Food & Drink

The 19th Century Diet

The Evolution of American Food

As with many aspects of American culture, food and the culture around eating was inherited from Great Britain. Until the 19th century, American dietary habits had not evolved much since the colonial period. In the North, food was kept plain and was mostly boiled as a way of cooking. Seasoning was scarcely used, as plain food was seen as proper through the eyes of many religious sects. New Englanders enjoyed a diet of baked bread, boiled vegetables, pies, and both boiled and baked meats. Northerners had plenty of cattle, which provided them with meat as well as milk and butter.

In the South however, a mixture of African, Indian, French and Spanish influences lead to a preference for well-seasoned food and alternative methods of cooking such as frying and simmering. Cattle were less common, and Southerners therefore ate venison and other game for meat. Eventually, as immigrants continued to settle in the States, they brought new ingredients and cultures which influenced America’s dietary habits. German immigrants for example, brought over a food culture which still persists today. Their traditions of marinated meats, sour foods and wursts assimilated into American culture and produced barbecue, hotdogs, and coleslaw.

Though social dining existed through the tavern and pub, during this time people mostly ate food that they grew themselves or food that was locally sourced. In places with larger populations, people ate food that was grown and cultivated by local hunters and farmers who carted their goods to central markets.

Before the existence of restaurants as we know them today, social dining existed through the tavern – a place where one could get food, drink, and spend the night. However, people mostly ate locally sourced food that was brought to central markets by local hunters and farmers, or food grown by themselves.

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