Food formed an elemental part of the colonial culture, no matter whatever class of people it was served to. Most interactions took place among people when seated around the dining table. So a conversation started at dinner could very well carry on till late in the night! It was therefore imperative that the dining table be kept well stocked at all times. It was also essential that everyone know at least the basics of colonial cooking, be it woman or man, poor or rich, white or black.
Colonial cooking demanded that certain conditions had to be adhered to. Only a wood fire could be used for the cooking. The cook had to have knowledge about handling the fire so that food could be cooked properly. No food was eaten raw, not even vegetables and fruits.
Colonial cooking centered round a staple diet of meat cooked in various forms. In fact, animals were often cooked with their feet and heads still attached and were served in the same way! Anyone wanting to have chicken would find one, kill it and cook it in the morning itself, consuming it for breakfast, lunch and dinner to ensure that it did not get spoilt. The preference was therefore to always have fresh food on the table. Of course, there were certain animal foods that could only be obtained seasonally.
Curing or smoking was a method of preservation used at times because of a peculiar fondness for the organs of animals. Meat gravies and sauces were sopped up with the help of rolls. Drinks were also a part of their culture, and tasted quite sweet. Large amounts of alcohol were added to the punches.
A very basic style of colonial cooking was found among the lower classes, who had limited equipment to cook with. The meal served consisted of whatever could be cooked in just a cast iron pot — mainly a dish called “hominy” prepared from corn, vegetables and salt-cured pork. Other meats and vegetables were consumed with this main dish. Generally, the wife cooked porridges and soups in the pot.
The middle class were a little better, but even they were divided into lower middle class and upper middle class. While it was left to the ladies to attend to the cooking in lower middle class families, slaves could take over in the upper middle class households. On special days, both tried to keep up with the gentry.
Only next to the governor in status, the gentry indulged in expensive colonial cooking. The cooking more or less followed English traditions, with every meal combining both sweets and meats. They could afford to keep slave cooks. These cooks were quite skilled in spite of having less formal training. Not to be compared to the governor’s cooks, yet these slaves were held in high esteem and paid very well. In fact, a few slaves even became free via their cooking skills!
The best colonial cooking could be seen at the governor’s household. The kitchen was equipped with an eight-day clock, a spit jack, and plenty of copper pots. European cooks with professional training and trained apprenticeships were in charge as the principal cooks, and received princely sums for their efforts. No cook in the colonies could compare with them. Thus, the governor could afford to employ several cooks and sample different cuisines, though the dishes had a distinct French flavor.