Recently, I attended a day of workshops which focused on the customs of those who lived during the time of the American Revolution (18th Century). According to historian Jenna Schnitzer, we can learn much about what people ate by looking at the paintings and pictures of that time period.
Still life pics of “heirloom vegetables”revealed what was served at mealtimes. Potatoes were always an economical choice until the potato famine occurred. Hubbard squash was decorative and often served at the dinner table. The only cabbage eaten was the Savoy cabbage since it’s leaves are sweet and tender. This cabbage was grown locally and was fragile. It could not be exported. Kale, not curly lettuce, was also eaten. Turnip and beet greens were a staple and very nutritious since the leaves are high in vitamin B and C. Nowadays, most of us discard these greens. White stemmed chard was also available. Today, most chard in our supermarkets is red stemmed, and called “rainbow chard”.
The “look” of some of the vegetables has also changed. Most vegetables of that time period were tear dropped in shape. Turnips were short and stout. The names of fruits and vegetables have changed as well. For instance, the Pecker apple of the 1740′s is called the Pippin apple today.
The colonies had access to produce from foreign ports, including the seeds. Vegetables and seeds from France were imported. The seeds were planted and harvested in the colonies. Some vegetation was stored underground or in ice houses to be eaten in the winter months, when produce was scarce.
Vegetables were prepared differently back then. Cucumbers were cooked with butter and melon with salt and pepper for a sweet and savory taste. Pickling vegetables and making jam from berries were a necessity to insure food during the cold weather months.
Cooking with 18th century recipes gives us the opportunity to sample what foods tasted like during the American Revolution. It is the best way to time travel!