PDF American Regional Cuisines: Food Culture and Cooking

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Unprepared for the hardships of their first winter, their concern was survival. With help from the Native Americans, the Pilgrims lived through the winter. The harvested corn could be steamed, roasted, or pounded into cornmeal.

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The colonists learned to adapt their own traditional recipes, substituting cornmeal for hearth cakes—puddings with a different flavor, but a similar cooking method. Americans now have johnnycakes, boiled and baked Indian puddings, and other English recipes using Indian corn. This use of maize is the most important and original aspect of American cookery, and the nation is known for its many corn recipes.

In addition to corn, Native Americans subsisted beans and squash. Many varieties of squash, including acorn, zucchini, pumpkins, and gourds, were adopted by the colonists. The squash could be eaten fresh or could be dried and stored. The squash seeds could be dried and used as well. The Native Americans taught these newcomers how to hunt and fish, and how to cure and smoke their food to preserve it through the winter. Bean pods could be left on the vine until they were thoroughly dry, and then used through the winter. The colonists learned to cook dried beans and depended on them as a staple food.

The Indians of New England flavored their beans with maple sugar and bear fat and slow-cooked them in underground pits inside deer hides. Single-pot dishes such as meat and seafood stews, which were commonly eaten in Europe, were adapted to the local ingredients. Braised and pickled beef, a mainstay of Britain and Ireland, became the popular dish called New England Boiled Dinner.

Root vegetables such as beets, celeriac, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, onions, and white and sweet potatoes saw them through the winters. Apples were brought over by the English colonists, and over varieties were planted.

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They established apricot, plum, and pear orchards and cultivated strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. The early settlers of New England also brought many animals with them to their new Lobsters Maine lobster, also known as the American lobster, is found in the North Atlantic from Laborador to North Carolina, with Maine contributing to more than half of all lobsters caught in the United States. Live Maine lobster is available year-round, with the bulk of the catch harvested in the summer in fall.

June and July is the peak molting season. Lobsters grow by molting, or shedding their shells. Just after they molt, they are soft and fragile until their new shell has hardened. It takes about 25 molts over 5 to 7 years for a lobster to grow to a minimum legal size, 1 pound. It is important to be aware of the quality and price of these lobsters, as soft-shell lobsters have less meat in proportion to total body weight than hard-shell lobsters. Hard-shell meat is firmer, while soft-shell meat is softer and tends to have more water. The New England states have very strict laws governing lobstering.

In Maine, it is illegal to sell lobsters under and over a certain size. As livestock were useful and easy to feed and care for, they could be found on nearly every New England farm.

Farmers raised cattle for milk and beef, sheep for mutton and wool, chicken for eggs and meat, and oxen and horses for pulling carts and plows. Pigs were widely owned because they could fend almost entirely for themselves by foraging in the woods for food. Wheat and rye could be planted once the livestock was available to plow the rocky land. The colonists brought their techniques of stone-ground milling for their grains.

Cider and ale were the main beverages of the early settlers. Hard fermented cider, the standard drink for both adults and children, was generally made from apples, although pears were also used.


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Wines from mulberries, cherries, and grapes were also produced. A minimum-size lobster will weigh around 1 pound, while a maximum-size lobster will weigh between 2 and 4 pounds. Lobster is referred to in the industry by different names depending on its weight. Other terminology regarding lobsters includes: CORAL The roe inside the female lobster that, when cooked, turns from black to orange.

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  8. The coral is frequently chopped and used in the stuffing for baked lobster or eaten plain with steamed or boiled lobster. CULL A lobster with only one claw. Many New Englanders consider tomalley a delicacy. Opinions vary on how best to cook lobster. Some say steaming is best because it is gentle heat, which will not toughen the meat. Others say boiling seals the flavor into the lobster. Baking is another option, but the lobster should be quickly boiled or steamed beforehand. Coming mainly from Italy and Portugal, they discovered the immense resources of the Georges Bank, an underwater plateau southeast of Boston that is the richest fishing area off the east coast of North America.

    Fishing and fish became an important part of the lifestyle and history of the peoples of coastal New England. The abundance of cod and other fish made it possible to survive in the New World. It was not long after this region was settled that the first fisheries came into existence and the New England economy flourished through the exportation of cod. Before the invention of refrigeration, salted cod was not only an important export item, but also the only fish available in inland areas.

    The ocean fish that can be caught year round in this area include cod, haddock, pollock, and silver hake. Also popular are the flatfish, halibut, flounder, fluke, and dabs. Monkfish, eels, wolffish, sea trout, perch, and sea bass are less familiar but readily available. Small ocean fish like mackerel, porgies, butterfish, and smelts are also in abundant supply. Swordfish, shark, tuna, bluefish, Atlantic salmon, and striped bass come north in the spring and leave before winter arrives. Shellfish such as lobsters, crabs, scallops, oysters, clams, mussels, periwinkles, sea urchins, and even shrimp live in the icy waters.

    In New England, the cooking of the earlier era was plain, resting on simple ingredients and skilled hands. But today, the culinary traditions of New England grow ever richer as more cultures are integrated and add diversity to the cuisine. However, the roots of the region run deep and they are the source from which the rest of our nation has sprung. Apple A tart fruit with firm flesh. About 40 varieties of apples are commonly grown in New England.

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    Apples have a long and vital tradition in New England. Many varieties were discovered here and have been grown for centuries. The New England apple industry is still largely family owned and orchards are an important community resource. Blueberry A small, round, blue-skinned berry. In Maine, there is a thriving industry for processing both wild and cultivated blueberries. Before the arrival of Europeans to North America, the Native Americans gathered and dried the fruit for use in winter. The most popular variety is the highbush blueberry because of the larger size of its berries.

    Also popular is the wild lowbush blueberry, with smaller fruit that is prized for its intense flavor and color. Bluefish A round saltwater fish ranging in size from 3 to 6 pounds, common to the coast of Cape Cod and Nantucket in the summer.

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    The bluefish has a blue-silver skin and dark, oily flesh. Boston Brown Bread A traditional colonial sweet bread served on Saturday evenings with baked beans. Boston brown bread is made from cornmeal, molasses, and both rye and whole wheat flours. It is steamed in a large can or mold. Boston Baked Beans A dish of navy beans baked a long time with molasses and salt pork or bacon.

    Boston Cream Pie A pie with two layers of white cake, custard filling, and chocolate top- ping. Considered a pie instead of a cake because colonists did not have cake pans and baked this in a pie pan. Boston cream pie is also considered a pudding pie cake.

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    6. In this region, it refers to a seafood soup such as New England clam chowder, a creamy mix of clams, onions, and potatoes. New England clam chowder differs from Manhattan clam chowder, in that the latter has a tomato base and sometimes vegetables added to a broth, and from Vermont clam chowder, which is simply a clear broth with clams, onions, and potatoes.

      Cider An alcoholic beverage made from apples. It was common until the 19th century, when the temperance movement campaigned against alcohol consumption. Early settlers consumed cider and beer instead of the unreliable and sometimes polluted local well water. Littlenecks are the choice for raw, halfshell clams; they are mild, sweet, and briny.