The settlers in Colonial America continued to cook in tradition with their heritage, while incorporating new foods into their diet. Colonists had staple foods which they used in almost everything, but they also had seasonal foods. All and all most settlers had similar diets to the ones they had had in their old country, but when faced with an abundance of new, unfamiliar edibles, they couldn’t help but try them.
The main staple food of the settlers was actually a food native to America: corn. Every farmer grew corn as the early settlers were taught by the Native Americans. Indians taught the settlers how to harvest the corn, how to grind it into meal and how to preserve it throughout the year. Settlers made it into an oatmeal-like dish and this could be eaten for breakfast and even sometimes lunch. They were careful not to waste the rest of the corn either. The stalks were used as food for the cattle in the winter, the husks to stuff mattresses, and the cobs as jug stoppers, tool handles and the bowls of pipes. Chickens also enjoyed the kernels.
Another staple food was the hog. ?….[hogs] were excellent foragers and able to live on what they found in the woods…..?(Hawk p38). These characteristics made them easy and ?cheap? to take care of. Additionally, hogs provided a large amount of meat for the settlers. The meat from four fairly sized hogs could last a family through the winter. A hog killing was quite an orderly project considering the fact that settlers used every part of the hog. An old colonial saying used to say ?All of the hog is used except the squeal.?(Breen p47). The blood was caught and used in blood pudding, the intestines for sausage skins and chitterlings, and the fat portions for lard. The shoulders, hams, and bacon flanks were salted and cured to eat in the future.
The Native Americans tried to introduce the settlers to other new foods, but some didn’t catch on. For example, sweet potatoes were tried, but they quickly rejected. Settlers basically didn’t like vegetables and believed they were ?food more meet for hogs and savage beasts to feed upon than mankind?(Hawk p75). The only vegetables they really ate were ones brought from Europe: parsnips, turnips, onions, peas, carrots, and cabbage. Cabbage was a favorite of the Dutch and the German settlers. With it they introduced ?koolslaa?(coleslaw) and sauerkraut into the culinary world.
Settlers also ate other game and produce. Venison, raccoon, chicken, goat, and beef were all part of a person’s diet as well as seafood and flying game. Some popular berries eaten by colonists were huckleberries, blackberries, blueberries, also called sky berries, and wild strawberries.
As far as how food was prepared, settlers stuck mostly to the traditional cooking ways of their old countries, especially the English Puritans. Their meals are described by one author as being ?dull and tasteless….? (Wright p75).
The day began with breakfast. Breakfast usually consisted of a hot cereal-like dish called samp, which was corn pounded into a powder and eaten hot or cold with milk and butter. Sometimes, if one was lucky, a little molasses was added. A similar meal was eaten for lunch, and then came dinner. Dinner usually consisted of a stew or ?pottage? whose contents varied according to the season. Little spice was added to these leaving them pretty flavorless.
In the German settlements of Pennsylvania, food would be a tad more lavish for special occasions. One major event was a barn raising. While the men worked on the barn, the women prepared the feast that would be had afterwards. The tables were set with metzel soup, hamburg soup, wurst, sauerkraut, potatoes, snitz and knep, assortments of pies and cakes and a variety of spreads. Another event in the new German culture was the autumn butchering in late November. People would spend the day cutting meat, making sausage, rendering lard, making scrapple, and smoking hams and bacons over fires.
The Settlers of Colonial America didn’t have a fancy outlook on eating. They cooked and ate as needed. Gourmet suppers were not very common. Even though the settlers food and preparation style were traditional and basic, they still incorporated the new foods they were introduced to in the New World.