ferns and deep shadows. We took a quiet walk to the slough, stopping to step into a dugout canoe along the path. The gift shop, filled with interesting Lewis and Clark memorabilia and books, had Leslie's cookbook (Celestial Arts; $17.95).

It was in November 1805 when the troupe first sighted the Pacific Ocean near what is now McGowan, Wash. After a few days they crossed the Columbia River to make their winter camp in Oregon.

The expedition, which then included 45 men, had left St. Louis on May 14, 1804. Toussaint Charbonneau, an interpreter, and his Shoshone wife, Sacajawea, and their infant son joined the party at Fort Mandan, and they started west April 7, 1805. At Fort Clatsop, Sacajawea's family had their own room in the log stockade, which was 50 feet square with a parade ground in the middle.

The original fort has been carefully duplicated by historians using the actual floor-plan dimensions that Clark had drawn on the elk-hide cover of his fieldbook. The fort was named for the friendly Clatsop Indians, who traded their roots, otter skins, seal and elk meat, fish and canoes for the gifts the Corps had brought west. Clark called the Indians close bargainers, and the explorers soon ran out of things to trade.

Lewis and Clark shared a cramped room, where they updated their extensive journals and maps. Nothing like the end of the trail to inspire travelers to wonder if there might not be a faster route home.

It was a roof over their heads, but they were miserable. "Clothing rotted and fleas invested the furs and hides of the bedding. So bad was this pest that Lewis and Clark wrote often of a lack of a full night's sleep," according to the Park Service brochure. "The dampness gave nearly everyone rheumatism or colds, and many suffered from other diseases, which Clark treated vigorously." There were dislocated shoulders, injured legs and back pains.

When we visited, lichen and moss hung from evergreens -- hemlock, spruce, cedar, Douglas fir -- in the drizzle. The fort's seven rooms seemed bleak, and Ace and I wondered how they concentrated. What were they thinking?

Their Christmas Day dinner was spoiled elk, and they toasted with a glass of water. Their deprivation made us feel a little guilty as we drove to nearby Astoria, Ore., for a tasty breakfast at the Pig 'N Pancake.

After the initial hungry days, George Drouillard earned high praise for his hunting skills at Fort Clatsop. The group killed and ate 131 elk and 20 deer, as well as an otter, beaver and raccoon. When spring approached, the elk took to the hills and hunting was harder. Meanwhile, their guard checked the meat room every 24 hours for spoilage.

It didn't take them as long to retrace their trail because, of course, they knew where they were going. Coming, they were never quite sure. That's why they're called trailbreakers.

The return trip wasn't without mishap, however. One of Lewis' men, who was blind in one eye and nearsighted in the other, mistook him for an elk and shot him in the buttocks. Was it the buckskins Lewis was wearing?

The National Park site is about 15 miles from the Pacific coast, where a rotating crew of three were sent to boil sea water for salt. They were able to make three quarts a day, enough for the return trip.

We all want to feel a part of history, and when we lived in the Pacific Northwest, the tourist town of Seaside, Ore., proclaimed itself as the end of the trail for Lewis and Clark. It wasn't. The Salt Works site near Seaside is part of the Fort Clatsop brochure, but definitely as a side trip.

This bicentennial is something everybody can feel proud of, and I don't blame anybody for wanting to jump on the Corps of Discovery bandwagon, or in this instance, keelboat. When I lived in Oregon, I was thrilled when our gravel road was deemed part of the Oregon Trail, and a wagon trail came through our town of Marmot (four houses) as part of its anniversary.

What Lewis and Clark and the pioneers who followed accomplished was breathtaking. Those were the days when your skills were a matter of life and death.

One thing is sure. The trips must have been a real leveler. The black man called York may have been Clark's slave, but crossing the plains, climbing mountains and navigating rivers made equals of them all. (Clark freed York, who had carried a gun and worked alongside the other explorers, 10 years after the expedition.)

York, the first black man the Indians had ever seen, and Sacajawea and her baby made a big impression on tribes along the way.

Maybe pioneers such as these were the reason the Western states were the first to demand voting rights for women. It'd be hard to argue a woman was too dumb to vote when she'd been by your side on a raging river or pushing a wagon up the Oregon Trail's Laurel Hill. The trees on this 45-degree slope not far from Marmot still have rope burns where pioneers tethered their wagons to lower them down the hill.

As Leslie Mansfield said about the only woman in the Lewis and Clark party: "And she did it with a baby on her back."

We still owe them, too. Neither Sacajawea nor York got paid.

Maple Sugar Pie

  • 1 pound (2 3/4 cups) maple sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 10-inch unbaked pie shell
  • French vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the maple sugar and flour with a fork until blended. Add the melted butter and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the half-and-half and beat for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Pour the maple sugar mixture into the unbaked pie shell and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the custard has almost set but is still a little soft in the middle. The filling will continue to firm up as it cools. Serve with French vanilla ice cream. (PG tested recipe.)
"The Lewis & Clark Cookbook" by Leslie Mansfield

Sources: Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, Leslie Mansfield's "Lewis & Clark Cookbook," and Official Guide of the National Park Service's Fort Clatsop

Food editor Suzanne Martinson can be reached at smartinson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1760.

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