As we fire up the grill today and chow down on burgers, dogs and brats, potato salad, baked beans, chips, all manner of desserts (Jell-O anyone?), pop open the brewski or the Faygo Red Pop (if you are lucky…that was one of my favorites growing up)…consider the food selections back around that hallowed year of 1776.
Of course your menu depended on your position in society.
THE COLONIAL HOMESTEADER
The average meal for the average person consisted of something like:
Porridge—of oatmeal, pea or barley (Doesn’t that sound delicious on a hot summer day?)
Baked Beans with Salt Pork or Bear Fat
Special occasion fare—perhaps a holiday or a visit by an itinerant minister—might have been:
Sweet Apple Dumplings
I don’t know, I think I am missing the bear fat.
THE UPPER CLASS
Let’s say you were among the fortunate and lived on a wealthy plantation (and were not a slave) …things got a lot fancier. Your food would have been prepared with a multitude of imported spices, and imported wines, olives and maybe even champagne would have graced the table.
A midday meal (dinner) menu from the Williamsburg, Virginia Governor’s Palace was a multi-course affair:
Fish in Pastry
Venison and Rabbit Pie
Chicken and Leek Pie
Fried Ox Tongue
Peach and Lavender Ice Cream
Wine, Brandy, Blackberry Cordial, Coffee
It must have taken forever. And where’s the bear fat? I guess they swapped it for the ox tongue. Ugh. But they did have ice cream!
THE REBELLIOUS LOT
If you were a soldier in the Continental Army, you missed out on the ice cream and ox tongue. Soldiers were grouped by six to form eating units referred to as a “mess,” and were responsible for cooking their own food.
Some families came on campaign, and if so, the soldier’s woman also received a ration, and became the mess cook. The rations during the spring of 1778 at Valley Forge, per person:
1 ½ pounds of flour or bread
1 pound of beef or fish
3/4 pound of pork
1 gill ( ½ cup ) of whiskey or spirit
1 ½ pounds of flour
1/2 pound or pork or bacon
1/2 pint of peas or beans
1 gill of whiskey or spirit
A meat-heavy diet to be sure, but of course it really depended on what was available.
So how does your July 4th party fare compare to these 18th century menus? Are you adventurous enough for ox tongue or bear fat? Click over to Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest for 18th century recipes you can make in your own 21st century kitchen!
Chandonnet, Ann. 2012. Colonial Food. Oxford, United Kingdom. Shire Publications.
Zlatich, Marko. 2013. You asked, we answered: What did soldiers eat during the Revolutionary War? National Museum of American History/Smithsonian. http://blog.americanhistory.si.edu/osaycanyousee/2013/05/what-did-soldiers-eat-during-the-revolutionary-war.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+OSayCanYouSee+%28O+Say+Can+You+See%3F-+National+Museum+of+American+History+Blog%29 (accessed June 30, 2014).