One man’s meat is often another man’s pest. And so it was when rangy, roach-like lobsters scampered across New England’s Atlantic sea floors. Solution? Colonists used them as animal feed. Ironically, these rangy, antennad scavengers have have put New England on the fast track for big tourist bucks in later times.
Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut make up the New England states. Rimmed to the west by the Appalachian Mountains, these states’ Green Mountains (VT.), White Mountains (N.H.) also Berkshire Hills (MA) generally slope gradually toward the Atlantic.
As the soil here was too thin and rocky for cash crops; fish and lumber became major trade items. The land also lent itself to dairying and potato farming. Bogs in Massachusetts afforded cranberries while maple sugar/syrup flourished up north in Vermont. Well-defined harbors and the Atlantic’s cold waters nourished excellent fish, lobsters, cod, oysters, clams and scallops.
Who came first to this young land? The Separatist Puritans, “Pilgrims,” arrived in 1620 via the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. These Puritans came in the 17th century to gain religious freedom.
Once settled, early New Englanders used their lumber to build fine ships, and this enabled them to engage in the “Trianglar trade” system. New England and European ships would carry their own manufactured goods to the west coast of Africa. These goods were exchanged for slaves who were brought to the West Indies. The slaves were then traded for sugar cane which New Englanders carried back for making molasses and rum. This went on until 1808.
New England food is the result of old English food habits combined with Native American know-how and North American crops. The English boiled or steamed most foods. When they arrived in the new world, Native Americans introduced corn, Vermont’s maple syrup, game, squash, cranberries and sweet potatoes – thus a new North American cuisine came into being! Through it all, thrift and “Necessity being the mother of invention,” became the settlers’ everlasting credo.
Spices filtered into New England from all part of the world as explorers “stopped off.” Cooking centered on bread, beans, fish and salt meat. They ate a lot of salt preserved pork, because they lacked money to fatten cattle with grain. Their pigs foraged for themselves. The above-ground vegetable growing season was short and so was the supply of leafy green vegetables. Veggies most common were: corn, potatoes, beets, carrots, parsnips, pumpkin and butternut squash. “Root cellars” preserved most vegetables during long winters.
This, also, is chowder country, and differences exist to this day. Jasper White defines these differences in his recent book, 50 Chowders. He writes, “Chowder celebrates the excellence of local ingredients … especially in ‘found foods.’” He notes certain types of chowders are popular in different regions, “… white (broth/liquid) chowder in [northern] New England, clear chowder in Rhode Island and red chowder in New York.” For clam chowder, he states “soft-shell clams are preferred in Maine, quahogs in Cape Cod …” The reality is, he states, “cooks have improvised chowders continuously for about three hundred years, and there was never one true chowder.”
LEGACY DISHES: (dishes which evolved from the few foods found in a young country)
- · Boston Baked Beans: pea beans slow-simmered with spices, pork and molasses
- · Boston Brown Bread: a baked or steamed bread made from rye flour, yellow cornmeal, graham flour, molasses, buttermilk, seasonings and raisins
- · Fried Mush: solidified Hasty Pudding
- · Grunt (aka slump): Stewed, sweetened berries topped with spoonfuls of biscuit dough and simmered until dough becames a dumpling-like
- · Harvard Beets: Sliced beets with vinegar in sweetened, cornstarch-thickened sauce.
- · Hasty Pudding: Porridge-like mixture of cornmeal and boiling water, often served with maple syrup or molasses
- · Johnycake: Also Jonnycake, Journey Cake, a thin pancake of cornmeal, salt and boiling water
- · Pumpkin Sauce: Pumpkin stewed with fat, sugar, spices, vinegar and pumpkin bread
- · Red Flannel Hash: Ground corned beef, potatoes and beets, sometimes topped with a fried egg
· Succotash: Mixture of beans and corn