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Diet before the American Revolution

When colonists arrived in America, they planted familiar crops from the Old World with varying degrees of success and raised domestic animals for meat, leather, and wool, as they had done in Britain.  The colonists faced difficulties owing to different climate and other environmental factors, but trade with Britain, continental Europe, and the West Indies allowed the American colonists to create a cuisine similar to the various regional British cuisines.

Local plants and animals offered tantalizing alternatives to the Old World diet, but the colonists held on to old traditions and tended to use these items in the same fashion as they did their Old World equivalents (or even ignore them if more familiar foods were available).  The American colonial diet varied depending on region, with local cuisine patterns established by the mid-18th century.

A preference for British cooking methods is apparent in cookbooks brought to the New World.  There was a general disdain for French cookery, even among the French Huguenots in South Carolina and French Canadians.  One cookbook common in the colonies, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah Glasse, held the French style of cookery in disdain, stating "the blind folly of this age that would rather be imposed on by a French booby, than give encouragement to a good English cook!"

She does add French recipes to the text but speaks out flagrantly against the dishes, "...think(ing) it an odd jumble of trash."  The French and Indian War (1754–1764) reinforced anti-French sentiment.  The conflict strengthened an age-old English distrust of the French, and led the English to deport French-speaking people, as in the forced migration of the Acadians to Louisiana. The Acadian French brought a profound French influence to the diet of settlers in Louisiana, but had little influence outside of that region.

Northern colonies
A striking characteristic of the diet in New England was the seasonal availability of food. While farming in the southern colonies took place for most of the year, northern growing seasons were more restricted, limiting the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables. However, the coastal colonists' close proximity to the ocean gave them a bounty of fresh fish to supplement their diet year-round, especially in the north.

Wheat, the grain primarily used in English bread, was almost impossible to grow in the North, and imports of wheat were far from cost productive. Substitutes included corn (maize) in the form of cornmeal. The johnnycake was generally considered a poor substitute for wheaten bread, but was accepted by residents in both the northern and southern colonies.

Animal proteins
Game hunting was a familiar beneficial skill to the colonists when they immigrated to the New World. Most northern colonists depended upon hunting, whether they hunted themselves or purchased game from others. As a method of obtaining protein for consumption, hunting was preferred over animal husbandry as domestic animals were expensive and more work was required to defend domestic animals against natural predators, American Indians or the French. Commonly hunted game included deer, bear, buffalo and turkey. The larger parts of the animals were roasted and served with currant and other sauces, while smaller portions went into soups, stews, sausages, pies and pasties.

Venison was the most popular game. The plentiful meat was often potted or jerked, and its tripe was popular as well. Venison was especially popular during the Thanksgiving season. Buffalo was an important protein source until roughly 1770, when the animals were over-hunted in the eastern United States. Bear were numerous in the northern colonies, especially in New York, and many considered the leg meat to be a delicacy. Bear meat was frequently jerked as a preservation method.

In addition to game, mutton was consumed from time to time. Keeping sheep provided wool to the household, and when a sheep reached an age when it was unmanageable for wool production; it could be harvested as mutton. Sheep were originally introduced to the Americas through the Spanish in Florida. In the north, the Dutch and English also introduced several varieties of sheep. The casual English practice of animal husbandry allowed sheep to roam free, consuming a variety of forage. Forage–based diets produce meat with a characteristically strong, gamey flavor and a tough consistency, which requires aging and slow cooking to tenderize.

Fats and oils derived from animals were used to cook many colonial foods. Rendered pork fat, especially from bacon, was the most popular cooking medium. Pork fat was used more often in the southern colonies than the northern colonies as the Spanish introduced pigs earlier to the south. Many homes kept a deerskin sack filled with bear oil for use in cooking. Solidified bear fat resembled shortening. The colonists enjoyed butter in cooking as well, but it was rare prior to the American Revolution, as cattle were not yet plentiful.

Colonists near the shores in New England often dined on fish, crustaceans and other sea animals. Colonists ate large quantities of turtle, a delicacy also exportable to Europe. Cod was enjoyed in both fresh and salted form, salted cod being suitable for long-term storage. Lobsters proliferated in the waters as well, and were commonplace in the New England diet. Some complained about dining on lobster and codfish too often and they were even used as pig fodder. The highest quality cod was usually dried and salted, however, and exported to the Mediterranean in exchange for fruits not grown in American colonies.

Fruits and vegetables
A number of vegetables were grown in the northern colonies, including turnips, onions, cabbage, carrots, and parsnips, along with pulses and legumes. These vegetables stored well through the colder months. Other vegetables, such as cucumbers, could be salted or pickled for preservation. Agricultural success in the northern colonies came from following the seasons, with consumption of fresh greens only occurring during summer months. In addition to vegetables, a large number of seasonal fruits were grown.

Fruits not eaten in season were often preserved as jam, wet sweetmeats, dried, or cooked into pies that could be frozen during the winter months. Some vegetables originating in the New World, including beans, squashes, and corn, were readily adopted and grown by the European colonists. Pumpkins and gourds grew well in the northern colonies and were often used for fodder for animals in addition to human consumption.

Hard apple cider was by far the most common alcoholic beverage available to colonists.  This is because apple trees could be grown locally throughout the colonies, unlike grapes and grain which did not grow well at all in New England. Cider was also easier to produce than beer or wine, so it could be made by farmers for their own consumption. Since it was not imported, it was much more affordable to the average colonist than beer or wine.  Apple trees were planted in both Virginia and the Massachusetts Bay Colony as early as 1629.

Most of these trees were not grafted, and thus produced apples too bitter or sour for eating; they were planted expressly for making cider.  Before the Revolution, New Englanders consumed large quantities of rum and beer as maritime trade provided relatively easy access to the goods needed to produce these items.  Rum was the distilled spirit of choice as molasses, the main ingredient, was readily available from trade with the West Indies. 

In the continent's interior, colonists drank whiskey, as they had ready access to corn and rye but did not have good access to sugar cane.  However, up until the Revolution, many colonists considered whiskey to be a coarse alcohol unfit for human consumption, believing that it caused the poor to become raucous and disorderly.

Beer was such an important consumable to Americans that they would closely watch the stocks of barley held by farmers to ensure quality beer production. In John Adams' correspondence with his wife Abigail, he asked about the quality of barley crops to ensure adequate supply for the production of beer for himself and their friends. However, hops, essential to production of beer, did not grow well in the colonies.

It only grew wild in the New World, and needed to be imported from England and elsewhere.  In addition to these alcohol-based products produced in America, merchants imported wine and brandy.  Beer was not only consumed for its flavor and alcohol content, but because it was safer to drink than water, which often harbored disease-causing microorganisms. Even children drank small beer.

Southern colonies
Unlike the north, the south did not have a central cultural origin or a single culinary tradition. The southern colonies were also more diverse in their agricultural products. Slaves and poor Europeans in the south shared a similar diet, based on many of the indigenous New World crops.

The rural poor often hunted and ate squirrel, opossum, rabbit, and other woodland animals. Salted or smoked pork often supplemented the vegetable diet. Those on the "rice coast" ate ample amounts of rice, while the southern poor and slaves used cornmeal in breads and porridges. Wheat was not an option for most poorer residents in the southern colonies.

The southern colonies can be culturally divided between the uplands and the lowlands, and this distinction is seen in diet and food preparation in the two regions. The diet of the uplands often included cabbage, string beans, white potatoes, while most affluent whites in the uplands avoided crops imported from Africa because they were associated with, and reflected the social inferiority of, black slaves.

Those who could grow or afford wheat often had biscuits on their table for breakfast, along with healthy portions of pork. Salted pork was a staple of any meal, as it was used in the preparations of vegetables for flavor, in addition to its direct consumption as a protein.

The coastal lowlands, particularly surrounding Charleston and New Orleans and which also included much of the Acadian French regions of Louisiana and the surrounding area, more varied diet was heavily influenced by Africans and Caribbeans, as well as the French. Rice played a large part in the diet. In addition, unlike the uplands, the lowlands' protein came mostly from coastal seafood and game meats. Much of the diet involved the use of peppers, as it still does today.

 Although the English had an inherent disdain for French food as well as many of the native foods, the French had no such disdain for indigenous foodstuffs. In fact, they expressed an appreciation for native ingredients and dishes.

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