European American Foodways

The foodways developed by British settlers in North America reflect two factors: the immediate impact of their new homes and the lasting impact of their own traditions. Although new foods had a profound change on many colonists, the need to maintain familiarity remained the stronger influence. Whenever possible, they tried to introduce the British crops they were accustomed to. When this was not possible, they adapted their own cooking methods to the new ingredients. As a result, distinctive regional styles of food preparation quickly emerged, often mimicking regional styles home in Britain. The Puritans who settled Massachusetts came largely from East Anglia, in the southeastern corner of England. Although they were known for a simple diet, diaries and letters indicate a broad interest in the food on their tables. They were largely prosperous and well educated. Living so close to Europe, they were also likely exposed to many different styles of cooking. Unlike in other parts of England, the primary method of preparing food in East Anglia was baking. This tradition is evident in many of the New England foods that first emerged in the colonial period: beans baked overnight for the Sabbath, pies, and breads. Most villages built standing ovens to be used by residents too poor to have bake ovens built inside their own chimneys. As wheat did not grow well in New England, a common bread was thirded bread, made from a blend of wheat, corn, and rye, designed to stretch the wheat as far as possible. Other foods adapted and adopted by settlers in New England include maple syrup, cranberries, squash, mussels, lobster, and codfish. Foodways in the Chesapeake region of Virginia and Maryland were less homogeneous than in New England. Both colonies were voluntarily settled by wealthy aristocrats and poor indentured servants and involuntarily settled by African slaves. The planters’ families came predominantly from southwestern England, a region known for its fried and simmered foods, a tradition reflected in Virginia’s fried chicken, for example. Once the colonies were established, the planters were also wealthy enough to afford to import whatever foodstuffs were not immediately available, including wheat flour, spices, and wines. New World foods such as the potato did not appear on wealthy families’ tables until after they had become popular in England and Europe. In contrast, indentured servants ate a diet far more reflective of the region they lived in, based heavily on local corn and pork. While pigs were introduced to the Chesapeake, the meat was easily processed through salting and/or smoking, an important necessity in the Southern heat. Slaves had a similar diet, supplemented whenever possible with whatever African foodstuffs could be obtained. Examples of these foods are yams, okra, plantains, black-eyed peas, and watermelon. In time, all of these foods became integral to planter-class diets perhaps a reflection of who was doing the cooking. The first English settlers in the mid-Atlantic region were predominately Quakers from northern Britain and the Midlands. Like the Puritans, the Quakers placed a strong emphasis on simplicity in their diet. However, also like the Puritans, the Quakers brought traditions of their own to the New World. Boiling was the most popular way of cooking in northern England, probably a reflection on a region where a fire would be kept burning for warmth for long periods of time. Steamed puddings and dumplings were common, and an entire meal could be prepared in one pot. Soup provided a liquid base, pudding was tied into a bag and lowered into the soup, and vegetables could be tied into a bag or placed in a jug and suspended as well. Foodways in the region also reflected a strong influx of German, Dutch, and Scandinavian colonists. All three groups introduced an emphasis on spiced, sweet foods largely unknown in northern England. The modern cookie stems from Dutch and German tradition; English settlers were more apt to prepare a cake or pudding for a dessert. A popular means of preserving fruit in the Mid-Atlantic was by boiling it down to a thick sauce called a butter or cheese. Apples, plums, pears, and lemons were all treated in this way. This method fits in well with the northern England tradition of boiling; however, it was also common among the German settlers. It is likely that the two groups exchanged variations on this theme. Initially, French traders, explorers, and missionaries brought very few traditions to North America. They were predominantly interested in gaining furs or converts, and they recognized that the most effective means of doing this was to live among the Native American tribes. In time, French communities developed in Quebec and on Cape Breton Island. These colonies could be loosely compared with the Chesapeake region: the wealthy could afford to live like their counterparts at home in France, while the poor learned to adapt to eating local foods. Salt cod was a constant staple, and potatoes, able to withstand weeks of fog and rain, became another. The northeastern soup known as chowder derived from French settlers on Cape Breton. The French word for a soup pot or cauldron is chaudi¨re, and, on the northern coast of France in the seventeenth century, a fish stew was known as a chaudree. Early chowders were made with salt cod, onions, potatoes, and sea biscuits, ingredients readily available in maritime Canada. In time, chowder also gained milk to become the dish known today as New England fish chowder. After the Acadian expulsion of the late eighteenth century, many French colonists settled in Louisiana. There, the proximity to South and Central America led to the development of the Cajun culinary tradition, using local tomatoes, chiles, and cooking techniques. The word Cajun was derived originally from the word Acadian, but very little Cajun cooking resembled the Acadian tradition brought from Canada. Despite a long and flourishing culinary tradition of their own at home, French settlers showed a greater willingness to experiment with new flavors and ideas. Despite these regional distinctions, there were similarities in foodways all over the Atlantic world. Increased trade had brought a new range of ingredients to England and Europe. Popular dishes in the seventeenth century still showed a medieval sensibility, mixing as many flavors as possible together. Gervase Markham’s 1623 Country Contentments includes a recipe for chewet pie, calling for chopped chicken, suet, currants, dates, raisins, mace, cinnamon, ground cloves, grated orange rind, sugar, and candied caraway seeds. Similar recipes are found in other books of the period. Vegetables were rarely eaten raw and were usually combined with other ingredients. Breads were usually leavened with barm, a foam found on the top of barrels of beer. European settlers brought these traditions with them to the New World, adapting them to local ingredients where needed. American New Eating Habits By the end of the eighteenth century, increased trade had made exotic ingredients even more widely available. Cookbooks also had become an important part of English and German life, making it easier for a housewife or palace chef to attempt a new dish. Trade had brought greater prosperity and wealth as well. A larger middle class was slowly emerging on both sides of the Atlantic, and there was also an increased emphasis on gentility. On the eve of the American Revolution, colonists and Europeans alike longed for matched plates, tea and liquid chocolate services, and the ability to serve people their own food individually, rather than from a common dish. At same time, food also reflected the influences of the Great Enlightenment and the move toward a classical simplicity. While spices were now more widely available, emphasis was placed on a single flavor rather than several. A chicken pilau recipe from the manuscript cookbook of Mrs. Frances Bland Tucker Coulter in Virginia calls for rice, butter, ground cloves, chicken, bacon, and pepper. A transition toward simplicity also was created by the American Revolution. Boycotting imported tea, sugar, and other goods, patriotic colonists relied more heavily on replacements available in North America. While citizens of the United States did go back to drinking tea after the war, the emphasis on relatively simple fare continued into the nineteenth century. Abigail B. Chandler See also: Agriculture; Alcohol; Coffee; Columbian Exchange; Corn; Fish and Fisheries; Grain; Inns and Taverns (Public Houses); Kitchens, Colonial; Livestock; Sugar; Tea; Document: Colonial Recipe for Apple Tansey (1754). Bibliography Baker, James. “English Yeoman Foodways at Plimoth Plantation.” In The Plimoth Plantation New England Cookery Book, edited by Malabar Hornblower. Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1990. Black, Maggie. A Taste of History: 10,000 Years of Food in Britain. London: British Museum, 1993. Calloway, Colin G. First Peoples. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999. Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Near a Thousand Tables. New York: Free Press, 2002. Fischer, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Slive, Daniel J. A Harvest Gathered: Food in the New World. Providence, RI: John Carter Brown Library, 1989. Super, John C. Food, Conquest, and Colonization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988. Tannahil, Reay. Food in History. New York: Stein and Day, 1973. Colonial Foodways : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History … Mapq8Louisiana’s Food Traditions: An Insider’s Guide Mapq8Colonial Foodways : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History … Mapq8

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