Old Time American Recipes-What did our Forefathers eat?
Long before the Civil War and the days of the Wild West, early American History began with those first early explorers:Christopher Columbus, and continuing with various explorers from England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and other European countries.
The American colonists got their food from several places. The modern supermarket that we know today, where you can get all kinds of food, was not an option back then.Colonial food in the late 1700’s was varied and abundant.A great many American colonists also took care of their own food needs. It was not uncommon for a farm family to have crops growing near the ocean while chickens, pigs, and cows were grazing nearby and for that same family to fish for clams and other fish down at the oceanside. This way, the family wouldn’t have to buy food from anyone else. They might have apple trees and rows of corn and wheat. They might turn that corn into cornbread or cornmeal mush. They might turn that wheat into flour themselves and use it to bake bread. They might also hunt wild animals, like deer, rabbits, and turkeys.
Most farmers stopped milking in late fall or early winter, and slaughtered surplus cattle, so that the remaining cows could be kept more economically. By spring, stored butter and cheese had run out, or were of very poor quality.
Pigs were the easiest animals to keep through the winter and were slaughtered in midwinter for Christmas roasts. So salt pork or pickled pork were the basis of early spring meals, with the last of the beans and cornmeal. Hunting and trapping supplied what fresh meat could be had. The other activity in rural areas was tapping maple trees for syrup and sugar. Because the climate was colder in Early American times, maple syrup was still being produced in the southern states.
The recipes of Colonial America are quite diverse, going well beyond “Boston Baked Beans” or venison and turkey. And, given their limited supply of resources — the supermarket did not yet exist — they used their ingenuity to create a wide range of palatable dishes. Some we still enjoy today in mainstream America, while other methods and items of preparation have fallen out of fashion. Here you will find both the popular and not-so-popular recipes of the early Americans.
A GOOD PICKLE FOR BEEF AND PORK,CALLED THE “KNICKERBOCKER PICKLE”(1825)
This pickle recipe is from the 1825 The Family Receipt Book, containing Thirty Valuable and Simple Receipts . . . , by “A Long-Island Farmer.
- 6 gallons water,
- 9 lbs. salt, coarse and fine mixed, 3 lbs, Brown Sugar,
- 3 oz. salt petre [sodium nitrate, optional],
- 1 oz. pearl-ash [substitute baking soda],
- 1 gallon molasses.
In making a larger or smaller quantity of pickle, the above proportions are to be observed. Boil and skim these ingredients well, and when cold, put them over the beef or pork.”
Yield: Enough for a full brisket of beef or 5 pounds of spareribs
- 2-1/2 cups ( 3/4 pound) kosher salt or pickling salt
- 1 cup lightly packed down (1/4 pound) brown sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) sodium nitrite
- 1/2 teaspoon (1/12 ounce) baking soda
- 1-1/3 cups molasses
- 2-3 pound flat-cut brisket, or 12 country spareribs
Equipment: Deep plastic or enamel or pottery bowl or bucket, clean stones to weight meat, refrigerator space
1. Put 2 quarts of water into a soup pot and measure in the other ingredients.
2. Heat the water to boiling, stirring to dissolve the other ingredients.
3. Remove from heat.
4. Wash off meat, arrange in bowl, pour the pickle over it. Weight down the meat with stones as necessary to keep it submerged.
5. Store in refrigerator. After a week, meats will be quite salty.
BOILED DISH-MEAT (1844)
This recipe, from the 1844 The New England Economical Housekeeper, and Family Receipt Book, by Mrs. E.A. Howland.
- 1 flat-cut corned beef brisket (2-3 pounds)
- lean salt pork (optional)
- 6 2-inch beets
- 6 potatoes (red or waxy preferred) 6 parsnips
- 6 large carrots
- Large head green cabbage
- 6 2-3-inch, white-topped turnips (or one large rutabaga)
Equipment: 1 oversized soup pot, or 2 spaghetti pots, long tongs
1. About 3-1/2 hours before you are planning to eat, put the meat in a large pot, and cover with water up to about half the pot (4 quarts). Bring to a boil.
2. Remove top of pot and reduce heat until water just simmers.
3. Turn up the heat and a bagged pudding, if using. Reduce heat again to a bare simmer. Make a time chart for when the dish is to be served, and plan to add beets an hour before serving, depending on size; potatoes 10 minutes later; turnips 10 minutes after that; parsnips and carrots 25 minutes before serving for the biggest pieces, 15 minutes for smaller ones; and cabbage 7-10 minutes. If your pot isn’t big enough, plan either a second pot with salted water, or start the beets and potatoes earlier and plan to remove them to make room.
4. Trim off tops and roots of beets. When it is time to add them to the pot, increase heat so that it does not stop simmering, then reduce heat to keep them at just a simmer.
5. Wash potatoes and peel off any green areas on potatoes. Add to pot.
6. If using rutabaga, scrub; peel off wax, if any; trim; and cut in half at the equator. Quarter each half. If using turnips, scrub and trim off any roots or sprouts. Add to pot on schedule.
7. Peel parsnips and carrots and cut into 1-inch lengths. Separate all the pieces an inch or more in diameter into one pile, to add about 25 minutes before serving.
8. Check corn beef for doneness (It will have lost some of its stiffness). If done, you can remove from the pot and weight between 2 plates for cleaner slices. This makes more room for vegetables. Check the beets for doneness by poking with a fork (it should go all the way in). Check the potatoes and rutabaga or turnip by halving the largest one or piece. Potatoes should be cooked all the way through; turnip or rutabaga could have a small granular area at the center. Remove vegetables that are done.
9. Add the large chunks of carrot and parsnip 25 minutes before serving.
10. Add the smaller chunks of carrot and parsnip 15 minutes before serving.
11. Cut the cabbage the long way into 6-8 wedges, each with some of the stem to hold it together. Add to the pot about 7-10 minutes before serving and cover tightly so the cabbage steams.
12. Slice corned beef (and/or salt pork, if using) in thin slices. Arrange on a platter with vegetables surrounding the meat.
Serve with melted butter.
CORN DUMPLINGS (1845)
- 4 cups yellow cornmeal (stone ground preferred)
- 1 recipe Boiled Dish (above) 1 cup molasses or maple syrup
Equipment: Food processor or blender, mixing bowl, wooden spoon or pudding stick, ladle, waxed paper, skimmer or slotted spoon
1. If using modern cornmeal, as boiled dinner is cooking, whirl half the cornmeal for 5 minutes in a blender or food processor with one side propped up with a thin book.
2. Put all the cornmeal in a mixing bowl and skim the grease and some of the broth out of the boiled dinner, starting with about 2 cups. Add little by little to the cornmeal, stirring hard to get a crumbly-looking “pre-dough” that will stick together when compressed.
3. Wet hands and form patties smaller than your palm.
4. Set out patties on waxed paper.
5. When boiled dinner is served, turn up heat on broth, and put in corn cakes with skimmer or slotted spoon, a few at a time. Cover pot and reduce heat to a simmer.
6. Cook 30 minutes.
Serve two dumplings as a dessert, striped with a little molasses or maple syrup.
STEWED BEANS AND PORK(1841)
- 2 pounds dried white beans (pea, navy, or small white preferred)
- 1 pound lean salt pork, or point-cut corned beef brisket (the fattier, front part)
- Black pepper
Equipment: Large soup pot, colander
1. The night before serving, wash beans carefully in the colander and pick over to remove any dirt, small stones, or spoiled beans.
2. Put beans in a large soup pot and cover with 2 quarts of water.
3. Cover pot and bring to a boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let soak overnight.
4. Drain beans in colander. Rinse with fresh water a few times.
5. “Score the rind” of salt pork, if using. Return beans to pot, add meat, and water, just to cover.
6. Bring pot to a boil, but immediately reduce heat to simmer 1 hour without cover.
7. Again drain beans and meat in colander.
8. Return beans to pot, add meat, and water to cover, “one tea-spoonful of salt,” and “a little pepper.”
9. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer 3-4 hours. Beans are done when floury clear through.
OYSTER SOUP MR. PACA’S WAY(1799)
- 2 quarts of oysters and juice (from about 6 dozen whole oysters)
- 6 ounces salted butter (1-1/2 sticks)
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon wheat germ (optional)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon mace
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Equipment: Large soup pot, mixing bowl, fine sieve
1. About an hour before starting, remove butter from refrigerator to soften.
2. If you are starting from whole oysters, scrub off the shells and put them in a large pot with a tight lid. Add a few tablespoonfuls of water and steam the oysters for a few seconds until all the shells open slightly. Now cut the oyster meats into a mixing bowl and discard shells. Save juices with meats. When you are finished, pour the steaming liquid carefully into the mixing bowl, so you don’t get the sand or shells into the soup. (Mr. Paca’s cook, who may have been a slave, might have had extra help to open the oysters, or might have been authorized to pay a peddler to shuck the oysters.)
3. Cream butter and flour together. Cut mixture into small pieces.
4. Pour oyster liquor off oysters into a soup pot, and heat it to a simmer.
5. Add mace and pepper, and the flourbutter mixture. Stir to dissolve all the flour and cook until it thickens.
6. Add oyster meats and simmer 5-10 minutes, stirring to mix well.
7. Remove from heat and mix in cream. Taste and add salt if needed.
Serve hot with hard crackers.
COMMON EGG SAUCE (1852)
- 2 medium eggs
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
Equipment: Small tureen or large gravy boat
1. Boil eggs 15 minutes, then cool in cold water.
2. “Break the shells by rolling them on the table, take them off and, separate the whites from the yolks, and divide all of the latter into quarter-inch dice.”
3. Mince the whites “tolerably small.”
4. Rinse out gravy boat in hot tap water to warm it, and dry off with a paper towel.
5. Mix egg whites and yolks in the gravy boat.
6. Pour hot butter over the eggs and stir.
DELIGHTFUL CAKES(ABOUT 1830)
- 4-1/2 cups sifted white flour, plus more to flour board
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 6 tablespoons wheat germ
- 4 cups sugar
- 6 medium eggs or 4 extra large eggs
- 1 pound butter
- 1 tablespoon nutmeg or mace
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
- 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
- Quart jar strawberry jam or currant jelly
Equipment: Pastry blender or large fork, rolling pin and wood board, 2 or more baking sheets, wire racks, wire whip or hand beater, spatulas
1. An hour before beginning, remove butter from refrigerator to soften.
2. Separate eggs by pouring from shell to shell over a cup. Put the first 4 whites in a medium bowl, and the first 4 yolks into a small bowl. Crack the last 2 eggs into the cup, and add to the yolks. (If using extra large eggs, separate the first 3, and use the 4th with the yolks.)
3. Beat egg yolks until light and creamy.
4. Measure out the flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and spice, and sift together.
5. Cream butter and sugar together with pastry blender or large fork.
6. Combine butter mixture and egg yolks in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.
7. Stir in flour mixture until you have a lump of dough.
8. Use remaining flour mixture (or just flour) to flour board and rolling pin.
9. Turn dough out onto board, and work a little until smooth. Roll out 1/2-inch thick and cut rounds with a drinking glass or biscuit cutter.
10. Flour baking sheets, and arrange biscuits so as not to touch.
11. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
12. When you have covered both baking sheets, bake biscuits 5 minutes. Combine scraps and re-roll until all the dough is used up. You may need to bake a second batch.
1 3. Cool half-baked cookies on wire racks.
14. Beat egg whites with a wire whip or hand mixer until they form soft peaks.
15. Add lemon extract and whip in enough sugar to form a stiff but spreadable icing.
16. Put a lump of jam or jelly at the center of each cookie, and spoon a pile of icing over that. (It will flatten out in the baking.)
17. Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and bake until icing is browned at the edges.
Serve as dessert, or with ice cream as part of the dinner of a wealthy family.
TO BROIL COD, SALMON,WHITING, OR HADDOCK (1792)
- 3-4 pound section of salmon, or salmon steaks
- Shortening to grease grill
- 1 / 2 cup flour
- 1 lemon
- Prepared horseradish
Equipment: Paper towels, charcoal or gas grill (optional), fish cage for grill (optional), broiler pan, stoneware dish, hardwood chips (optional), pancake turner
1. Before cooking, wash fish in cold water and dry with paper towels. If using charcoal grill, make a smaller fire than usual, mostly on one side, and let it burn down to coals. If using oven broiler, set up pan as far from the heating element as possible. If you grill outdoors with wood chips for added flavor, it may surprise you to know that Amelia Simmons suggested this for grilling fish in 1796: “[M]ake a smoke with small chips while broiling.”
2. Spread out flour on a plate or in a paper bag, and mix with salt and pepper. Dredge fish in flour.
3. Grease grill or cage with shortening. (Early American recipes call for rubbing the gridiron with a piece of suet.) Set fish in cage (if using) or “flesh side down” (if using split or filleted fish) on the grill or skin-side-down in a broiler pan.
4. Grill or broil inch-thick salmon steaks or fillets about 4 minutes before turning. Try to keep them quite far from the coals. With larger pieces, start at about 5 minutes per inch.
5. Turn fish by sliding onto the stoneware plate. Turn over on the plate, and slide back onto the grill or broiler pan.
6. Cook steaks or fillets about 3 more minutes, larger pieces another 5 minutes per inch. Early American cooks considered fish done when it flaked down to the bone at the thickest part. (Some people now consider this overdone.) A large fish will cook a little more after removed from heat.
7. Remove fish from grill back onto plate. A sauce of drawn butter (see To Melt Butter, Chapter 8) or Common Egg Sauce (see below) would be poured on.
8. Slice lemons and spoon up horseradish for garnishes. On the Colonial table, they would have been put in small dishes and arranged symmetrically in a line, or at 4 corners.
Serve as early Americans did, by placing the fish platter centered on the table at one end. The host or hostess would carve the main dish and serve to each diner.
ANN’S INDIAN BAKED PUDDING(1822-1852)
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal (stone ground preferred)
- 1 quart whole milk or half-and-half, plus 2 cups more for optional whey method
- 3 small eggs or 2 extra large eggs
- 3 tablespoons salted butter, plus 1 stick for sauce, and some to grease baking dish
- 3 ounces white or light brown sugar,
- plus 1/2 cup for sauce
- 1 tablespoon mixed cinnamon and nutmeg
- 1 / 2 teaspoon ginger (optional)
Equipment: 2- or 3-quart baking dish
1. Bring 2 cups of the milk or half-and-half almost to a boil in a pot or microwave oven.
2. Stir hot milk carefully into the cornmeal.
3. Stir in 3 tablespoons butter and let cool.
4. Break eggs and mix with spices and the 3 ounces of sugar.
5. Mix 2 more cups of milk with the egg mixture, and then work everything into the cornmeal.
6. Grease baking dish.
7. Fill baking dish with pudding mixture. (To make “whey,” a sweet clear liquid that would be used as a sauce, add another cup or two of cold milk on top of the pudding before it goes into the oven.)
8. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.
9. For sauce, blend a stick of softened butter with 1/2 cup sugar or brown sugar.
Serve before or with the meat at a large afternoon “dinner.” The butter-sugar sauce would be melted onto a mound of pudding, or the whey ladled over it in a bowl.
- 1 lb. of raisins
- 1 lb. of currants
- 1 lb. of suet
- 1 lb. of bread crumbs
- 3 lb. of moist sugar
- 8 eggs
- 1 tablespoonful of flour
- 3 lb. of mixed candied peel
- 1 glass of brandy
- 10 drops of essence of lemon
- 10 drops of essence of almonds
- 1/2 nutmeg
- 2 blades of mace
- 6 cloves
- Stone and shred the raisins rather small
- Chop the suet finely
- Rub the bread until all lumps are well broken
- Pound the nutmeg, mace & cloves to powder
- Cut the candied peel into thin shreds, and mix all these ingredients well together, adding the sugar
- Beat the eggs to a strong froth, and as they are beaten, drop into them the essence of lemon and essence of almonds
- Stir these to the dry ingredients, mix well, and add the brandy
- Tie the pudding firmly in a cloth, and boil it for 6 hours at the least: 7 or 8 hours would be still better for it
- Serve with boiled custard, or red-currant jelly, or brandy sauce
COLONIAL BROWN SUGAR COOKIES
- 2 Cups flour
- 1 Cup shortening
- 1 Cup brown sugar
- ½ Cup sour cream
- 1 Egg
- 2 Tsp baking powder
- ½-1 Cup raisins
- ½-1 Cup nuts, chopped
- ½ Tsp nutmeg
- ½ Tsp soda
- ½ Tsp salt
- In a large bowl, mix together shortening, sugar, nutmeg, egg and salt.
- Then add flour, sour cream, baking powder and soda.
- Mix it well.
- Then, add nuts and raisins in this mixture.
- Drop a spoonful of mixture, one at a time, onto a greased baking sheet
- Bake at 325°F for about 12-15 minutes.
In short, the early american settlers lived more simply than most people today are willing to live and that is why they survived with no grocery store, no cheap oil, no cars, no electricity, and no running water.Just like our forefathers used to do, The Lost Ways teaches you how you can survive in the worst-case scenario with the minimum resources available.It comes as a step-by-step guide accompanied by pictures and teaches you how to use basic ingredients to make superfood for your loved ones.Watch the video below:
by Emma Johnson
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