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Colonial Food

Colonial Food during the 17th century was quite different than what we eat today. Religious beliefs, location, and harvest played a role in what was available and how much they ate.

In some cases, food was scarce and many early colonists endured possible starvation and malnutrition. As the population increased and colonies became more developed food became less of an issue and each region began to develop their own unique flavors.

Colonial Food: How They Ate

Generally speaking, colonists ate much like we eat today. They ate three meals:

  • Breakfast – 6am – 7am
  • Dinner – 12pm – 2pm
  • Supper – 6pm – 7pm

Colonists ate from wooden or horn dishes and used a knife to eat. Forks were sometimes used while spoons were rarely used. Liquid foods such as soups were drunk from a cup.

Early colonists such as the Puritans and Quakers viewed food differently than we do in modern times. Food was seen as a necessity and embellishing in gluttony was frowned upon.

This meant food was simple and often boiled. Fasting was done often and the meat was only eaten on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and abstained from during Lent and Advent.

Colonial Food

Regions

Over time each region developed its own cuisine. It was influenced by their environment, religious practices, and British imports.

  • New England Colonies: Growing seasons were short so they depended more on British Imports, Corn crops, Wild Game, and Seafood. Puritans dominated the population so their recipes tended to be simple.
  • Middle Colonies: Growing seasons were longer and they were called the “breadbasket colonies” due to the number of crops that were grown in their soil. Due to Quaker influence, cream cheese and various fruit butter were developed.
  • Southern Colonies: the Growing season was year-round and the population was more diverse. There was a clear difference in the diets of the wealthy and the poor.

Types of Food

Crops: Throughout the colonies, they depended on their crops to sustain their food supply throughout the year. Here is a list of the common crops that were grown throughout the colonies:

  • Wheat
  • Rice
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Corn
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Beans

Seafood: All of the first colonies were located near the ocean which gave the colonists a large supply of seafood. They were dependent on the ocean and what it would provide. Here is a list of options for seafood:

  • Whales
  • Seals
  • Cod
  • Halibut
  • Mackeral
  • Sea Bass
  • Herring
  • Flounder
  • Hake
  • Tuna
  • Sturgeon
  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Lobsters
  • Mussels

Wild Game: Hunting was a primary resource for food and clothing. When the colonists arrived in North America there was a large number of animals to hunt.

  • Deer (Venison)
  • Squirrel
  • Opossum
  • Rabbit
  • Hare
  • Elk
  • Bear
  • Mountain goat
  • Coyote
  • Fox
  • Raccoon
  • Porcupine
  • Weasel
  • Beaver

Various types of birds were also plentiful to the colonists:

  • Turkeys
  • Geese
  • Partridge
  • Quails
  • Grouse
  • Ptarmigans
  • Prairie-Chickens
  • Woodcock

Domesticated Animals: The colonists arrived with animals they brought from England. Here is a list of meat that colonists brought from Europe to America:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Mutton
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Goose

Dairy Products: By the late 1700s the Irish and Scottish immigrants had brought cattle to America which allowed for dairy products to become available. 

  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Cream
  • Cheese
  • Eggs

Exports to England: The Colonists exported many of their products to Europe.

  • Tomatoes
  • Turkey
  • Potatoes
  • Maize
  • Vanilla
  • Kidney Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Pumpkin

Fruits and Vegetables: This is a list of fruits and vegetables that were available in the colonies. The apple, quince, plum, pear, nectarine, peach, cherry, apricot, and nectarine were all introduced from Europe

  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumber
  • String Beans
  • Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Legumes
  • Apples
  • Quince
  • Plum
  • Pear
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Nectarines
  • Apricots
  • Pineapple
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Huckleberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Melons
  • Watermelon
  • Tomatoes

Herbs: Despite the bland food used by the Puritans and Quakers, many of the colonists did use Herbs that were grown in America to spice up their food. These included:

  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Parsley
  • Lovage
  • Mint
  • Sage
  • Marjoram
  • Dill
  • Angelica

Drinks: The first building the Pilgrims built after a place of worship was a brewery. The colonists loved their beer and alcohol but practiced moderation and looked down on those that could not control themselves. Other non-alcoholic drinks were also very popular in the colonies.

  • Apple Cider
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Whiskey
  • Rum
  • Beer
  • Water

Alcohol became a lucrative export and industry for many of the colonists. Rum was the most popular alcoholic import from America.

Food Preservation: Due to the short seasons in the north and the intense heat in the south it was necessary for the colonists to use many different preservatives to store their meat.

Since there was no refrigeration it was important to quickly preserve their food because it would quickly rot. Here are some of the methods that were used:

  • Smoking
  • Salting
  • Pickling
  • Desiccation
  • Making fruit preserves, jams, marmalade, and syrups

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