Foods From the Puritan Period

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The East Anglian protestants, also known as Puritans, were the first people to colonize North America beginning in 1620. They settled in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, a region also known as New England. When they settled in, they cooked according to old English cookbooks, such as Gervase Markham's 1615 "English Huswife." They also planted familiar crops from the old continent and raised domestic animals for meat, leather and wool, as they had done in Britain.

Puritan Cuisine

  • Puritan cuisine was as austere as their religious fundamentalism, lacking in culinary embellishments and feasting. Though New England had a great abundance of wildlife and seafood, the newcomers lacked the proper tools, fishing and hunting techniques to help them survive in the new climate and rough territory.

    They ate according to the season of the year, but also learned to preserve some foods through salting, pickling, canning or smoking. In time, their diet became a combination of New World foods such as corn, clams, squash, beans, cranberries and potatoes and local fare such as fish, wild game, turkey, pork, berries, onions, cheese and eggs. Later, they started importing goods like tea, coffee, sugar, rum, citrus fruits, spices and flavorings.

Breakfast

  • Breakfast was frugal, despite the traditional idea of the hearty English breakfast of beans, bacon and eggs. Coarse, dark bread with butter or cheese and porridge were everyday fare. As wheat was hard to grow in New England, in the beginning the bread was usually a mixture of rye and maize adopted from the Native American Wampanoag people.

Dinner and Supper

  • In Puritan times, lunch did not exist. The most important meal of the day was dinner, served in the early afternoon, when there was still light outside. It usually consisted of vegetable soups and stews -- sweetcorn, cabbage, pumpkin or potatoes -- boiled together with meats such as pork, mutton, chicken and beef. When in season, the Puritans also ate homegrown fresh vegetables such as asparagus and lettuce. Other popular vegetables were squashes, especially pumpkin, served as pumpkin pie for dessert. Apple pies, yeast cakes and pastry, gingerbread and biscuits were also popular desserts in the Puritan era. Supper was also frugal, consisting usually of dinner leftovers and sometimes cold meats like rabbit, deer and other game either salted or smoked.

Food Preservation

  • The Puritans considered milk unhealthy to drink and turned it into cheese and butter stored coated with salt. They pickled eggs or laid them in straw and stored them in a cool cellar. They used salting, smoking and potting for meats. For the cold season, Puritans salted, pickled and dried various types of beans, fruits and vegetables. They preserved fruits like apples, cranberries and plums as jams.

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