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How to Cook (and Drink!) Like a Colonial

Life in the 18th century was far different from today. From food and drinks, to the way they dressed — things change. Growing your own herbs and vegetables and cooking on an open hearth was commonplace, though the wealthy often had cooks and servants doing the dirty work for them

When it came to the type of wood used for the fire, hardwoods were the best. However, based on the area, only certain types of wood were available. Oak, hickory, hard maple, and dogwood were particularly popular and offered a solid, long-lasting fire. Woods were selected based on their burning properties, especially whether they could produce an even, intense heat. Wood that could catch quickly and start a large, blazing fire was not ideal for cooking. (Overcooked outside, undercooked inside? No, thanks!)

When roasting and toasting, meat (or another food) would be hung up in the open hearth and would cook using the radiating heat of the fire. Fish would be tied to a wooden plank that was soaked in water, and a small flame was used to boil, simmer, and stew foods. Coals would be raked up, placed on the lid and then underneath a Dutch oven to bake. Baking was only successful with the help of coals, and let’s be honest — who doesn’t need bread or dessert?!

While cookbooks were not common, recipes were often passed down and then memorized by cooks and family. Some family favorite recipes were recorded, just like the one below (though this one was adapted for modern cooking!).

Ingredients for Hoecakes (one of George Washington’s favorite foods, according to Mount Vernon):

• 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

• 2 1/2 cups white cornmeal, divided

• 3 to 4 cups lukewarm water

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1 large egg, lightly beaten

• Melted butter for drizzling and serving

• Honey or maple syrup for serving

Click here for instructions on how to cook the fluffy, warm, and delightful cakes!

Open hearth inside Craven Hall.

When it came to drinking, colonial Americans believed alcohol could cure a number of ailments, heal the wounded, and put a smile on your face. From sunrise to sunset, alcohol was consumed, and even more was enjoyed on holidays and during social events (weddings, funerals, and even election day). Starting the day with breakfast often meant enjoying a drink, too. (Porridge and a beer? I’ll pass!) A drink for lunch, a mid-afternoon taster, and a sip of something for dinner. Plus, you could find many locals imbibing at a tavern for the entire day!

Our Founding Fathers also enjoyed their fair share of ale, but that’s not surprising, is it? John Adams started his day with a hard cider, and Thomas Jefferson imported his alcohol directly from France. Patrick Henry, former Governor of Virginia, served home brew to his guests, and after a few drinks, he probably exclaimed, “Give me a drink, or give me death!” (Or was it, “give me liberty?”)

Benjamin Franklin invented several fun, quirky terms to describe drunkenness, including addled, boozy, cracked, and “halfway to Concord.”

Now, go cook your next meal over an open hearth and enjoy a cold brew with your meal (preferably lunch or dinner, but I won’t judge!). Hopefully you won’t drink so much that you are “halfway to Concord!”

By: Jennifer Burns

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