In this day and age, the 4th of July means gathering around the grill. Burgers, hotdogs, sausages and the vegetarian/vegan versions of each are our go-to grub during the Summer holiday. Throw in some potato salad, baked beans, deviled eggs and a cold beveridge and you have yourself a barbecue!
How does it compare to what they ate during our first Independence day in 1776?
During the 1700s, meals typically included pork, beef, lamb, fish, shellfish, chicken, corn, beans and vegetables, fruits, and numerous baked goods. Corn, pork, and beef were staples in most lower and middle class households (hence hotdogs and hamburgers). Dinner for these groups usually consisted of a stew made from a piece of pork and dried or fresh vegetables, and a starch such as corncake or corn pone. Fish was also a frequent dish in lower income households because it was inexpensive (or free) and a good source of protein.
A striking characteristic of the diet in New England was the seasonal availability of food. While farming in the southern colonies took place for most of the year, northern growing seasons were more restricted, limiting the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables.
However, the coastal colonists' proximity to the ocean gave them a bounty of fresh fish to supplement their diet year-round, especially in the north.
Wheat, the grain primarily used in English bread, was almost impossible to grow in the North, and imports of wheat were expensive. Substitutes included corn (maize) in the form of cornmeal. The johnnycake was generally considered a poor substitute for wheaten bread, but was accepted by residents in both the northern and southern colonies.
A number of vegetables were grown in the northern colonies, including turnips, onions, cabbage, carrots, and parsnips, along with pulses and legumes. These vegetables stored well through the colder months. Other vegetables, such as cucumbers, could be salted or pickled for preservation.
Agricultural success in the northern colonies came from following the seasons, with consumption of fresh greens only occurring during summer months.
In addition to vegetables, a large number of seasonal fruits were grown. Fruits not eaten in season were often preserved as jam, wet sweetmeats, dried, or cooked into pies that could be frozen during the winter months.
Some vegetables originating in the New World, including beans, squashes, and corn, were readily adopted and grown by the European colonists. Pumpkins and gourds grew well in the northern colonies and were often used for fodder for animals in addition to human consumption.
Here we are in 2021 and eat pretty much the same foods, just prepared differently with a lot more flavors. Spices, sugar and seasonings were only for the wealthy back then, but now we can all put our own spin on our staples. Enjoy your 4th of July bounty, whatever it may be!