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About the Author:
Linda Civitello has taught food history in California
and Haute Cuisine:
the Netherlands, Russia, France
The Chesapeake: The Starving Time
England's colonies in North America did not get off to a good
start. After one, Roanoke, completely disappeared (historians still don't
know what happened to it), British settlers came to Chesapeake Bay in
1607. They named the colony Virginia in honor of Elizabeth I, the Virgin
Queen; they called the capital Jamestown after King James; and
they expected to get rich quick-except that the natives refused to be
their slaves. In the winter of 1609-10, when not enough food had
been grown, harvested, or preserved, almost all five hundred colonists
died during what became known as "the starving time." Captain John
Smith later wrote what he had heard about how the colonists were
reduced to eating nuts, berries, acorns, horsehide, and worse:
And one amongst the rest did kill his wife, powdered [salted]
her, and had eaten part of her before it wasknown, for which
he was executed, as he well deserved. Now whether she was
better roasted, boiled, or carbonadoed [broiled], I know not; but
of such a dish as powdered wife I never heard of.
It was not the last time cannibalism would be resorted to in America.
Later Virginians wanted to grow a profitable crop; they tried sugar
but the climate was too cold. They settled on tobacco. Soon tobacco
was bringing in so much money that people planted it on any available
land-they ripped up their gardens, even grew it between graves. But
who would hoe and harvest these thousands of acres of tobacco? The
Native Americans who didn't die of Old World diseases refused to do
it. African slaves were too expensive, although some arrived in 1619.
England had the perfect labor force: a surplus of poor, desperate young
men in their late teens and early twenties. They signed an indenture-a
contract-giving them a free trip to America and free room and
board in exchange for four to six years of work. Then they were supposed
to get their freedom, tools, corn, and land of their own-something
they had zero chance of getting in England. The person who
hired the indentured servant and paid for his trip received free labor
and fifty acres of land. It was a sweetheart deal all around. Except ...
Most of these young men didn't live four years after they got to
America. They died from dysentery, typhoid, malaria. The ones who
did live found that there was only one woman for every six men. And
soon the best land was in huge plantations owned by a few wealthy
men who also had all the political power. In 1676, when former indentured
servants couldn't get land, women, or the vote, they went on a
rampage. Bacon's Rebellion ended with Jamestown burned and more
than 20 former indentured servants hanged. Planters wanted a labor
force they could control, not these Englishmen who used violence to
get their rights. In 1698, when England ended the Royal African Company's
monopoly on the slave trade, anyone with a ship could get into
the slave trade. With competition, the price of slaves dropped. Now it
was affordable to own Africans and profitable to sell them.
The Carolinas and Rice
At about the same time, the English established a colony south of
Virginia-Carolina, named after King Charles II. Many of the settlers
were from Barbados. They intended to grow food for the Caribbean
sugar plantations and to export more expensive items, but after failing
at wine, olive oil, and silk, they decided on rice as their staple crop.
Rice requires skilled labor; Africans had this skill. They were also
immune to malaria, and weren't Christian, so according to the Christian
world at that time, they could be enslaved for the rest of their lives.
The settlers also imported the Barbados slave code, with punishments
that escalated from whipping to facial mutilation and sometimes
death, which the code said was the slave's fault for forcing his master
to discipline him. Charleston, South Carolina, became the primary
port through which slaves entered the United States. By 1710, black
slaves outnumbered white settlers in the coastal regions of the area
that became South Carolina.
In spite of the conditions under which the slaves were brought to
America, some of their African cuisine and culture survived. This influenced
how cooking developed in the American South, since they were
the cooks. Along with their knowledge of rice cultivation, cooking, and
storage, they brought yams, okra, watermelon, and their love of fried
food. They also brought back foodstuffs that had been taken from the
New World to Africa, like the chile pepper and the peanut, and their
word for it-goober. They brought the banjo and the drum and the
music that would become jazz.
New England: "Almost Beyond Believing"
In 1620, Pilgrims-Protestants who wanted to be allowed to worship
without being persecuted-landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Before they went ashore, the men on the ship entered into an agreement.
The Mayflower Compact was the first constitution in America.
Only one paragraph long, it sets forth an important principle: that all
would be equal and work together as a community.
The Pilgrims, and the Puritans who settled the Massachusetts Bay
Colony in Boston ten years later, had their work cut out for them.
These were people used to living in towns. They didn't know how to
hunt or fish or farm. But they didn't like many of the strange plants
and animals in North America anyway-those huge quahog clams, the
slimy steamers. And the codfish and lobsters were bigger than they
were, sometimes six feet long. They wouldn't eat them at first, even
after the Indians showed them how. But with the help of the native
tribes, the Pilgrims survived their first year and had a celebration.
"The turkey is certainly one of the most delightful presents
which the New World has made to the Old."
Most of the foods Americans eat at Thanksgiving dinner now are
native to the Americas: turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes,
sweet potatoes, corn-bread stuffing, pumpkin pie. In French the word
for turkey is dinde, short for poulet d'inde, which means "chicken from
India," because the French, like other Europeans, thought the turkey
was from the Indies. Geese, ducks, and other wild fowl were abundant
only during certain seasons in the New World, but turkeys don't
migrate, so they were available all year. And they had an instinct that
helped humans: when one turkey was shot, the others froze in place.
It was easy to kill a dozen turkeys in a morning. Nobody ever called
anybody a turkey and meant it as a compliment.
Cranberries and blueberries, both members of the heather family
and both native to New England, were more than food in sauce and
pies. Mashed and mixed with sour milk, they were used as paint. That
is why the colors most often associated with colonial American buildings
are muted cranberry and milky purple-gray.
Although pumpkin was widely used in the colonies, recipes for
pumpkin pie didn't appear in print until the first American cookbook,
written by Amelia Simmons in 1796. She called it "pompkin" and gave
two different versions. Both had pumpkin, ginger, and eggs, but one
used cream and sugar, the other milk and molasses. One used the Old
World spices mace and nutmeg, the other New World allspice.
The staple "crop" in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the codfish,
Gadus morhua. What sugar was to the Caribbean and tobacco was to the
Chesapeake, cod was to Massachusetts. There were millions off the
coast, north to Newfoundland and Labrador. Once it was salted and
dried, cod was stiff as a board and could be stacked and shipped like
lumber. It was also almost 80 percent protein. In this form it made its
way to Europe: bacala in Italy, bacalao in Spain, bacalhau in Portugal.
According to historian Mark Kurlansky, by the middle of the 16th century,
"60 percent of all fish eaten in Europe was cod." It was the perfect
food for Lent. The best grade was sent to Spain; the worst fed the slaves
in the West Indies. It could also be bartered for slaves in Africa. Ship-builders
got rich because of cod, too. The cod was so important to the
economy of Massachusetts that a large carved wooden cod hangs in the
statehouse in Boston. See page 132 for an example of what it looks like.
Maple Syrup: Tapping the Sap of the Sugar Tree
"Maple Moon" was what Native Americans called the time in the
spring when the sap started to flow in the sugar maple tree, Acer saccharum.
Just as the grapevine was a symbol of resurrection for the
ancient Greeks, so the maple was for Native Americans. Flowing sap
meant the end of winter and the rebirth of nature. The Iroquois performed
a religious ritual, a maple dance, to pray for warm weather and
plenty of sap. According to legend, an Iroquois chief pulled his tomahawk
out of a tree where he had thrown it the night before and went
off to hunt. In the meantime, the weather turned warm and sap oozed
into a container left by accident at the base of the tree. On her way to
get water for cooking, his wife saw the container of liquid and used
that instead; everyone agreed it was much better than water.
Seventeenth-century European writers give Native Americans full
credit for knowing how to make maple syrup and sugar, but in the
18th century, Europeans started to claim that they taught the Indians.
As historians Helen and Scott Nearing have pointed out, language is
on the side of the tribes. All their words for maple syrup translate as
"drawn from wood," "sap flows fast," "our own tree," while they called
white sugar "French snow"-a clear indication of its origin.
Maple sugar was a primary food in Native American cooking;
among some tribes it was the only condiment. It replaced salt, which
they did not like, and it was used to season dried cornmeal porridge,
mixed with bear fat as a sauce for roasted venison, sprinkled on boiled
fish, and eaten with berries or all by itself, a pound a day.
It was reconstituted into a sweet drink that was used in ceremonies, along
with tobacco smoked in the peace pipe. Women boiled the sap from
maple, walnut, hickory, box elder, butternut, birch, and sycamore trees
down to sugar crystals, which was difficult because before Europeans
came, they had no metal pots. Their vessels were made of birch bark
or gourds which held between one and two gallons and could not be
placed directly over fire. Instead, they dropped heated stones into the
liquid until it boiled, which involved continuously taking out cool
stones and replacing them with hot ones. These small amounts of liquid
were then poured into hundred-gallon moose-skin vats. It is not
surprising that the Indians began to trade for metal pots and utensils
as soon as the Europeans introduced them. Another way to process
the syrup was to let it freeze at night, then scrape the ice off the top.
This required several nights until just syrup was left. Maple sugar that
was to be used for gifts was poured into molds that one European
described as shaped like "bear's paws, flowers, stars, small animals,
and other figures, just like our gingerbread-bakers at fairs."
The American Culinary Tradition: Pocket Soup and Johnnycake
American cooking developed along two parallel lines. In the
South, where slave labor did the kitchen work, cooking could take
more time. Labor-intensive cooking, such as barbecue, could be done
by slaves. Barbecue needed a great deal of preparation. Either beef or
pork had to be properly butchered and marinated. Then the fire had
to reach just the right temperature, and the meat had to be added. The
fire had to be carefully watched and the temperature maintained. This
required a great deal of labor. However, pit cooking developed differently
in New England, in the form of the clambake. There, a fire was
allowed to burn down in a pit; then clams, lobsters, and corn were
buried under wet seaweed and left to steam for several hours. No labor
was necessary to prepare the food before or after it was placed in the
pit, except to dig it out.
American cooking in the North arose from the middle-class necessity
of doing a great deal of work as quickly as possible. They invented
shortcuts and new ways to preserve foods. Two examples are pocket
soup and johnnycake. Travel was not easy in the colonies. Roads were
poor or nonexistent, and there was no guarantee that travelers would
be able to find food when they needed it. Sailors, too, appreciated a bit
of home. Pocket soup, also known as portable soup, was the solution.
This was an early bouillon cube-soup cooked down until it was a
condensed gelatinous mass, then cut into small cubes and dried for
ten days. Dropped into a cup of water, it reconstituted into soup. Johnnycake
or journey cake was a cornmeal cake that would keep without
becoming moldy or disintegrating.
Another example of New England fast food was hasty pudding,
made famous in the song "Yankee Doodle" (and in the name of a Harvard
University club). This was cornmeal-called Indian or "Injun"
meal-or rye meal cooked on top of the stove, not baked, so it was
ready in half an hour. This is a long time by today's microwave standards,
but the baking times for regular cornmeal pudding recipes in
American Cookery range from one and a half hours to two and a half
hours. Sara Josepha Hale's recipes for cornmeal pudding require three
to four hours of cooking, even those that are boiled. What makes hasty
pudding hasty is that the meal is soaked first and added a bit at a time,
and the pudding is boiled and stirred constantly. In this cooking technique,
it resembles polenta.
Cobbler, Slump, Grunt, Dumpling, Crumble, and Crisp
Just as regional cooking developed according to the kind of produce
and labor available in each area, different areas had different
names for the same food. For example, in most of the country, a cobbler
is chopped, sweetened fruit with a sweet biscuit dough baked on
top. The exception is New England, where it is called a slump, with the
further exception of Cape Cod, where it is called a grunt. Other combinations
of fruit and dough are a dumpling, pieces of fruit or a whole
fruit, like an apple, wrapped in a pastry square and baked. A crumble
is a mixture of flour, butter, sugar, and seasonings like cinnamon and
nutmeg crumbled over chopped fruit and then baked. A crumble is different
from a crisp because a crisp has more butter, which makes the
topping ... crisper. The topping on a crisp sometimes includes oats.
Excerpted from Cuisine and Culture
by Linda Civitello
Copyright © 2003 by Linda Civitello.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|A Note About Reading History|
|First Course||From Raw to Cooked: Prehistory, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India|
|Second Course||The Goddess of Grain and the God of the Grape: Ancient Greece and Imperial Rome|
|Third Course||Crazy Bread and Courtly Manners: The Middle Ages, 500-1300|
|Fourth Course||Tea, Chocolate, and the Printing Press: Asia, the Americas, and the First Cookbook, 1300-1500|
|Fifth Course||The Columbian Exchange: The 16th Century|
|Sixth Course||Thanksgiving, Hutsepot, and Haute Cuisine: 17th-Century America, the Netherlands, Russia, France|
|Seventh Course||Election Cake and "Let Them Eat Cake": The American and French Revolutions|
|Eighth Course||From Coyotes to Coca-Cola: The 19th Century in America|
|Ninth Course||Sanitation, Nutrition, Migration: The 19th Century in Europe, Asia, and Africa|
|Tenth Course||The Purity Crusade, Cuisine Classique, Communal Food, and Prohibition: The Early 20th Century in the United States, Europe, and Russia|
|Eleventh Course||Soup Kitchens, C-Rations, and TV Dinners: The Depression, World War II, and the Cold War|
|Twelfth Course||Revolutions in Cuisines and Cultures: The 1960s Through the Next Millenium|
|App. A||French Pronunciation||319|
|App. B||Italian Pronunciation||321|
|App. C||Cookbook and Food Books Chronology||323|