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A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America
     

A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America

by James E. McWilliams
 

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Sugar, pork, beer, corn, cider, scrapple, and hoppin' John all became staples in the diet of colonial America. The ways Americans cultivated and prepared food and the values they attributed to it played an important role in shaping the identity of the newborn nation. In A Revolution in Eating, James E. McWilliams presents a colorful and spirited tour of

Overview

Sugar, pork, beer, corn, cider, scrapple, and hoppin' John all became staples in the diet of colonial America. The ways Americans cultivated and prepared food and the values they attributed to it played an important role in shaping the identity of the newborn nation. In A Revolution in Eating, James E. McWilliams presents a colorful and spirited tour of culinary attitudes, tastes, and techniques throughout colonial America.

Confronted by strange new animals, plants, and landscapes, settlers in the colonies and West Indies found new ways to produce food. Integrating their British and European tastes with the demands and bounty of the rugged American environment, early Americans developed a range of regional cuisines. From the kitchen tables of typical Puritan families to Iroquois longhouses in the backcountry and slave kitchens on southern plantations, McWilliams portrays the grand variety and inventiveness that characterized colonial cuisine. As colonial America grew, so did its palate, as interactions among European settlers, Native Americans, and African slaves created new dishes and attitudes about food. McWilliams considers how Indian corn, once thought by the colonists as "fit for swine," became a fixture in the colonial diet. He also examines the ways in which African slaves influenced West Indian and American southern cuisine.

While a mania for all things British was a unifying feature of eighteenth-century cuisine, the colonies discovered a national beverage in domestically brewed beer, which came to symbolize solidarity and loyalty to the patriotic cause in the Revolutionary era. The beer and alcohol industry also instigated unprecedented trade among the colonies and further integrated colonial habits and tastes. Victory in the American Revolution initiated a "culinary declaration of independence," prompting the antimonarchical habits of simplicity, frugality, and frontier ruggedness to define American cuisine. McWilliams demonstrates that this was a shift not so much in new ingredients or cooking methods, as in the way Americans imbued food and cuisine with values that continue to shape American attitudes to this day.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"[T]he way [colonial] Americans thought about food was integral to the way they thought about politics," McWilliams persuasively argues in this survey of the creation of American cuisine. The Texas State University-San Marcos history professor explores what the colonists ate and why, how that affected their emerging political and cultural values, how their farms and their rights intersected and how "food remained at the core of America's Revolution." At the root of American cuisine, McWilliams finds, is the immeasurable impact of Native American agricultural practices. He explores the effect of the staple crop peculiar to each area of colonial America upon the development of regional foodways, as well as upon their economic and social practices. With remarkable clarity, he delineates the technical aspects of various agricultural tasks, from crop cultivation (sugar cane, rice, tobacco, corn, wheat) to more domestic work (building a kitchen garden, churning butter). The broad range of scholarship, the smooth weaving of political and social history and the full notes and fat bibliography will inform historians, while the lucid style and jaunty tone (the Quakers were "a people who made a virtue of frugality while making frugality more elaborate than anyone could have imagined") make this accessible to all. (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Meticulously researched and packed with fascinating detail, this book provides an excellent account of the culinary development of Colonial America. Positing that "the agrarian values that colonists fought the Revolution to protect and preserve became the very values that Americans would use to frame their new foodways," McWilliams (history, Texas State Univ., San Marcos) reveals how the evolution of distinct and varying processes of the cultivation and preparation of food, the development of relationships with Native Americans, and the presence (or absence) of a slave culture reflected and affected the economic, ethnic, racial, and social development of the English West Indies, New England, the Chesapeake Bay region, the Carolinas, and the Middle Colonies. The extensive use of primary sources captures the immediacy of the Colonists' experiences, both humorous and sobering. McWilliams delivers an eminently readable history of food preparation and consumption in nascent American culture. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Courtney Greene, DePaul Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Choice
McWilliams manages to show food and drink as an integral part of history... Recommended.
Boston Globe - Joshua Glenn
A Revolution in Eating, a lively new tour of Colonial American 'foodways.'
Entertainment Weekly - Tina Jordan
Fascinating...Anyone curious about the cultural history of that meatloaf on the dinner plate will gobble it up.
Ledger - Shelley Preston
[A] fresh perspective is well worth the read. Instead of learning our origins through a well-worn trail of war and peace on a time line, it takes us on a more pleasant route from pewter spoon to mouth.
The Washington Times - Claire Hopley
A Revolution in Eating gives its readers much to chew over, and whets the appetite for further work on the development of American Cooking.
Washington Post Book World - Josh Friedland
McWilliams has penned an illuminating account of the evolution of foodways in the colonial Americas.
New York Times Book Review - Susannah Meadows
Pleasingly filling.
Georgetown Record - Linda Bassett
For the cook who likes history or the history buff who likes to cook.
Books-for-cooks.com: Appetite for Books - Claudia Kousoulas
McWilliams vividly illustrates the intimate knowledge and relationship colonial Americans had with their food.
Austin Chronicle - MM Pack
McWilliams manages to be simultaneously instructive and entertaining.
Kalamazoo Gazette - William R. Wood
McWilliams brings colonial times to life through vivid detail.
Daily Hampshire Gazette - Margot Cleary
Don't let the fact that its publisher is Columbia University Press fool you into thinking this is a book for scholars only.
The Journal of Southern History - Michael A. LaCombe
McWilliams has contributed a valuable book to early American history.
American Spirit - Paulette Beete
A lively investigation of Colonial eating habits and how they shaped the revolutionary views of the new Americans.
Boston Globe
A Revolution in Eating, a lively new tour of Colonial American 'foodways.'

— Joshua Glenn

The FOOD Museum Online
Flexibility, even tolerance may well have contributed to the uniqueness of American food, according to historian McWilliams in this extremely rich, readable book.
Entertainment Weekly
Fascinating...Anyone curious about the cultural history of that meatloaf on the dinner plate will gobble it up.

— Tina Jordan

Staten Island Star Reporter
McWilliams presents a colorful and spirited tour of culinary attitudes, tastes, and techniques through out colonial America.
New Yorker
McWilliams's examination of the culinary history of Colonial America is more than a... gastronomic tour... A lively and informative read.
Ledger
[A] fresh perspective is well worth the read. Instead of learning our origins through a well-worn trail of war and peace on a time line, it takes us on a more pleasant route from pewter spoon to mouth.

— Shelley Preston

The Washington Times
A Revolution in Eating gives its readers much to chew over, and whets the appetite for further work on the development of American Cooking.

— Claire Hopley

Washington Post Book World
McWilliams has penned an illuminating account of the evolution of foodways in the colonial Americas.

— Josh Friedland

New York Times Book Review
Pleasingly filling.

— Susannah Meadows

Georgetown Record
For the cook who likes history or the history buff who likes to cook.

— Linda Bassett

Books-for-cooks.com: Appetite for Books

McWilliams vividly illustrates the intimate knowledge and relationship colonial Americans had with their food.

— Claudia Kousoulas

Dona's Kitchen Kapers
McWilliam's perspective... provides an essential link from the past to the present and into the future. It's a fascinating foray.
Austin Chronicle
McWilliams manages to be simultaneously instructive and entertaining.

— MM Pack

Kalamazoo Gazette
McWilliams brings colonial times to life through vivid detail.

— William R. Wood

Daily Hampshire Gazette
Don't let the fact that its publisher is Columbia University Press fool you into thinking this is a book for scholars only.

— Margot Cleary

Journal of Popular Culture
[An] exciting work of comparative colonial history.
The Journal of Southern History
McWilliams has contributed a valuable book to early American history.

— Michael A. LaCombe

American Spirit
A lively investigation of Colonial eating habits and how they shaped the revolutionary views of the new Americans.

— Paulette Beete

Books-for-cooks.com: Appetite for Books
McWilliams vividly illustrates the intimate knowledge and relationship colonial Americans had with their food.

— Claudia Kousoulas

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231503488
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
01/22/2005
Series:
Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
479,120
File size:
16 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

Read an Excerpt

To Make Pumpkin Pie
Take the pumpkin and the peel the rind off, then stew it till it is quite soft, and put thereto one pint of pumpkin, one pint of milk, one glass of Malaga wine, one glass of rosewater, if you like it, seven eggs, half a pound of fresh butter, one small nutmeg, and sugar and salt to your taste.

What People are Saying About This

H. W. Brands

A delightfully incisive account of a fascinating subject. McWilliams traces the culinary folkways of Americans of the colonial period and demonstrates that we are what they ate.

H. W. Brands, Dickson Allen Anderson Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin

H.W. Brands
A delightfully incisive account of a fascinating subject. McWilliams traces the culinary folkways of Americans of the colonial period and demonstrates that we are what they ate.
Nancy Zaslavsky
James E. McWilliams leads us on a cultural and gastronomic tour of Colonial America and tells us not only what early Americans ate, but also why they ate what they did. Lavishly illustrated throughout, with a generous use of overlooked historical images, this book helps us understand how we eat today.

Bill McKibben
The question 'what's for dinner?' has been foremost in the minds of most humans for most of history, colonial Americans included. This fascinating book shows that how they answered that question helped shape the nation we became.

Meet the Author

James E. McWilliams is associate professor of history at Texas State University-San Marcos. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post, among other publications, and he is the author of Building the Bay Colony: Local Economy and Society in Early Massachusetts.

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