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The New England culinary region closely follows geopolitical boundary, overstepping only into upstate New York and northern Long Island. New England’s ability to produce its own food is restricted by geographical barriers and climactic extremes.
New England’s arable coastal plain is narrow, squeezed between the mountains and the sea. As you move inland the land quickly rises to piedmont, low mountains, and finally to the rugged Northern Appalachian Mountain chain. In northwestern New York State the land flattens into temperate high plateau.
New England has little arable land. Most of New England’s soil is deposited in narrow river valleys and small basins between mountain ridges. Tracts of viable farmland are small—rarely more than 250 acres in size.
Steep terrain precludes using large farm machinery. Rugged terrain and rushing rivers made transport of crops difficult.
New England’s climate is one of extremes. Crossroads of weather patterns results in extremely changeable and unpredictable weather. Nor’easters are frequent. Despite median latitude, New England can suffer extremely hot and bitterly cold temperatures. Much of New England has a short growing season.
EASTERN AND COASTAL ALGONQUIANS NORTHERN IROQUOIS Agriculturalists Lifestyle and food ways similar to Plantation South natives Early contact with Europeans Numbers decimated by war and disease; many tribes wiped out Hunting and gathering more important than farming Aggressive and warlike Later contact with Europeans Eventually controlled much of northern New York State, Mid- Atlantic, Great Lakes region, and Ohio Valley
Good farmers working under poor conditions Among few Native American groups to practice fertilization Relied on hunting and foraging to supplement crops Three Sisters (corn, beans, squash) considered high status foods Corn was and is considered sacred
Coastal tribes fished beaches, bays, and inlets. Fish was eaten fresh and preserved with salt. Also fished for clams, oysters, mussels, scallops and lobsters. Inland tribes caught freshwater fish and traded for salt fish.
HUNTING Venison, bear, beaver, moose Rabbits, squirrels, other small game Wildfowl FORAGING Fiddlehead ferns (left) Wild blueberries and cranberries Other wild fruits and berries Wild mushrooms Wild vegetables and greens
In early spring, New England Native Americans tapped maple trees to extract the slightly sweet sap. They boiled the sap, using hot stones in sling bags over glowing coals, until it reduced into a thick, sweet syrup. Seasoning with maple syrup is the basis of New England’s (and America’s) preference for sweet-savory flavors.
Most early New England settlers were upper-middle- class townspeople from urban East Anglia. Most were part of separatist Protestant groups that emigrated to flee religious persecution. Few had wilderness training or farming experience. Their preferred Old World foods would not thrive in the new colony. They adopted indigenous foods out of necessity, not by choice.
MINIMIZED FOOD CULTURE CULINARY CONSERVATIVES Considered food as merely fuel for the body Considered spending time and money on fine food to be frivolous and sinful Many make-ahead dishes for the Sabbath Reluctant to adopted indigenous foods Culinary ideas brought by immigrants did not significantly change the cuisine Resisted eating seafood until later in history
OLD WORLD FOODS, DISHES CARIBBEAN IMPORTS Wheat flour breads, quick breads Apples: fresh, dried, and liquid European root vegetables and cabbages PRESERVED FOODS Salt meat and salt fish Crackers Molasses Rum COLONIAL HYBRIDS Colonial baked beans (with salt pork and molasses) The Thanksgiving turkey, pies, sweet and savory, hybrid cornmeal dishes
New England’s economy was not based on agriculture. Rather, Yankees gained economic viability through: Lumbering Manufacturing (including industrial food production) Fishing Sea trade and other forms of commerce
In 1621, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag celebrated the first Thanksgiving, which lasted for three days. Some say lobster, goose, duck, cod, pumpkin, etc. were on the menu, the actual origins and menu remain a mystery, theories abound. Commemorating the harvest? Day of thanks for the help of the Indians? Combination of the two? Regardless, it is a day to give thanks to our rich bounty.
New England cooking is simple, straightforward, plainly seasoned, and inexpensive to prepare. (Today, however, New England seafood has become expensive.)
A favorite Native American contribution to New England Cuisine. Clambakes did and still do commemorate all sorts of events ranging from weddings to political elections.
Modern times, most prepare clambakes by stacking alternating layers of seaweed and foods such as: Unpeeled potatoes (new, red) Clams Lobster Corn (in the husk)
Dig a pit in the sand. Line it with stones. Top with wood. Burn wood for an hour. Stones become hot. Remove ash and fire. Lay seaweed over stones Place clams on seaweed Cover with animal hide (pilgrims) or canvas (modern day). Keeps steam inside.
With the Atlantic Ocean forming the eastern border of New England, the colonists found abundant fish and seafood for eating as well as exporting. The waterways also provided excellent transportation.
Harsh winters created survival problems for early immigrants. Necessary to preserve food. This provided substance through the cold winter months. Some techniques include: Salting Drying Smoking Pickling
With cod and sea salt readily available from the Atlantic Ocean, salt cod became a staple in the New England diet. In addition to cod, the colonists salted any extra meat and fish, including pork and venison.
Although it was an important ingredient for preserving, salt remained very expensive until 1800. With plenty of wood available from forests, smoking serves as another common method of preserving. As a result, the cuisine of New England features hearty foods, which matches the most robust weather found there.
Fish and Shellfish: cod, scrod, salmon, mackerel, bluefish, shad, oysters, halibut, Pollock, lobster, scallops, clams, crabs. Game: deer, rabbit, wild turkey, quail, duck, pheasant. Milk and cheeses Beans, corn, squash and pumpkin. Cold weather veggies: beets, cabbage, winter squash, turnips, parsnips, carrots and potatoes. Cranberries, blueberries Apples Maple syrup
The settlers of New England prepared many foods by boiling, baking, grilling, or steaming. Like the Native Americans the settlers boiled any available ingredients in one pot Boiling ranked as the most popular for several reasons. First, Native Americans boiled many foods. Secondly, the British boiled many foods, so the colonists were accustomed to boiled foods. New Englanders relied on the very fresh taste of seafood since they seasoned it with few or no herbs or spices.
In cold winter months survival was difficult. Colonist worked morning till night just to take care of basic survival needs. There was always an iron kettle buried in the ashes of the fire or a pot of soup or stew hanging just above. This required little effort to cook. Little stirring required. As a result, food that “cooked on its own” was a necessity.
Boston brown bread steamed for hours in a pot of water. Baked beans cooked for at least five hours in the embers of the fire. For this reason, long slow (one pot) cooking dishes filled menus throughout winter.
Soups and Chowders : One-pot cookery The new settlers created the first American dish, a fish soup or stew called chowder. (no milk or potatoes) Most famous : Clam Chowder Its name is derived from the French word for a large copper pot, la chaudiere.
Originally, clam chowder was made with fish and seafood, pork flavorings and hardtack (very hard crackers) and water. Chowder recipes can be documented from the 1700’s, clams did not appear in written recipes until the 1830’s Clam chowder must contain two crucial ingredients: Salt pork or bacon and clams. Today, recipes add any number of other foods, but traditional New England clam chowder contains potatoes and milk or cream Water and tomatoes form the base of Manhattan clam chowder
Cockles: Tiny, delicate Littleneck <2 inches Cherrystone <3 inches Quahog : Largest, usually chopped and used in recipes. Tough. Razor Clams: (Jackknives) Steamers : Soft shell
Native Americans taught the settlers to make a bread, originally called “journey cakes,” from a mixture of ground corn and water. After shaping the dough into a patty they cooked it over an open fire. Most people think the name derived because the cornbread was easy to prepare while traveling. They were a standard in the diet of migrating settlers. No one knows why or when the named changed to “johnnycake.”
Spider- a pot perched on three legs that kept the bottom of the pot above the embers. Spit- for roasted and grilling meats or birds. Brick lined over next to hearth for baking breads or pies.
Baking in an oven next to the hearth or in a covered pot set in embers, regulating temperature was very difficult. This resulted in inconsistencies.
Codfish fresh cod, including Boston scrod salt cod dishes Cold-water lobster Clams hard-shell (quahogs) soft-shell (steamers or Ipswich) Oysters Scallops Mussels New England Chowder A hearty soup that always contains potatoes and a preserved pork product; most are seafood-based Clambake Clams, lobsters, fish, corn on the cob, and new potatoes are baked in a seaweed-lined pit dug on the beach
Maple syrup, maple sugar Berries cranberries (left) low-bush blueberries Fruits and vegetables apples potatoes Dairy products New England cheddar ice creams Smoked meats hams bacon Canadian bacon
Boston restaurants are known for high-quality ingredients, simple preparations, and large portions. The Parker House Hotel created signature New England dishes, such as Parker House rolls and Boston Cream pie (below).
Thus far New England cuisine has changed relatively little. New England’s seafood resources are endangered by pollution and over- fishing. Native American cuisine is being rediscovered and redefined.