© 2023 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

As It Was: Cook Prepares Sourdough Starter for Bicentennial Wagon Train

How does a cook separated from his kitchen feed 40 hungry people while traveling in the mountains in a covered wagon train?

That was Ken Zimmerlee’s challenge in 1976 when he agreed to be the cook for the Bicentennial Wagon Train that went west from Keno, Ore., across the Cascade Mountains to Jacksonville.

Zimmerlee began planning a year in advance with a sourdough starter.  He knew the older the starter was, the better the hotcakes and biscuits would be on the trip.  He also asked hunters to donate some venison and rabbit meat, which he froze for the outing.  The stick-to-the-ribs menu was pretty much stews and breads, hot in the evening and cold for lunch.

He also collected large coffee pots and fry pans for cooking over open fires.

At the time, Zimmerlee was a furniture refinisher, but he had been a Navy cook and a chef at several restaurants responsible for preparing hundreds of meals a day.

When asked why he signed on, he said, “Fifty years from now, I can say I was on a wagon train.”

Source: "Wagon train cook plans food that sticks to the ribs." Medford Mail Tribune. This undated article is in the “Applegate Bicentennial Wagon Train” vertical file at the Southern Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.