January
18th 2008
Friday Captivity Blogging: Colonial Food Network edition

Posted under: American history, book reviews, captivity

captivity-parents2.JPGWhen I wrote Abraham in Arms, one of the things I found most interesting was the use of food in captivity narratives as a means of criticizing one’s captors.  That is to say, after English people had returned home and sat down to write their captivity narratives, several of them decided to use the food that was shared with them in captivity as proof of the savagery of their Indian captors.  This happened in so many captivity narratives that it was clearly not an accident, but rather a feature of the genre.  English captives chose not to point out that foods eaten on the run in wartime were not in fact normal daily fare, but it’s so much more exciting to tell stories about lurid menus of raccoon grease, boiled horse legs, and deer fetuses instead of corn, beans, and squash.  Besides, it’s easier to reassure your Anglophone audience of their superiority if Indians aren’t portrayed as eating the same things that the English ate.

There are two interesting new books on food and culture in colonial America that Historiann wishes she had had the pleasure of reading before putting her manuscript to bed.  James E. McWilliams’s A Revolution in Eating:  How the Quest for Food Shaped America (Columbia University Press, 2005) is a regionally-structured tour through the kitchens and campfires of early American cookery from the beginning of English settlement through the American Revolution.  (Tips for grad students:  you’ll find here the culinary version of the Anglicization thesis.)  The details he offers about la vie quotidienne have been really useful to me as I’ve tried to reconstruct what might have been on offer for breakfast in a New England garrison town around the turn of the eighteenth century, but his vigorous argument moves the reader forward without wallowing in antiquarian detail.

Next, Trudy Eden’s Cooking in America, 1590-1840 (Greenwood Press, 2006) offers a look at both Native and English colonial cuisine through period recipes.  Seriously–it’s a recipe book, complete with a helpful glossary explaining ratafia, frumenty, saleratus, and other lost ingredients.  I am pleased to see the book, because I have read (and cited) her very fine essay, “Food, Assimilation, and the Malleability of the Human Body in Early Virginia,” in A Centre of Wonders:  The Body in Early America, edited by Janet Moore Lindman and Michelle Lise Tarter (Cornell University Press, 2001), and look forward to more interesting work from her.  Eden’s colonial and early national cookbook is a companion piece to Alice L. McLean’s Cooking in America, 1840-1945 (Greenwood Press, 2006). 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m making dinner tonight chez Historiann, so I’d better go pound samp.

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