Kitchens and meals have changed a bit in 244 years

Today, July 2, is the anniversary of the day that America’s freedom was voted into action. On this day in 1776, the governing body of the 13 colonies, known as the Continental Congress, voted in favor of freedom from England.

Two days later, the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted. From 1776 to modern day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence.

snippet of declaration

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what the Founding Fathers of our country would think of what’s come to this land 244 years after they set forth the Declaration we’ve all lived by for so long.

Thomas Jefferson

Naturally, my mind wanders to what they would eat to sustain themselves during the long days and nights of those days, carefully penning the documents that would lead our country to the independence we all cherish.

Mealtimes in the Colonies were different from what we know today.  “Breakfast” was eaten early if you were poor, and later if you were rich. “Lunch” was non-existent as “dinner” was the mid-day meal, and was the main meal of the day.

The Colonial American breakfast was far from the coffee, juice, eggs and bacon of today. Early settlers got up early and went straight to their chores. In frontier outposts and on farms, families drank cider or beer with their bowl of porridge that had been cooking slowly all night.

In towns rather than rural settings, the usual mug of alcoholic beverage was consumed as soon as they woke up, followed by cornmeal mush and molasses, and of course, more cider or beer.

“Supper” was the evening meal, and was usually something very light. It was typically leftovers from the mid-day meal, or something entirely different like a roasted potato or an egg dish if eggs were available. Ale was always present. There’s no such thing as a “typical colonial meal,” since the colonists brought their own cooking styles, recipes and what supplies they could from their homeland with them.

The poorest people ate mostly potatoes, bread, and cheese. Working-class folks might have had meat a couple of times a week, while the middle class ate three hardy meals a day.

Raw fruits and vegetables were considered unappetizing, and so they were boiled vigorously with lots of sugar added to make them “tastier.” And when they served meat, they usually left the head and feet of the animal intact. Breads were eaten at all times of the day, but especially at breakfast.

Since there was no refrigeration, they had to eat what they prepared that day to avoid spoilage. Cooking was done over a wood fire – whether an outdoor fire or a woodstove – and the temperature was gauged by the color of the flames.

If a family was fortunate enough to have a cookbook, they had to decipher what each recipe meant by measurements such as “a scant teacup” or “a good spoonful” and keep an eye on their dishes since many took hours upon hours to cook, while keeping the fire going.

I have a number of cookbooks based on foods and recipes of Colonial America and the early days of our country’s independence, as those historical times fascinate me. Life was simpler then, and simple does not by any chance mean easy.

While many popular dishes from that era have not an ounce of appeal to my mental tastebuds, quite a few recipes are ones that people still create and enjoy today. One of those dishes is Hopping John. Hopping John is traditionally served as a New Year’s dish, but I love eating black-eye peas any time.

A bowl of Hopping John brings good luck any time of year.

Hopping John
2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1-1/2 quarts cold water
1 pound bacon
5 cups boiling water
2 cups long-grain rice
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Combine the peas and cold water in a large, heavy kettle with a tight-fitting cover. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat for 1 hour. Remove the cover. Turn heat to high and cook until the peas are almost dry. Cut the bacon into 1-1/2 inch lengths. Add the bacon, boiling water, rice, salt, and pepper. Stir; bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 25 minutes or until moisture is absorbed and the rice tender. Serve topped with some of the bacon pieces. Makes 8 to 10 generous servings.


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