Ash Cakes and Honey Drizzle for Pioneer Day

Bread in fireHere in Utah, we are coming up on a state holiday: Pioneer Day. We celebrate it pretty much like the 4th of July, except that basically no one but government employees get the day off work.

There is an old wives tale that when the Mormon pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley, there was only one tree in the entire valley.  It’s an obvious exaggeration, but it gives a pretty vivid picture of the barren desert conditions in the place they decided to call home.  They spent their first winter here with no crops, no real homes, and very few supplies.

I decided to celebrate Pioneer Day with a recipe that is a nod to the sparse conditions and limited means with which the pioneers lived.  I made this simple flour-and-water dough and cooked it right in the fire.  It’s a great treat for camping, because it is easy to make and takes just a few minutes to cook.

While you’re mixing up the dough and stoking the fire, let me share my favorite pioneer story of all time.

fire cakes

I should preface this by telling you that most pioneer stories are heartwarming tales of overcoming hardship and triumph through perseverance.  They are horrible and heartbreaking, and basically always have happy endings.  This tale, on the other hand…

This is a story from Robb’s family.  An ancestor walked across the plains with her children, and they were close to starving by the time they made it to Salt Lake.  She came across a recently dead buffalo, and thought it might still be safe to eat.  She was worried for the safety of her children, so she took a few bites of the meat herself to be sure it was good.

And?  It was not.  She became violently ill, and died a few days later.  The End.

ash bread

As sad as it is, this story makes me laugh every time I hear it.  It’s so horrible, and really captures that Life’s Hard And Then You Die culture.

Another random and only mildly interesting fact about Utah:  it’s nickname is The Beehive State.  Bees have long been associated with hard work and sharing the load.  The word “deseret” means “honey bee” and has been used by Mormons to remind them of a work ethic and a dedication to community.  And therefore, honey is obviously the perfect compliment to this Pioneer treat.

camping food


A few pointers about cooking in the fire:  Make a nice big hot fire, and let it cook down.  Glowing coals are best for cooking, and you’ll need to clear out the flaming stuff in order to get your dough into the coals.  Also, get yourself some long handled tongs to work with.  Because glowing coals are dang stinkin hot, and you don’t want your hand anywhere near that situation.  Lastly, if you’re worried about putting your food directly onto ashes, you needn’t be.  Ashes are all sterile, on account of the burning, and most of them will brush off after cooking.  You might want a toothbrush handy for the few that don’t, though!

Ash Cakes and Honey Drizzle for Pioneer Day
Cook time
Total time
A simple bread cooked in a fire.
Recipe type: Bread
Serves: 4
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 T. butter
  • ¼ cup water
  1. Mix all ingredients together. Using your hands, knead together into a ball of dough. Separate the ball into four parts.
  2. Flatten each part into a disc and place on glowing coals in a fire. When edges are dark, turn and cook the other side.
  3. Remove from fire, brush off any ashes, and serve hot with butter and honey.
If you're not into open flame cooking, you can also bake these. Mine took about 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, flipping once after about 10-12 minutes. You can also dress these up with some fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme.

If you enjoy this recipe, you might also enjoy:

Chocolate Sheet Cake with Cherry Topping from Jen’s Favorite Cookies

Special thanks to Deseret News for mentioning me their article about celebrating Pioneer Day.

9 thoughts on “Ash Cakes and Honey Drizzle for Pioneer Day

  1. Jen Post author

    It’s such a simple recipe, it has very little flavor, but since there’s no yeast, it’s more dense than regular bread. You could make it more interesting with some rosemary or thyme, but I kind of like it plain, with just some good butter and honey.

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  3. kitchenriffs

    I have to say, dire as that story was, I got a chuckle out of it too – for the same reason you did. I’ve actually seen a similar recipe for this, though it’s been years. Maybe in a Boy Scout cookbook or something? Not something I’ve ever made, you you’ve brought back the memory to me – when I was younger I always thought this was such a cool recipe. Maybe I need to build a fire . . .;-) I think the oven method is easier. Thanks for this.

    1. June Vallyon

      Probably, here in New Zealand we call that a damper, at Girl Guides we rolled it around a stick and roasted it over the embers – you don’t get cinders on it that way. Be careful in your choice of a stick, some of the plants around here are poisonous. And many of our pioneers survived on “damper and (strong) billy tea.” a damper needs to be eaten immediately, preferably half-drowned in butter.

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