Colonial Cooking – A History Of American Cuisine

Cooking throughout the colonies depended greatly on your economic status. The upper classes hired European trained chefs, while the lowest classes relied on the mistress of the house to prepare one-pot dinners. What was similar throughout all of the classes, however, was what was prepared in the kitchen was only what was in season. The colonial chefs had to be very judicious with their food; a chicken could not be killed for dinner unless it would be eaten for breakfast and lunch too. To waste food was not an option. Especially with the new and ever-changing seasons of the Americas, the chefs had to make the most out of what they could get their hands on, and store and preserve what they could, as winters could be brutal.

Being the chef of the household wasn’t as easy as turning a knob on the stove as it is now. To have a chicken for dinner meant going out in the morning and killing it yourself, plucking and dressing it. Starting a fire and keeping it going throughout the day. The organs of every animal were also considered a delicacy, fruits and vegetables were always cooked, never raw. The drinks were made especially sweet, and the punch had generous amounts of alcohol. The meat also often came to the table with the head and feet still attached and the rolls served for sopping up the juices and gravy. Cooking was a difficult, all day job in Colonial America and a good cook was sometimes worth his weight in gold.

The Governor’s Palaces always maintained the best European trained cooks. While they were considered servants, they were the highest paid in the household. The palace even kept a number of cooks in the kitchen at once as each had a specialty. Many of these cooks had their backgrounds in French cuisine, which was considered the very upper crust of the time. These cooks also had the best tools to cook with, including numerous copper pots.

The gentry offered the next best in the colonial kitchen; while they weren’t French trained, their meals were often modeled after traditional English cooking. Meats and sweets were standard with every meal, and while these households used slaves for their cooks, many were so good they were often able to earn their freedom based upon their cooking skills.

The middle class came below the gentry in the colonial kitchen. While they attempted to match the cuisine of the gentry on special occasions, there every day food was much simpler. A lot of these homes still relied on a slave to do the cooking, while some relied only upon the talents of the mistress of the house.

The lower classes offered the most basic in colonial cooking. These households did not use slaves; and nearly every meal was a one-pot meal. Porridges and soups were popular, and hominy was most often prepared, which is made of corn, cured pork, vegetables, and salt. The meal was accompanied with whatever meat they could get their hands on, which many times, was none.

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