Susan F. Craft
Historical Fiction Author
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Meals

In the American colonies, the mid-day meal wasn't called lunch, but instead was called dinner, and was considered the main or biggest meal of the day. The evening meal was called supper and was usually a much lighter meal than lunch. The quality of and amount of foods and the times served were based a great deal upon level of wealth and status.

The settlers, the poor, ate breakfast early-a hastily drunk cider or beer and a bowl of porridge cooked slowly all night over the embers-then went straight to their chores. The rich ate later in the morning. Townspeople usually had an alcoholic beverage upon rising followed by cornmeal mush and molasses, with more cider or beer.

By the late 1800s, breakfast was served at 9 or 10 a.m. and consisted of coffee, tea, or chocolate, toast, wafers, muffins with butter. Poor southerners ate cold turkey and cider. More affluent southern planters ate more leisurely breakfasts of breads and cold meats. In the Northeast, people also ate fruit pies and pastries. In the Middle Colonies, people ate scrapple, a mixture of cornmeal and headcheese, and sweet cakes deep fried in fat.

Colonial Americans ate dinner in the early afternoon, served in the hall or common room. Poor families ate from trenchers filled from common stew pots. A trencher was a long wooden table with a v-shaped "trough" cut along the center of the table. Stews comprised pork, sweet corn, cabbage, vegetables and roots, eaten with slabs of bread. Richer families might have a two-course meal of soups, meats, meat puddings or meat pies containing fruits and spices, pancakes and fritters and side dishes of sauces, pickles and catsups. Salads or "sallats" were served more often with supper and also added as a table decoration. Desserts were the second course-custards, fresh cooked or dried fruits, tarts sweetmeats, pound cakes, gingerbread, spice and cheese cakes.

Affluent Northerners ate shortly after noon, and Southern planters ate later after the slaves and laborers had been fed.

Supper for the early setters was either non-existent or a light bedtime snack of leftovers or gruel, a mixture of boiling water and oats or corn meal. Some ate roasted potatoes prepared with salt and no butter. Richer people had side dishes of eggs.

Licensed Colonial American taverns or "public houses" were regulated by law. Food, which was usually included with the price of the room, consisted of whatever the tavern keeper had available for his family. Meals were designated "good" or "common."

Eighteenth-century taverns served such fare as peanut soup, corn bread-stuffed quail and wild boar sausage, bubble and squeak, which was puffs of whipped potatoes and cabbage fried crisp with browned flour gravy, and syllabub with fresh berries, a favorite colonial Virginia dessert featuring wine-laced cream whipped to a froth, seasoned with lemon zest and garnished with seasonal berries.

Congressman Samuel Read wrote his wife in 1775: "We sit in Congress generally till half-past three o'clock, and once till five o'clock, and then I dine at City Tavern, where a few of us have established a table for each day in the week, save Saturday when there is a general dinner....A dinner is ordered for the number, eight, and whatever is deficient of that number is to be paid for at two shillings and six pence a head, and each that attends pays only the expense of the day.

Mary Chew, who became the wife of William Paca (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) wrote the following in her journal in 1765: "As good a test of flour as can be had at sight, is to take up a handful and squeeze it tight; if good, when the hand is unclasped, the lines on the palm of the hand will be plainly defined on the ball of flour. Throw a little lump of dried flour against a smooth surface, if it falls like powder, it is bad."

Bread Recipe

"Take Three Pounds of Double-Refined Sugar beaten and then sifted, and Four Pounds of Fine Flour; Mix together and let them dry by the fire as the other materials are prepared. Then take Four Pounds of Fresh Butter, beat with Wood Spoon until Soft and Creamy. Then beat Thirty-Five Fresh Eggs, and leave out Sixteen Whites, Strain off Eggs from the Shells, And Beat them and the Butter together till all look like Butter. Then Put in Four or Five spoonfuls of Orange-Flower Water or Rose Water, and Beat more. Now take the Flour and Sugar, with Six Ounces of Caraway Seeds, and Strew them in by degrees, Beating it up all the while for Two Hours together. Put in as much as you want of Amber-Grease or Tincture of Cinnamon. Butter your Hoop, and leave to Stand three Hours in a Moderate Oven. Carefully Observe Always, when Beating Butter, to do it with a Cool Hand and Beat it Always one way in Deep Earthen Dish."

Meats and fish found in Early American Recipes - beef, mutton/lamb/veal, ox, pork/ham/bacon, turkey, deer, dunghill fowls, chicken, goose, duck, wild duck snipes, partridge, pigeons, hair, leveret, rabbit, turtle, flounder, bass, cod, haddock, eel, oyster, lobster, shad, salmon

Fruit-pears, apples, currants, black currants, frost/chicken grapes (native to America), muscadines, scuppernongs, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, plums, strawberries, quinces, figs, mulberries, apricots, peaches, cherries

Herbs-thyme, sweet marjoram, summer savory (used in sausages, beef and legs of pork), sage, parsley, Penny Royal (aromatic used in cookery and medicine)

Roots and vegetables-potatoes, onions, beets, parsnips, carrots, garlic, asparagus, parsley, radish, artichokes, cucumbers, melons, muskmelons, lettuce, cabbage, beans (clabboard, Windsor, crambury, frost, lazy, English, white calivanse), peas (Crown Imperial, Crown , Rondeheval, Carlton, Marrow Fats, Sugar Pea, Spanish Manratto), pumpkin

Indians ate mostly corn, squash, and beans-called the "three sisters."

Miscellaneous
  • bladder and leather were stretched over the mouths of jars to secure contents against air and bugs
  • bread peel was a universal gift to a bride (luck-bearing)
  • "frumenty" - hulled wheat cooked in milk and seasoned with spices and sugar
  • "going a-leafing" was a phrase used for baking bread; bread was often baked in pans or sometimes set on cabbage leaves or oak leaves
  • "jagging iron" or "doughspur"-instrument used for ornamenting pastry in the form of a toothed wheel, set in a handle
  • "lade"-to transfer as with a ladle or scoop
  • "orange flower water" - a liquid distilled from orange blossoms
  • "pearlash" - a salt obtained from the ashes of plants
  • "pippin" - a variety of apple
  • "syllabub" or "sillabub" - mixture of milk or cream with wine, cider of other acid, usually whipped to a froth
  • "grog," also called "draught"-mixture of water, beer, and rum and served in navies (Colonial and British) twice a day
  • hogshead of rum-63 gallons

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