Intoduction to Food & Society
Peasant Cookery
Restaurant History

Early American Food


Early 1600s’:
English colonists brought the gastronomic tastes of the British Isles to their new land. Although the settlers found a land of plenty filled with fish and game, crops cultivated by the Indians, wild mushrooms, cherries, nuts and berries, they almost starved to death during the harsh winter because they were not farmers, but merchants with no experience in the wilderness. They also refused to accept foods foreign to them, but, waited instead for shipments from England. When shipments failed to bring sufficient quantities of food, the colonists were forced to adopt some of the staples in the native Indian diet. when the Pilgrims were starving to death, Faced with the alternative of starving or eating the alien grain, corn, they ate corn. Indian beans and squash were also accepted because of their similarity to the European broad bean and an edible plant that resembled the American squash.

Legend has it that Squanto, the sole survivor of the Pautuxet Indians (the other members died of smallpox after having contact with the settlers) saved the Pilgrims by teaching them to grow corn. He showed them the Indian method of planting corn kernels in mounds with a fish head for fertilizer and using the corn stalks as supports for beans. In Virginia, Indians provided the Cavaliers (also from England) with enough food to survive the harsh winter.

In December, 1621, the Plymouth colony held the first Thanksgiving dinner, sharing with about 90 Native American such native foods as wild turkeys and pumpkin pies. 350 years later we are still placing these two foods on our tables to celebrate that historic occasion.

Lobster was considered food for the poor. Game, including deer, moose, partridge, pigeon, rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, and turkey roamed in abundance. Until the late 1800s, America sturgeon was so plentiful it was called “Albany Beef”. Those who lived by the Hudson and Delaware Rivers called it “Paddlefish”, and distributed it around the country to be served free in elegant hotels. Then, because of pollution and over-fishing, our caviar became almost extinct. Fortunately, an ecological awareness salvaged this magnificent fish to allow new breeding of high quality. This resurgence has brought sparkling caviar back to the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes, and Gulf of Mexico. America’s finest caviar now comes from various rivers and streams where the sturgeon and whitefish go to spawn. Gray to black with a soft, creamy texture bursting with a deep, appealing flavor, our best caviar can be as good as the Sevruga from the Caspian.


  Has its origin in Indian recipes. The clambake was created when the Narragansett and the Penobscot steamed their clams in beach pits lined with hot rocks and seaweed. Dried beans were simmered for days with maple syrup (forerunner of the Boston Baked Beans). Succotash comes from a stew common in the diet of Indians. It combined corn, beans, and fish or game. In the Northeast it was flavored with maple syrup. Other foods considered Northeast that emanated from the Indians are clam chowder, codfish balls, brown bread, corn pudding, pumpkin pie, and Indian pudding.
  Oysters – shrimp – blue crabs that washed onto the shores during tropical storms. From the woodlands and swamplands came fish, fowl, and game, including bear, deer, raccoon, and turtle. The Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole were accomplished farmers, growing beans, corn, and squash.
  Two corn dishes introduced to the settlers by the Indians:
HOMINY: Dried corn kernels with the hulls removed, and
GRITS: Coarsely ground hominy.
BRUNSWICK STEW: An adaptation of a southern Indian recipe for squirrel. The settlers also learned to season their food with the Indian plants and thicken their soups and stews with sassafras.
  American hunters followed the great herds of bison across the flat plains for sustenance. Bison was the staple meat for the plains. Pieces of meat, water, and sometimes vegetables were placed in a hole in the ground lined with cleaned buffalo skin. The stew was “stone boiled”. Rocks heated in the fire were added to the broth until the mixture was tender enough to eat. The liver and kidney were eaten raw at the time the bison was slaughtered. Extra meat was preserved by cutting it into very thin strips and dehydrating it in the sun or over the fire. This tough, dried meat would keep for several years and was known as “Jerked” buffalo, or “Jerky”. Most often it was shredded and mixed with buffalo fat and formed into cakes called “Pemmican”.
  The oldest Indian settlements in North American are in the southwest. These Indians were predominately vegetarians. Their staple was, once again, corn. Five different colors of corn were cultivated:
    White: ground into fine meal and used in gruels and bread
Yellow: Roasted and eaten off the ear
Red and Black: Used for special foods, such as the lacy, flat Hopi bread made from blue cornmeal, which was known as PIKI.
  Beans were the 2 nd most important crop, with the favorites being the Pinto and Tepary from Mexico. Squash and pumpkin seeds were used to flavor their food along with green and red chilies. When the Spanish came with their muskmelons (now called cantaloupe), the Indians began to grow it abundantly along with their yellow fleshed watermelons.
  A. Cornmeal is sprinkled around the bed of a patient to protect from further illness.
  B. Corn pollen was used to ease heart palpitations.
  C. Fine cornmeal is rubbed on children’s rashes.
  D. Navajo women drink blue cornmeal gruel to promote the production of milk after childbirth.
  E. Pueblo women use a mixture of water and corn fungus to cure irregular menstruation. A similar drink was given to Zuni women to speed childbirth and prevent postpartum hemorrhaging.
  The word, Eskimo, comes from the Algonquin Indian word, “Eskimantik”, meaning “Eater of raw flesh”. There was no need for learning the art of agriculture because food such as salmon was in abundance. Ocean mammals, otter, seal, whale, bear, elk, deer, and mountain goats were all plentiful.

Foods of west Africans from the 17th. and 18th. Centuries?
Foods of the slaves?
Foods of black south since emancipation?


Salt pork and corn most common to slaves.
Civil War: Food Scarce.

Chard, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens: These were replaced during the war with dockweed, dandelion greens, lamb’s quarter, marsh marigold leaves, milkweed, pigweed.


1. This is not a cooking class
2. Bill Gates Microsoft/Internet/Cozy Corners/Books/My computer today
3. Historically: Civilizations at their highest when art, music, literature, philosophy abound and are supported –

Despite a variety of ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations and secular interests, we in America, are individualistic peoples with the individual, rather than the family or society, as the center of consideration. Our US world view is described by others as individualistic, rational, and pragmatic. Self reliance and autonomy are expressed through self fulfillment , romantic love, personal achievement, and the use of time and money to satisfy our individual desires. This individualism is especially expressed in our eating habits. We often consume, not because we are hungry, but to offer reward for achievement, to offer comfort, reassurance, and because of nostalgia. Candy and cookies – snacks – are the rewards we give our children and ourselves. Soups, meat loafs and stews express nostalgia and healing. Steaks, caviar, and gourmet foods symbolize success and power. We have a pragmatic “can-do” approach to problems with its emphasis on biological sciences, agriculture and technology, as opposed to the humanities and social sciences. Our “know-how” is higher in value than ancient wisdom and tradition, which is probably the reason I was told by the French representative of Bordeaux wines that the difference between American and French wines is that the Americans, while awfully good chemists, are not terribly good wine-makers. In other words, our need for perfection and instant satisfaction – our need to speed everything up – including nature – gets in the way of making truly good wines that only patience and time can achieve.

For instance, future cultures will most likely view the Americans at the turn of the century as the most health conscious, diet conscious, vitamin conscious, overweight, undernourished people in history. Never has so much emphasis been placed on nutrition. Never has there been such an absence of nutritional value in the foods most Americans consume. (Example: Walden Books: Mall in Chicago) We pop vitamins A,B,,C,D,E, hormones, calcium, and anything else advertised to give us a quick health fix, and then we wash it down with unreal emulsions called milkshakes, coca cola, scotch, and vodka.

Story of MacDonald’s Health burger.


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