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4th of July celebration 1922, Takoma Pk. LOC, LC-DIG-npcc-06629

 –          The Historic Foodie (a.k.a. Victoria Rumble)

July always brings to mind Independence Day, and an article published in 1895 notes what the day was like in days gone by. 

The book I am currently working on will be of interest to anyone who finds this a good read – it will contain a general history of known vegetables, wild plant foods, and how they were made into salads of all sorts, cooked and non-cooked.  I think the reader will be surprised to learn that by successive planting and by planting multiple varieties our ancestors had a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout most of the year.

Pull up a chair, gentle reader, and let’s look at some of the more interesting comments from the article.   [A rather conscientious reader emailed regarding potato history after this article was first posted.  As I explained to her, in reading the article please note that the information is either in quotes or italics because it is quoted from a turn of the century article and was posted to entertain us with the train of thought for that time period.]

Some articles of food are specially associated with a Fourth of July dinner, and when canned goods were a thing unknown, and dwellers in country villages knew nothing of forcing vegetables, it was customary to have the new potatoes and peas ready, if possible for that day. 

The former vegetable is an American product, and was carried to Ireland three centuries ago by Sir Walter Raleigh.  He succeeded so well in establishing it there, that its real origin is often forgotten and the common species is by many persons called the ‘Irish potato’…

Peas were well known to the English at a far earlier date.  The following recipe for cooking ‘Grene Pesen’ is from a collection nearly five centuries old:–‘Take grene pesen and let them seethe with gode brothe of beef, and take parsell, sage, savary, and ysope, and cut them small, and do them in the pot and let them boyle—colour hit with saffron and serve hit forthe.’  [parsley, sage, savory, and hyssop]…

The various acts passed by the British Parliament for the purpose of raising a revenue from the American subjects, led to the giving up of many articles of comfort, and the adopting of home-made substitutes.  Prominent among these obnoxious measures were the Molasses Act and the Sugar Act.  Of the former Adams said, ‘I confess that molasses was an essential ingredient in American Independence.’  Yet we seldom think of it in comparison with tea.

‘The cup that cheers’ was an offering freely laid on their country’s altar by the women of America.  Sassafras, sage, and strawberry leaves were among the substitutes.  So also was the plant still called, in memory of its use at that time, ‘Jersey tea’…

While at West Point, in the summer of 1779, Washington invited two or three ladies to dine with him…In his letter of invitation, addressed to Dr. C., he describes his table, as follows:–

‘Since our arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, sometimes a shoulder of bacon, to grace the head of the table; a piece of roast beef adorns the foot; and a dish of beans, or of greens almost imperceptible, decorates the centre.  When the cook has a mind to cut a figure, which I presume will be the case to-morrow, we have two beefsteak pies, or dishes of crabs, in addition one on each side of the centre dish, dividing the space and reducing the distance between dish and dish to about six feet, which without them would be nearly twelve feet apart.  Of late he has had the surprising sagacity to discover that apples will make pies; and it is a question if, in the violence of his efforts, we do not get one of apples, instead of having both of beefsteak’…

We have an account of another dinner-party of Revolutionary time, of a little later date than the one just referred to.  When General Marion, called for his bravery and strategy the ‘Swamp Fox’ was encamped at Snow’s Island, he received a young British officer sent to conduct some negotiation concerning exchange or release of prisoners.  The royalist was brought to Marion blindfolded, and the interview took place out-of-doors.  Business having been conducted, Marion invited the stranger to dine with him, an invitation gratefully accepted.  The dinner consisted of roasted potatoes, served on pieces of bark.

The guest, forgetful of etiquette, expressed surprise and inquired whether this was common fare.  Marion answered that it was, and he was happy to have a little more than usual, as he had company.

The story goes that the young Briton gave up his commission soon after, saying that men of such indomitable spirit could not be conquered, and ought not to be.