Colonial Food

History of the first 13 Colonies and life in the Colonial Period

Food & Meals: The daily lives of the colonists in the 13 Colonies during the Colonial Period

Colonial Food

Colonial Food

This article provides facts and information about the different types of Colonial Food that was eaten in the first 13 colonies and the methods of cooking that were used.

  • Colonial Food - Types of food available to the colonists
  • Colonial Food and cooking methods
  • Preservation methods used in preparing Colonial Food
  • Colonial Food and drink
  • Daily meals and fasting
  • Meat, fish, shellfish, fruit, vegetables, herbs and dairy products in the colonies
American
Colonies Index
Life in Colonial Times

Colonial Food
Colonial food in the late 1700's was varied and abundant. By 1775 all of the 13 colonies had been established and there was a population of 2.5 million people. Life in the New England colonies focussed on town life and people worked in industries such as whaling and ship building. New England imported agricultural products from other colonies. The majority of people in the Middle Colonies worked on small farms and home-grown food was in good supply. The warm climate made it possible to grow crops throughout the year in the Southern colonies and was ideally suited for plantations and farming. Food in Colonial America was plentiful and included a lot of meat and vegetables.

Colonial Food - Daily Meals and Fasting
The number of daily meals eaten during at certain times of the day often varied due to the season but generally colonists would eat three times every day:

  • Breakfast was generally eaten between 6 -7
  • Dinner was generally eaten at mid-morning between 12 - 2
  • Supper was the most substantial meal and generally eaten between 6 -7

Colonial food was eaten from wooden or horn dishes. Each colonist had their own knife. There were few forks and spoons were rarely used. Any liquid food, such as soups, was drunk from a cup. The early colonists and settlers were extremely religious and the Puritans and Quakers stressed that food should be simple and that it was a sin to indulge their appetites. Their food was usually boiled to make puddings and dumplings. For most of the early colonists and settlers fasting and abstaining from eating meat was practised for over half the days in the year. Strict religious observances banned the eating of meat on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and meat was banned during the religious seasons of Lent and Advent.

Colonial Food - Crops
Farming was suited to the Middle colonies, to such an extent that they are often called the "breadbasket colonies" because they grew so many crops, especially wheat but also included barley, oats, rye and corn. Farming in New England for crops like wheat was impractical because of the poor soil. The Middle colonies raised crops such as corn, pumpkins, rye, squash and beans all of which were common types of colonial food. The Southern Colonies concentrated on agriculture and developed massive plantations exporting corn, vegetables, grain, fruit and livestock to the other colonies for colonial food. By the 1690's and rice became the mainstay of the colonies of Georgia and South Carolina. The crops raised for colonial food included those on the following list:

Colonial Food - Crops
  • Wheat
  • Rice
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Corn
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Beans
Colonial Crops

Colonial Food - Fish
The environment of the 13 colonies included lush woodlands, rivers and the ocean. Fish was abundant and an extremely important item in Colonial food. Fish was obtained from the ocean or from the rivers that snaked through the lands. Sea Mammals included whales and seals. The different types of fish  and shellfish found in the 13 colonies and eaten as part of the diet of colonial food included:

Colonial Food - FishColonial Food - Shellfish
  • Cod
  • Halibut
  • Mackerel
  • Sea bass
  • Herring
  • Flounder
  • Hake
  • Tuna
  • Sturgeon
  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Lobsters
  • Mussels
Colonial Food - FishColonial Food - Shellfish

Colonial Food - Game
Game birds native to North America and also birds introduced from Europe supplemented other types of Colonial food and included:

Colonial Food - Game Birds
  • Turkeys
  • Geese
  • Partridge
  • Quails
  • Grouse
  • Ptarmigans
  • Prairie-Chickens
  • Woodcock
Colonial Game Birds

Colonial Food brought from Europe
When colonists arrived in America they planted familiar crops from Europe and raised domestic animals for meat that included sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens. The familiar types of food such as beef, pork and mutton were supplemented with produce that was available in the New World. The familiar meat from domestic animals brought from Europe were cooked as the preferred meat served as colonial food.

Colonial Food from Europe
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Mutton
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Goose
Colonial Food from Europe

Colonial Food - Dairy Products
Irish and Scottish immigrants had been instrumental in importing cattle into the American colonies in the late 1700's. This provided the opportunity to include dairy products into the list of colonial food that was available to the colonists. Dairy products included:

Colonial Food - Dairy Products
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Cream
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
Colonial Dairy Products

Colonial Food sent to Europe
In turn, the Colonial food types found in North America were exported to England and Europe. The new types of food introduced to Europeans from the New World included:

Colonial Food exported to Europe
  • Tomatoes
  • Turkey
  • Potatoes
  • Maize
  • Vanilla
  • Kidney Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Pumpkin
Colonial Food exported to Europe

Colonial Food and Drink
The drinks consumed by colonists included popular beverages such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. Household industries emerged making alcohol such as beer, cider, whiskey and rum. These household industries grew and distilleries and breweries were built developing highly lucrative alcohol related industries. The liquor was therefore manufactured and rum became a major export from the colonies.

Colonial Food - Fruit and Vegetables
A variety of fruits and vegetables were available in the various regions of the 13 colonies. Apples were planted as soon as the colonists and settlers arrived in the New World. The numbers of fruits and vegetables native to North America were increased by the introduction of European varieties. The apple, quince, plum, pear, nectarine, peach, cherry, apricot, and nectarine were all introduced from Europe. Raw fruits and raw vegetables were considered unappetizing and most were cooked and served in stews, sauces, pottage, soups and in pies and fruit cobblers. The word "vegetable" was rarely used  during the 1600 and 1700's. Instead the term "herb" covered all green plants, roots and herbs. Food items which came from the ground had traditionally only been considered fit for the poor. The following list of fruit and vegetables were added to the list of colonial food options:

Colonial Food - VegetablesColonial Food - Fruits
  • Potatoes
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumber
  • String Beans
  • Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips
  • Legumes

 

  • Apples
  • Quince
  • Plum
  • Pear
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Nectarines
  • Apricots
  • Pineapple
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Wild strawberries
  • Huckleberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Melons
  • Water Melon
  • Tomatoes
Colonial VegetablesColonial Fruits
  

Colonial America - The Land of the Brave

  

Colonial Food - Meat available in the Colonies
The animals that were indigenous to various regions in the 13 colonies included a variety of animals providing meat such as venison. Some of these animals, together with game birds, might be eaten as meat to supplement the options for colonial food. The colonists would have tried cooking all of these animals but many were just not suitable as colonial food. However, the poor often hunted and ate deer (venison). Squirrel, opossum, rabbit, and other woodland animals were hunted and eaten as colonial food by the poor. The animals available to the colonists were:

Colonial Food - Animals
  • Deer (Venison)
  • Squirrel
  • Opossum
  • Rabbit
  • Hare
  • Elk
  • Bear
  • Mountain goat
  • Coyote
  • Fox
  • Raccoon
  • Porcupine
  • Weasel
  • Beaver
Colonial Food - Animals

Colonial Food Preservation
At the beginning of the colonial era only food that was in season was served. As soon as food was made available it had to be eaten as there was no form of refrigeration and food would easily rot. Fresh fruits and vegetables were not available year round. Hunting was made difficult in harsh weather. This obviously caused a problem of food shortages in the winter. Methods of preserving food were soon adopted. It was not economic to feed animals during the winter therefore animals were slaughtered in the autumn and preserved in salt. The following chart details other methods of food preservation used by the colonists and settlers:
 

Methods of Colonial Food Preservation

  • Salting
  • Smoking
  • Pickling
  • Desiccation
  • Making preserves such as jams, marmalade and syrups
Methods of Colonial Food Preservation

Colonial Food Processing
A form of food processing was also introduced in order to soften meat and vegetables. This method of food softening consisted of soaking roots, leaves, seeds, nuts, and berries in cold water for several hours which made these food easier to digest.

Colonial Food - Culinary Herbs and Flavoring
A variety of culinary herbs were used to add flavor to colonial food such as parsley, thyme, sage, marjoram, and dill.

Colonial Herbs
  • Basil
  • Lovage
  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Marjoram
  • Dill
  • Angelica
Colonial Herbs
 

Colonial Food

  • Interesting Facts and information about Colonial Food
  • Colonial Food history, jobs and work
  • Fast Facts and info about Foods eaten in the colonies
  • Great resource for kids and schools
  • Social Studies Homework help for kids on foods in the colonies
  • Meat, fish, shellfish, fruit, vegetables, herbs and dairy products in the colonies

Colonial America - The Land of the Brave

 

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