Colonial America is often considered to be a simpler time, and in many ways, it was. Nowhere is this truer than in the culinary arts, where colonial food was marked by the need to use every part of a plant or animal.
Roasted Beaver Tails
Today, they’re usually a protected species, but in the 17th and 18th centuries, beavers were hunted all over North America for their pelts. Hungry trappers stuck out in the wilds didn’t want to waste any part of the beaver, so they ate the tails too.
My My, Eel Pie
Not many people today would consider an eel to be a delicacy, but in colonial times, eels were considered to be such a desirable dish that people in New England would actually use lobsters as bait to catch them. Eel meat was eaten in a variety of ways, but a popular way to prepare it was in a pie.
If you’re keen on trying eel today, you might be interested to know that eels are still sold in shops in London and throughout England. Make a trip out there if you’re feeling brave enough to try something your great-great-great-grandparents had for special occasions!
Ambergris (AKA Whale Vomit)
You may have known that whale vomit has been a component of perfume for centuries, but did you know that in the 1700 and 1800s, it was a popular ingredient in many luxury dishes as well? It was used in beverages, served alongside eggs, or added to hot chocolate in not only America but also around the world.
Ambergris is actually very hard to find since it’s only produced by a small percentage of sperm whales. It forms on the ocean surface and floats, but will only rarely make landfall. Because of that, it’s been a very valuable substance for years.
Weird Ice Creams
You may not know that ice cream was first introduced in colonial America in the mid-18th century, but it was with the advent of ice houses where it could be made and stored. Ice cream was a popular dessert and even in the beginning, there were tons of delicious flavors available.
You may also not know that ice cream wasn’t all sweet at first — it was also flavored with eels, asparagus, or chestnuts, in addition to the normal sweet or fruity flavors.
Calves’ Feet Jelly
You may not think of animals when you think of a substance like Jell-O, but its main ingredient is gelatin, which is derived from animal collagen. Colonists took this gelatin and made what’s called calf’s foot jelly, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Believe it or not, calf’s foot jelly is still made in parts of the U.S. and around the world. You can find plenty of recipes online, and if you add sugar, it becomes a sweet dessert. Something to try next holiday?
Lobsters Were Really Cheap
Lobster isn’t an unusual food nowadays, but that’s not why we included it in this list. In colonial America, lobsters were a dime a dozen, and eating them regularly was a sign of being underclass. As mentioned above, they even used them as bait for eels!
My, my — how the times have changed. Now, lobster is one of the most expensive kinds of seafood you can eat, and eels, well, let’s just say you won’t be buying a lobster to use as bait for one.
Clabber — It’s Basically Yogurt
Before you get scared off by the name (or the description for that matter), consider that yogurt is just fermented milk. We tend to be adverse to the concept of sour milk, but it’s actually used for plenty of delicious foods. One of those foods was clabber, which was very popular in colonial times.
Before you toss your sour milk next time, check out some recipes for clabber. Colonists used to season it with nutmeg, cinnamon, or pepper. Sounds yummy!
Snake Meat Stew
Snakes have a long history of having an “icky” factor that keeps Americans from eating them, but that hasn’t always been the case. Remember that usually, colonists didn’t have the luxury of being picky, and they ate anything they could find. Well, one of those things was snake meat.
Snake meat is pretty much tasteless and has a similar texture to some types of fish, so you could see how it wouldn’t be terrible in a soup if you could get past the fact that the snake is a disgusting creature.
Scrapple — Pig/Lamb Scraps
Remember how colonists couldn’t afford to waste any part of an animal? That included pigs, sheep, and cows — and for the first two, they’d take the leftover scraps and make what’s called scrapple. Essentially, it’s a meatloaf made from the ground up “extras,” like the snout, heart, brain, or eyes.
This picture is actually lamb scrapple, but it’s the same idea. Scrapple is still made today, although, for the most part, we don’t use every part of the pig, like we used to.
Yes, They Ate Pigeons
Move over Mimi Siku, pigeons aren’t that weird of an animal to eat! Plentiful birds with a good amount of meat on them, pigeons were often enjoyed by colonists who didn’t have modern sensitivities about what they were eating. Most of the birds we eat now are fully domesticated.
Just think of pheasant and you’ll see that eating a pigeon isn’t actually all that strange. It actually used to be an upper-class dish because of how much work it took to prepare.
Posset, a Type of Custard
Custard is still around today, and it often gets a bad rap for whatever reason. Some really like it, and then there are those that you couldn’t pay to eat it. Posset, the next item on our list, was another type of custard that colonists ate for dessert.
It was also made as a delicious, sweet drink that colonists enjoyed serving at weddings and special celebrations. It was a very popular dish that everyone was crazy about!
Turtle Soup for the Soul
Nowadays, many species of turtle are endangered so it’s a little harder to find a soup made from them, but they didn’t have this problem in 18th century America. Turtle soup was a very popular dish among the rich and upper-class, usually made from snapping turtles.
Turtle soup was actually eaten up until the 1920s when better tasting and easier-to-prepare meats began making their way onto dinner tables around the country. Do you think it’ll ever make a comeback?
A Hard Bread Called Hardtack
The quintessential soldier’s food, hardtack has been around for centuries in some form or another. Basically, an unleavened bread (almost a cracker), hardtack has been favored by navies and armies because of how long it will keep for and how it’s relatively easy to pack into a bag and carry.
Soldiers in the U.S. Army still get something like hardtack in their MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat), but it’s called crackers now. Some things never change, do they?
American as Apple Pie
Not everything on this list is supposed to be weird or gross. Colonial Americans loved apple pie, even though apples are native to Europe. Apples grew well in the colonies because the fruit can survive the harsh winters, and Americans took the apples and made pies much like we still enjoy today.
Apple pie back then probably wasn’t as sweet as it is now, since sugar was often a luxury and very expensive. However, it was still seasoned with nutmeg or cinnamon, and we’re sure it was just as delicious as we know it is today!
Hardened Bear Fat
Ok, so colonists didn’t technically just munch on a piece of hardened bear fat. However, colonists in wilder parts of the country would often kill bears for food, and they’d melt their fat down to make a shortening-like substance, which they’d then use for cooking and baking.
Apparently, it’s very good for frying, and it doesn’t go bad as quickly as pork fat, so some colonists even found it to be a better alternative. Bear fat is still used by some people for cooking and baking today. Who knew?
Biscuits and Gravy
Many people today still love to have biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast, but it was still a very popular dish back in colonial times. It actually made its appearance as a southern dish shortly after the Revolutionary War, but it hasn’t changed much since that time.
This is one of the foods on this list that has stood the test of time. If something’s not broken, don’t fix it, as the saying goes.
Not Your Normal Katchup
Oh cool, you’re probably thinking, colonials enjoyed some condiments with their food? That’s no typo, though — katchup isn’t the tomato-based sauce we use nowadays. Katchup in colonial America was a sauce made from mushrooms, walnuts, anchovies, or oysters.
As a matter of fact, tomatoes were considered poisonous by many Americans during the 18th century, and a type of modern-day ketchup didn’t appear in America until around the time of the Civil War.
Mutton — Old Sheep Meat
Sheep were incredibly valuable to families in the 18th century because of their wool, which could provide clothes for everyone in the household. However, once their wool became inferior due to old age, they were slaughtered and their meat — mutton — became their final gift to their family.
The rest of the sheep would often be used in a similar way to scrapple, but mutton remains a popular meat to this day. It’s technically meat from a sheep that’s over a year old.
Pease Porridge Hot or Cold
It’s not just a nursery rhyme — pease porridge was a popular dish in colonial times because of how plentiful the ingredients were. Also known as pease pudding, it was made of boiled legumes with a boiled ham or bacon joint added for flavor.
Split pea soup remains a popular dish today, and it’s very similar to the way it would have been made back in the 18th century. Nothing beats it on a cold winter’s day!
Roast Squirrel Meat
Rodents are plentiful, and squirrels in America are definitely no exception. Colonists, particularly those in the unsettled parts of America, often trapped and ate squirrels roasted over an open fire. How on Earth do you catch them, though? They’re so fast!
Yeah, little buddy, we’re shocked too. Squirrel meat was served in pies, in stews, or simply fried. Squirrel-hunting was a particularly enjoyed pastime in Connecticut.
Stewed Swan Meat
The next entry on our list is stewed swan, which we admittedly don’t see much of these days. Swans are usually seen as a symbol of nature’s beauty, so we hesitate to eat them nowadays. Colonists didn’t have those same sensitivities, so they’d often eat stewed swan.
When you think about it, a swan is pretty much like a goose, and those get eaten all the time. Apart from stewing, early Americans would also roast them. Something to try next Thanksgiving?
Syllabub — Whipped Cream Dessert
Syllabus, no relation, is the thing your college professor gives you at the beginning of the year that you probably never read. Syllabub, on the other hand, was a whipped cream dessert similar to custard that was a big hit among colonial Americans.
Surprisingly enough, you can still find various syllabub recipes today! Who’s trying it for dessert this week?
Tripe, Animal Stomach Lining
You may have heard of tripe before as an example of something gross your mother threatened to make you eat (mixed with liver probably), but tripe was quite a popular dish in colonial times. It’s the soft lining of animal stomachs like cows or deer.
Believe it or not, tripe is actually very healthy. It’s rich in selenium, zinc, and vitamin B12. Maybe that’s how colonists got their daily dose of vitamins.
Other Kinds of Porridge
Porridge was a very popular breakfast dish in the 18th century because of how easy it was to prepare and how plentiful the ingredients were.
Porridge is usually made from ground corn, but it’s really any sort of ground-up vegetable that’s been mashed up with milk or water. Oatmeal is a type of porridge, but not all porridge is made from oats.
Tragically, slavery was a part of life in southern colonial America, and slaves had to eat too. A popular food among them was ash cake or ash bread, which was a corn-based bread that was baked in a pile of ashes from a fire.
You can still find recipes for ash cakes today among outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s a quick easy meal to make if you’re camping or outdoors in the wilderness.
Molasses, Syrup From Sugar
Another key ingredient in many colonial dishes was molasses — a thick, brown syrup that’s a byproduct of refining sugar cane into sugar. Molasses in rum was very popular until Great Britain passed the Molasses tax, one of the taxes which ultimately led to the American Revolution.
Once molasses started being taxed, many colonists found a different vice. Molasses has never been as popular in the U.S. as it once was because of it.
Have you ever heard of pokeweed? We didn’t before now. It turns out that roots, leaves, and berries of common pokeweed were used medicinally by both the Native Americans and colonists to treat various types of conditions — from a headache to a cough, and more. Of course, colonists also ate pokeweed.
Considering that this kind of herbaceous perennial plant is poisonous, though, people that used or ate pokeweed had to boil the shoots and leaves in water several times prior to consuming it. Very interesting…
Cooked Chitlins (Pig Intestines)
Lower-class Americans, especially in the south, had food that was often made from pigs, and this included every part of the pig. Chitlins were cooked pig intestines, and they were a popular dish among the lower classes in the southern colonies.
You can still find chitlins to make today at butcher shops, and it’s often called chitterlings as well. It’s most often fried up or boiled, and served with vinegar and/or hot sauce. Delish!
Fried Chicken Livers
As already mentioned several times, the lower classes needed to use every part of an animal to stretch out the amount of food they got out of it, and chickens were no exception. Out of the chicken’s organs, one popular dish was fried chicken livers.
Chicken livers are actually very healthy, and you can still find them today if you’re feeling culinarily adventurous. Serve them with sauteed mushrooms and onions for a tasty, different meal!
Roasted Opossum Meat
Opossums, which are native to North America, have the distinction of being America’s only marsupial, which means they’re related to kangaroos. This didn’t stop colonists from roasting them, however, and opossums were a popular game animal throughout the colonies.
Nowadays, the only time people see opossums may be at night or as roadkill, but they were once a popular dish in the 18th century. We wouldn’t recommend trying to bring back their popularity!
Yes, Raccoon Meat Too
Even though we jokingly refer to them as trash pandas, if there’s anything we’ve learned by now, it’s that no food sources were off-limits for colonial Americans. Raccoons were trapped and use for meat as well as opossums and squirrels, although this was also mainly done by lower classes.
Raccoon is still eaten in parts of the U.S. today, and its meat has been described as greasy and similar to dark-meat off a chicken. It can be roasted, boiled, added to a stew, or just eaten with vegetables and a side.
Cornbread, Another American Classic
Colonists ate a lot of cornbread, but you may not be aware that this delicious type of bread was actually adopted from Native American diets. Corn was a staple among Native American tribes, and it was ground up into a meal and used to bake bread all the time.
Colonists adopted Native Americans’ affinity for corn as well as a number of other fruits and vegetables they enjoyed, like squash and beans.
Pepper was an exotic spice first making its way to Europe in the 18th century, and anything that was in vogue in Europe was quickly adopted in the American colonies as well. Though we wouldn’t think of it as a spice for sweets today, that didn’t stop colonists from baking it into a cake.
According to Martha Washington’s book — Booke of Cookery — pepper cakes weren’t just delicious, they would last for months if stored at the right temperature. For a time without preservatives, that’s not bad!
Sassafras Tree Leaves
You may have heard of sassafras tea, but in the 18th century, it was a normal part of people’s diet. They’d often add it as part of stews or creole dishes, like gumbo, and it was a regular part of Native Americans’ diet as well. It’s a leafy green vegetable.
What you may not know is that sassafras was a popular remedy for syphilis in 18th century England, so the colonies became a pretty big exporter of the leafy green.
Tongues of Every Kind
We’ve seen multiple times already how the colonists liked to use every part of the animal, and the tongue was absolutely no exception. They’d roast it, boil it, or chop it up and fry it, and pretty much every animal that had a large tongue was fair game.
Nowadays, you don’t see tongue very much but it’s still grilled, fried, braised, or pickled and served in a variety of ways. When cooked correctly, it can be a slice of very flavorful meat.
Jellied Moose Nose
Colonists sure loved their jellies made from various melted down animal parts, and moose were a plentiful animal. Put both those facts together and you inevitably get something like jellied moose nose. It was made by boiling the upper jaw of the moose, then taking the meat, and letting it sit overnight in moose broth.
You can still find recipes to make this interesting dish online, but it might be harder to actually find a moose. However, we see no reason why you can’t also make this from pig snout or a cow nose.
Salting is an ancient method of preserving meat for a long period of time; the salt acts as a natural preservative and meats that have been salted can last for months when stored in a cool basement. This is mainly how Americans used to store their food over the winter.
Salted fish is only one of essentially any sort of meat product that could have been salted. Americans also salted beef, pork, and venison to help feed their families through the long, cold winter.
Humble (or Umble) Pie
Another decidedly lower-class dish was humble pie, or as it was otherwise known, umble pie. Basically, it was made from whatever leftovers there were of an animal (typically the innards) and mixed up with apples, sugar, and spices to make a meal.
Humble pie is actually a very old dish, with records of it existing back to the middle ages. The upper classes would feast on the meat of the animal, while the peasants would get what was left and make it into a filling pie.
Another type of mush (porridge) was hasty pudding, which was made from corn or flour, mixed with boiling water or milk, and eaten while warm. It was so named because it was quick to make, and it was a popular breakfast food both in America and in England.
American hasty pudding was usually made with ground Indian corn, not flour. Since corn wasn’t a huge crop in England, it wasn’t necessarily as popular.
Plum Cake (AKA Election Cake)
Plum cake has been around for centuries, and it’s usually made with some sort of berry, although the specific ingredients vary by region of the world. American plum cakes were made with various types of fruit, so it’s probably what you’d consider fruitcake today.
It was also served at elections, so it came to be known as election cake. Before the Revolutionary War, they were called muster cakes because they were made for the men called to drill with the British Army. It’s had a lot of names!
Partridges are medium-sized birds, with a wide native distribution throughout Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. During colonial times, these non-migratory birds were a popular choice when it came time for a nutritious meal.
Although this kind of meat isn’t a household staple nowadays, there are plenty of recipes you can find. The meat is supposedly delicate and tender — plus it’s quick and easy to cook! It’s full of flavor but not too gamey. And partridge happens to be a healthier option than most farmed meats!
Good English Tea
A list about 18th century American cuisine wouldn’t be complete without mentioning tea. It started a revolution and a whole new country! Americans before the war really loved English tea, just like their brothers and sisters across the ocean. That’s why the tea tax was such a slap in the face.
Once the British started taxing tea heavily, Americans were done with the stuff. They replaced it with a beverage that they didn’t have to depend on foreign imports for, and we still drink it to this day…
Thank the Colonists for Coffee!
Coffee is a decidedly American drink, although it was originally from Ethiopia. After Americans wouldn’t buy the King’s tea anymore, they switched to coffee, and it was off to the races from there. Before then, coffee was more time-consuming to make than tea, but they would enjoy a cup at a coffeehouse.
Coffee was a status symbol in colonial America; it wasn’t as expensive as tea, but it did require more effort to prepare. Ever since, coffee has been a staple in the American diet.
While fish is still a very popular dish of choice today, we bet that many of you have never tried sturgeon. It’s okay — neither have we. When the first English settlers in the New World founded the colony of Jamestown, they caught a gigantic sturgeon from the James River.
At that point in time, colonists had more than enough of this type of fish to go around. In fact, according to John Smith, “We have more sturgeon, can consume as humans and dogs.”
Perry — Fermented Pear Drink
Pears were another plentiful fruit in colonial AmericaPerry is a fermented beverage made from pears, and it made its way over from England and France to the American colonies, where colonists enjoyed it every now and then.
For some reason, apple beverages are more popular than pear-based beverages nowadays in the U.S. We’re not sure why, but this perry stuff sure sounds delicious!