From Idigenous Food To Gourmet Cooking

Long before Columbus voyaged to America, Native Americans had embraced a variety of indegenous foods and incorporated them into their diet. Deer, bison, moose, and small game roamed the woodlands. Flocks of migrating birds were plentiful, and the oceans, rivers, and lakes were treasure troves of fish and shellfish. Wild and cultivated foods abounded, including beans, corn,squash, and wild rice. The array of very impressive: blueberries, cranberries, currants, elderberries, strawberries, grapes, and plums dotted the countryside.

The settlers who ventured forth into the New World in the 1600 and 1700s brought their cherished recipes and styles of cooking with them. The English settled in Jamestown and Plymouth, the Dutch gravitated to the mouth of Hudson River, the Swedes traveled to the banks of Delaware River, and the Germans settled in the Pennsylvania farmland.

Much of the fish, fowl, and plants the settlers found were unfamiliar, but they adapted their family recipes to the local ingredients: bread was made with corn instead of wheat, and dried berries stood in for raisins in their beloved scones. They used corn flour in their English puddings and added molasses and spices, creating a new favorite called Indian pudding. The settlers also discovered different ways to use both old and new ingredients. Pumpkin and barley became bases for beer, apples were turned into cider, and soups, hashes, and stews were made with turkey and venison instead of beef or chicken. Fresh herbs, and homemade chutneys and ketchups were popular, perhaps because they could mask the flavor of foods that were past their prime.

From the natives, the Pilgrims who lived in and around Plymouth learned how to grow corn, beans, and squahs and how to make succotash. The Virginians added squirrel and corn to another native recipe, creating Brunswick Stew. New Englanders learned how to steam corn and shellfish in a pit lined with hot stones and seaweed, possibly creating some of the first clambakes. By the time the Revolutionary War rolled around, the colonists were eating well.

After the Revolutionary War, adventurous Americans headed west across the Appalachians. Small trading posts marked new settlements, which in time grew into villages, towns, and cities.

As settlers they made their homes in various regions, they developed recipes that reflected the local ingredients. New England cooks enjoyed baked beans, Boston brown bread, and boiled dinners of meats and fresh vegetables, while the Germans in Pennsylvania added wursts and sauerkraut to their daily fare. The wealthiest New Yorkers and Philadelphians took advantage of all of the best available foods and ate lavishly on fresh pineapples, excellent beef, and over sixty kinds of fresh fish. Southern plantation owners feasted regularly on dishes influenced by their African-American cooks; fried chicken, beaten biscuits, candied sweet potatoes, benne seed wafers, elaborate coconut cakes, and pecan pies.

From New Orleans and the southern Louisiana bayou country came Creole and Cajun cooking, with jambalayas, gumbos, pilaus, beignets (doughnut puffs),pralines, and chicory coffees. America’s heartland became known for “hog and hominy” as well as for fresh produce. Cattle, too, became a major industry, with the first beef stockyard opening in Chicago in 1827. As prospectors joined the rush west for gold, San Francisco was truned into a boom town, complete with fancy hotels. French chefs serving elegant meals, and saloons where imported liquor was poured with abandon. Many Southern Chinese immigrants joined the rush for gold, staying on in California to work on the railroads, cook in homes and mining camps, and contribute their stir-frying techniques to dishes.

By this time, Thomas Jefferson had traveled widely in Europe and returned home with “new inventions.” He introduced the homemade noodle “served like macaroni,” waffles from Holland, and even a dessert resembling baked Alaska.

In 1796, Amercian Cookery by Amelia Simmons was published. It was the first cookbook written by an American and printed in America. Many of its recipes reflected the English style of cooking, but others were truly American in spirit.

In the 19th century, other notable culinary writers helped to create an American cuisine. The century ended with the 1896 publication of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer, whose readers were instructed on the importance of measuring ingredients precisely for guaranteed success.

Magazines such as Woman’s Home Companion in 1873 and Good Housekeeping in 1885 taught novice cooks the basics and offered accomplished home cooks exciting recipes. Others had their impact, too, including Sarah Josepha Hale, who, as editor of  Godey’s Lady’s Book for forty years, successfully lobbied President Lincoln to make Thanksgiving a national holiday.

By the second half of the 19th century, owning an icebox was all the rage. The commercial canning of meats, oysters, vegetables, and fruits began as early as 1819, and by the 1900s the sales of canned foods topped well over a billion dollars. Free-standing wood cook-stoves replaced hearth cooking in many New England homes by the 1850s. These stoves made it easier to control the cooking temperature and were also much safer than stirring a pot near open flames.

After the Civil War, more inventions impacted the food Americans ate. The Continental railroad and the telegraph system drew Americans closer. Housewives across the country were able to purchase beef from Chicago stockyards at their local butcher, fresh ocean fish at their neighborhood fishmonger, and wheels of Wisconsin cheese at the local general store. And by the 1890s, safe pasteurized milk was being hand-delivered right o one’s back door.

Newly created ingredients turned housewives into successful bakers: sweetened condensed milk led to the creation of Key Lime Pie, the invention of baking powder and self-rising flour in the 1850s inspired spectacular layer cakes, and cake yeast, and the improved milling of white flour made it easy to bake an excellent loaf of light leavened bread. In the 1890s, breakfast was forever changed thanks to Quaker oatmeal and to Dr. John H. Kellogg and his brother Will, who created cornflakes. Charles B. Knox packaged Sparkling Granulated Gelatine in 1893, propelling the age of molded salad. Soon after, Pearl B. Wait and Orator Woodward introduced Jell-O brand gellatin, making shimmering fruit-gelatin desserts an easy everyday happening.

Right before the turn of the twentieth century and until World War I, the Age of Optimism, life for many Americans was good. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which opened its elaborate doors in 1893, regaled its diners with elegant chafing dishes filled with crab Louis. Gas stoves with thermostatically controlled ovens became available in l915, with the electric refrigerator following the next year. And by the 1940s, almost half of American homes had both of these appliances.

Not to be overlooked were the approximately 20 million immigrants who came to America between 1880 and 1920. These Italians, Germans, Chinese, and Jews lived in ethnic enclaves in the large cities and introduced their American neighbors to old-world favorites, including pizza, sauerbraten, eggs foo yong, and overstuffed pastrami sandwiches.

When America entered World War I in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover to head the newly established U.S. Food Administration. His campaign encourgaed meatless Tuesdays and Fridays and supported the use of food stamps to ration such foods as butter and sugar. He encouraged all citizens to plant vegetable gardens, giving birth to the famous liberty gardens, later followed by the successful victory gardens in World War II. During the Roaring Twenties, processed foods became menu staples. Betty Crocker, with the continuing help of Fannie Farmer, taught housewives to cook using precise step-by-step recipes. These were the days of pineapple upside-down cake (using canned pineapple). Swiss steak, and home versions of elegant hotel dishes such as eggs Benedict.

Following the stock market crash of 1929, housewives learned to stretch leftovers into hash or potpie and how to extend meat to create tasty one-pot dishes such as lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and vegetable-meat stews. At this time, another favorite, the po’boy sandwich became even more popular, and meatless meals of macaroni and cheese were frequently on the menu. In 1930, Clarence Birdseye started frozen-food industry, enabling Americans to enjoy a variety of healthful and tasty vegetables year-round.

Thorugh both world wars, food manufacturers made great advancements in preserving food for the troops: from instant mashed potatoes to precooked frozen meals.

After World War II, the soldiers returned home with newly acquired tastes for foreign foods. Almost overnight, yogurt, Dutch cocoa, Chinese Teas, Scottish shortbread, and even South Aftrican rock lobster tails became affordable and available. Mixes became the fastest and most foolproof way to bake cakes. Kraft packaged presliced processed cheese that was ready for sandwiches, and Swanson’s offered three-course dinners in the freezer case. The first Pillsbury Bake-Off was held in 1949, and delicate chiffon cakes debuted the following year. New kitchen appliances, such as electric skillets, tabletop rotisseries, and electric knives and can openers sped up basic kitchen tasks. And James Beard brought his culinary expertise to homemakers via their teleivision sets.

Beginning in the 1960s, Julia Child’s TV program, “The French Chef,” came into the living rooms across the country, taking the mystique out of French dishes, such as beef Wellington and crepes Suzette, and turning dinner parties into memorable gourmet feasts. Menus went continental, with Flemish beef carbonnade, Japanese sukiyaki, and Greek moussaka. Iceberg lettuce took a backseat to Bibb lettuce, arugula and the popular Caesar salads. Nouvelle cuisine, which called for the best ingredients cooked as little as possible, arrived from France. Alice Waters started the revolutionary California cuisine by using only the freshest and finest-quality ingredients at her restaurant, Chez Panisse. Food larders, grew too, with such gourmet additions as leeks, shallots, purple potatoes, and miniature vegetables. The Cuisinart made slicing and dicing faster than ever thought possible, and bread machines, pasta machines, espresso makers, and cooking schools helped turn more and more Americans into expert cooks.


About the Author: Nicetas Juanillo

Writing makes me happy away from home. My website is where you can find my tips about lifestyle, health and other issues. I also have books on my site that you can read to know more

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