When the colonists came to America, their initial attempts at
survival included planting crops familiar to them from back home
in England. In the same way, they farmed animals for clothing and
meat in a similar fashion.
hardships and eventual establishment of trade with Britain, the
West Indies and other regions, the colonists were able to
establish themselves in the American colonies with a cuisine
similar to their previous British cuisine.
There were some exceptions to the diet, such as local vegetation
and animals, but the colonists attempted to use these items in the
same fashion as they had their equivalents or ignore them if they
The manner of cooking for the American colonists followed along
the line of British cookery up until the Revolution. The British
sentiment followed in the cookbooks brought to the New World as
There was a general disdain for French cookery, even with the
French Huguenots in South Carolina and French-Canadians. One of
the cookbooks that proliferated in the colonies was The Art of
Cookery Made Plain and Easy written by Hannah Glasse, wrote of
disdain for the French style of cookery, stating “the blind folly
of this age that would rather be imposed on by a French booby,
than give encouragement to a good English cook!”
Of the French recipes, she does add to the text she speaks out
flagrantly against the dishes as she “… think it an odd jumble of
trash.” Reinforcing the anti-French sentiment was the French and
Indian War from 1754-1764. This created a large anxiety against
the French, which influenced the English to either deport many of
the French, or as in the case of the Acadians, they migrated to
The Acadian French did create a large French influence in the diet
of those settled in Louisiana, but had little or no influence
outside of Louisiana.
The American colonial diet varied depending on the settled region
in which you lived. Local cuisine patterns had established by the
mid 18th century. The New England colonies were extremely similar
in their dietary habits to those that many of them had brought
A striking difference for the colonists in New England compared to
other regions was seasonality. While in the southern colonies,
they could farm almost year round, in the northern colonies, the
growing seasons were very restricted. In addition, colonists’
close proximity to the ocean gave them a bounty of fresh fish to
add to their diet, especially in the northern colonies.
Wheat, however, the grain used to bake bread back in England was
almost impossible to grow, and imports of wheat were far from cost
productive. Substitutes in cases such as this included cornmeal.
The Johnnycake was a poor substitute to some for wheaten bread,
but acceptance by both the northern and southern colonies seems
As many of the New Englanders were originally from England game
hunting was often a pastime from back home that paid off when they
immigrated to the New World. Much of the northern colonists
depended upon the ability either of themselves to hunt, or for
others from which they could purchase game. This was the preferred
method for protein consumption over animal husbandry, as it
required much more work to defend the kept animals against
American Indians or the French.
Livestock and Game
Commonly hunted and eaten game included deer, bear, buffalo and
wild turkey. The larger muscles of the animals were roasted and
served with currant sauce, while the other smaller portions went
into soups, stews, sausages, pies, and pasties. In addition
to game, colonists' protein intake was supplemented by mutton.
The Spanish in Florida originally introduced sheep to the New
World, but this development never quite reached the North, and
there they were introduced by the Dutch and English. The keeping
of sheep was a result of the English non-practice of animal
husbandry. The animals provided wool when young and mutton
upon maturity after wool production was no longer desirable. The
forage-based diet for sheep that prevailed in the Colonies
produced a characteristically strong, gamy flavor and a tougher
consistency, which required aging and slow cooking to tenderize.
Fats and Oils
number of fats and oils made from animals served to cook much of
the colonial foods. Many homes had a sack made of deerskin filled
with bear oil for cooking, while solidified bear fat resembled
shortening. Rendered pork fat made the most popular cooking
medium, especially from the cooking of bacon. Pork fat was used
more often in the southern colonies than the northern colonies as
the Spanish introduced pigs earlier to the South. The colonists
enjoyed butter in cooking as well, but it was rare prior to the
American Revolution, as cattle were not yet plentiful.
near the New England shore often dined on fish, crustaceans, and
other animals that originated in the waters. Colonists ate large
quantities of turtle, and it was an exportable delicacy for
Europe. Cod, in both fresh and salted form was enjoyed, with the
salted variation created for long storage. The highest quality cod
was usually dried, however, and exported to the Mediterranean in
exchange for fruits not available in the American colonies.
Lobsters proliferated in the waters as well, and were extremely
common in the New England diet.
Prior to the Revolution, New Englanders consumed large quantities
of rum and beer, as maritime trade provided them relatively easy
access to the goods needed to produce these items: Rum was the
distilled spirit of choice, as the main ingredient, molasses, was
readily available from trade with the West Indies. Further into
the interior, however, one would often find colonists consuming
whiskey, as they did not have similar access to sugar cane. They
did have ready access to corn and rye, which they used to produce
However, until the Revolution, many considered whiskey to be a
coarse alcohol unfit for human consumption, as many believed that
it caused the poor to become raucous and unkempt drunkards.
Yet one item, hops, important for the production of beer, did not
grow well in the colonies. Hops only grew wild in the Old World,
and as such, importation from England and elsewhere became
essential to beer production. In addition to these alcohol-based
products produced in America, imports were seen on merchant
shelves, including wine and brandy.
In comparison to the northern colonies, the southern colonies were
quite diverse in their agricultural diet. Unlike the colonies to
the north, the southern colonies did not have a central region of
culture. The uplands and the lowlands made up the two main
parts of the southern colonies.
The slaves and poor of the south often ate a similar diet, which
consisted of many of the indigenous New World crops. Salted or
smoked pork often supplement the vegetable diet. Rural poor often
ate squirrel, possum, rabbit and other woodland animals.
Those on the “rice coast” often ate ample amounts of rice, while
the grain for the rest of the southern poor and slaves was
cornmeal used in breads and porridges. Wheat was not an option for
most of those that lived in the southern colonies.
The diet of the uplands often included cabbage, string beans,
white potatoes, while most avoided sweet potatoes and peanuts.
Non-poor whites in the uplands avoided crops imported from Africa
because of the perceived inferiority of crops of the African
slaves. Those who could grow or afford wheat often had
biscuits as part of their breakfast, along with healthy portions
of pork. Salted pork was a staple of any meal, as it was used in
the preparations of vegetables for flavor, in addition to its
direct consumption as a protein.
The lowlands, which included much of the Acadian French regions of
Louisiana and the surrounding area, included a varied diet heavily
influenced by Africans and Caribbeans, rather than just the
French. As such, rice played a large part of the diet as it
played a large part of the diets of the Africans and Caribbean. In
addition, unlike the uplands, the lowlands subsistence of protein
came mostly from coastal seafood and game meats. Much of the diet
involved the use of peppers, as it still does today.
Interestingly, although the English had an inherent disdain for
French foodways, as well as many of the native foodstuff of the
colonies, the French had no such disdain for the indigenous
foodstuffs. In fact, they had a vast appreciation for the
native ingredients and dishes.