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American Food History
While European food history dates back thousands of years, American food history is relatively short and is still being written. Native Americans ate seafood and game and cultivated crops such as wild mushrooms, cherries, nuts and berries. They would commonly grill meats and spit roast meats over a pit fire, while vegetables would be cooked directly in the ashes of the fire. A turning point in the history of American Food occurred when the Europeans discovered the New World. Previously unknown foods in Europe and Africa such as potatoes, corn, beans, yams, sugar, coffee and chocolate were found in the Americas and were eventually sent eastward to their homelands, while those foods unknown to the Americas were immported, such as pigs, cattle and sheep.
When English settlers arrived, they brought with them tastes from their home on the British Isles. The English were merchants, not farmers, and had little experience with the wilderness, and when food became scarce they were forced to try Native American foods such as corn, beans and squash. In the early days of the country, regional food flourished. Many English, Scottish and Irish Protestant immigrants would relish their traditional foods, while the introduction of new ingredients and the mingling with individuals of different ethnicities, would eventually allow for experimentation. Food in the Northeast was influenced by Native Americans, such as clam chowder, maple syrup, succotash, corn pudding and brown bread. In December 1621, the first Thanksgiving feast was held with foods such as duck, geese, venison, pumpkin, squash, cabbage, berries and dried fruit. As time passed, many New Englanders believed that plain cooking equaled religious piety. Thus, meals consisted of bland boiled and baked meat dishes, boiled vegetables and baked breads.
American Food Regional Cuisine
In the South, opinions on the preparation of meals differed from the North. Heavy seasoning of food was popular, as was grilling and simmering foods. Influences were seen by not only the English, but Also African, French, Spanish and Native American food cultures. Hominy (dried corn kernels with the hulls and germ removed) and grits (coarsely ground hominy) were introduced to the settlers from the Native Americans. Oysters, shrimp and blue crabs were collected from the shores, while the swamplands offered fish, fowl, and game, including bear, deer, raccoon, and turtle. Herds of bison roamed the Plains and were hunted for food. Meat was preserved by cutting it into thin strips and drying it over a fire or in the sun. "Jerked" buffalo or "Jerky" was prized since it would keep for long periods of time. In the Southwest, Native American were mostly vegetarian and ate white, yellow, red and black corn, beans, squash, pumpkin seeds and red chilies. In the Northwest, salmon were fished, and ocean mammals and mountain goats were hunted.
During these early times, two unique features of the American diet may be noted: the widespread consumption of both meat and distilled liquor. Fertile lands allowed for the cultivation of corn, much of which was used as feed for livestock, but most of the remainder was converted into whiskey. Some accounts state that in the early 1800s adult men in America drank more than seven gallons of pure alcohol per year.
The Effect of Immigration and War on American Food
Germans immigrants influences would contribute to shift in America's diet through the introduction of foods such as beer, marinated meats, wursts and pastries. German influences were reflected in American diets in the form of barbeque, cole slaw, hot dogs, donuts, and hamburgers. The Germans also associated food with celebrations and contributed to the American custom of making meals the focus of holiday celebrations.
Transformations in American's diet hit fast forward in the past century, with large shifts occurring in eating patterns since World War II. In the early 1900s, Americans diets were meat heavy. Some haute cuisine restaurants in New York City served elk, caribou, bear, moose, and even elephant. By this time, America's sweet tooth was in full effect. In 1909, it is estimated that the average American ate nearly 65 pounds of sugar annually! Contributors to the sugar rush were apple pie, chocolate brownies, baked Alaska, devil's food cake as well as sweetened tea and coffee.
Immigration was at an all-time high in the early 1900s and immigrants from Italian, German, Jewish, Chinese and eastern European backgrounds created ethnic societies in cities throughout the US. These immigrants would use their traditional meals and incorporate food available in America to create new foods entirely. New cuisines emerged such as Italian-American, German American and Chinese-American. Such dishes as Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chow Mein and Swedish Meatballs were now offered in local kitchens and neighborhood restaurants.
American Food Brands
First introduced as health foods, processed cereals quickly became a staple of the American breakfast courtesy of such manufacturers as Kellogg and C.W. Post. Other processed foods were introduced such as Oreo cookies, Marshmallow Fluff, Nathan's Hot Dogs and Puffed Wheat. Clarence Birdseye introduced "Frosted Foods" to the world in 1930 after noticing that fish tasted appealing after being frozen. Self service grocers such as A&P were established and offered up to a thousand items. Instead of having to give their list to a store clerk, customers were able to stroll the aisles and shop for food themselves.
Prohibition was set to go into effect on January 16, 1920, and even though it wasn't repealed until 1933, it did little to dissuade Americans from drinking. It is said that many of the drinks that we have today were created during Prohibition in the Roaring Twenties. During the 1920s, the stock market was soaring and money was being made. New electronic kitchen items were all the rage such as toasters, refrigerators and gas stoves. Prior to World War I carrying a large amount of weight was considered chic, and a sign that you belonged to the upper classes. Restaurants catered to these individuals by serving meat, shellfish, pates and mousses. Speakeasies emerged offering jazz music, gin and finger foods such as Shrimp Patties, Oyster Cocktails and Stuffed Mushrooms.
The stock market crash on October 29, 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. Families now needed to make do with less and find ways to stretch meals. As it was the most expensive part of meals, protein had to be reduced. Beans and vegetables were creatively used as substitutes. One pot meals such as macaroni and cheese, chili, soups, and meat loaf stuffed with filler were common dishes on tables during the Great Depression. Inexpensive vegetables like carrots, peas and potatoes were also commonly eaten. Perhaps as a signal to the end of the Great Depression, one of the most beloved cookbooks of the century was introduced in 1936, the Joy of Cooking. Although criticized for overcooking vegetables and its reliance upon vegetable shortening the book would continue to sell out generation after generation. In 1937, the infamous Spam (a pork and ham meat product whose name is derived from a combination of the words "spice" and "ham") was introduced by Hormel, and was wildly popular in America's kitchens thanks to its seven year shelf life.
World War II brought with it the rationing of food. Each American was limited to 28 ounces of meat per week, a high figure by today's standards. Sugar, butter, milk, cheese, eggs and coffee were also restricted. In the wake of this, convenience and prepared foods flourished, and once the national highway system was completed, food distributors like Oscar Meyer expanded and fast food restaurants like McDonald's popped up along highways. In the 1950s, 98 cent Swanson TV dinners were introduced, featuring turkey, stuffing gray, sweet potatoes and peas, in addition to Tang, Tuna noodle casseroles, sloppy joes, and frozen fish sticks.
American Food Icons
Julia Child emerged in the 1960s and reintroduced Americans to the delights of French cooking using such ingredients as butter, eggs, cream and cognac and made French cooking approachable for everyone. Her dishes such as Coc au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, Mousse au Chocolat and Duck à l'Orange are some American favorites. Hippies in the late 1960s began making their own products such as home-made bread, peanut butter, tahini and hummus, as a protest to packaged and prepared foods. Other "hippie foods" became in vogue such as vegetarian chili, guacamole, gazpacho, carrot cake and of course the ultimate hippie food, granola.
Even though America was becoming a country that favored processed and prepackaged foods, distinct regional and ethnic cuisines still persisted. The Immigration Act of 1965 allowed for the immigration of millions of Asians to America, who subsequently introduced the hot and spicy Szechuan cuisine, Hunan, Vietnamese, Korean and eventually Thai cuisines. In the 1970s American's love affair with hot and spicy food continued, and only 20 years later salsa would overtake ketchup as the country's favorite condiment.
Modern American Food
Nouvelle Cuisine (emphasizing lighter, smaller and delicate dishes) originated in France in the late 1970s and found its way to America's shore in the 1980s, the decade of excess. America's fascination with gourmet foods thrived with expensive bottles of extra virgin olive oil and fifty year old balsamic vinegars lining the shelves of the American kitchen. New kitchen appliances were also introduced such as the stand mixer and the food processor, and it wasn't long before the first celebrity chefs, such as Wolfgang Puck appeared. New cuisines such as Tex-Mex, Southwestern and Spanish tapas were enjoyed, and chocolate took center stage with flourless chocolate cake, chocolate truffles and chocolate crème brûlée. After the stock market crash on October 19, 1987 many returned to simple comfort foods such as meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pot pies and chili. The new American health craze focused on low fat, reduced fat and fat-free foods that manufacturers were producing in large amounts. Naturally healthy cuisines, most notably Pacific Rim and Mediterranean were favored. Sushi and Sashimi also increased in popularity. Foods of Northern Italy found popularity in American's diet such as bruschetta, polenta, focaccia and tiramisu. Fusion cooking became the latest trend in which chefs would combine cuisines to a stunning effect.
One of the most revolutionary cooking tools for American Food came with the creation of the Internet. Millions of recipes from around the world were now available in the comfort of your own home. Epicurious.com provides the recipe for dinner, while igourmet.com, founded in 1997, offered the finest unique gourmet food selections from around the globe. Foods previously unavailable to American households were now just a click away. Today, igourmet.com continues to offer the best selection of gourmet foods, including specialty cheeses, meats and seafood, desserts, beverages, gifts and more on the web.
American Food Types - Cheese
Roots of American Cheese can be traced to the early 17th century when English Puritans brought with them to New England the knowledge of dairy farming and cheese making from the Old World. Immigrants from such locations as the British Isles, Holland, France, Germany and Scandinavia would makes cheeses from their homelands such as English Farmhouse Cheddar, Dutch Gouda, German Limburger and Swiss cheeses.
A pivotal moment in the history of American cheese was when in 1801, a 1,235 pound wheel of cheese was delivered to President Thomas Jefferson. Those in Washington called it the "big cheese" which today is still used as a phrase to describe an important person.
By 1851, the first cheese factory was opened by Jesse Williams in New York. As Americans moved westward, they found that the land in the mid-west were suitable for grazing animals. Swiss and German immigrants were making cheese in Wisconsin by the mid 1800s. Their first factory opened in 1868 and produced Limburger cheese. Soon cheese factories would dot the landscape in Southern Wisconsin, Northern Illinois and other regions of America. By 1880 there were almost 4,000 cheese factories in America. An interesting fact may be noted in that even today, some counties in Wisconsin have a higher population of dairy animals than human residents. In California, Spanish missionaries arrived from Mexico and began to make cheese which was said to be the precursor to Monetery Jack. This set the stage for California to be the second largest cheese producing state to this day, behind Wisconsin.
Some original American cheese companies include Crowley Cheese, established in 1824, Grafton Cheese Company, established in 1892 and Cabot Creamery, established in 1893. All three are Vermont cheese companies and are still in operation today. Established in 1902, Carr Valley Cheese Co. in Wisconsin is still in operation today and is known for its award winning high quality Cheddars. Widmer's Cheese Cellars was founded in 1922 by John Widmer and produces a Wisconsin original, Wisconsin Brick Cheese, a brick shaped cheese that is sweet and earthy in flavor.
In the early 1900s mass production of natural and processed cheese pushed small cheese producers to the wayside as the population and demand for cheese in the US continued to grow dramatically. James L. Kraft moved from Canada to Chicago in 1903 and began wholesaling cheese. By 1915, his company created a pasteurized processed cheese product that did not need refrigeration and allowed a longer shelf life for the product. They patented American processed cheese in 1916 and soon it was embraced by the country. A favorite for soldiers at war, by 1930, over 40% of the cheese consumed in American was produced by Kraft. By promising safety and consistency and through clever advertising, Kraft was able to charge more for this product that was produced from an inferior cheese.
By 1970 demand was so high for cheese that over 2 billion pounds were being produced annually. Factory made cheeses produced by large corporations dominated the cheese industry. Only a few small producers thrived such as Maytag Dairy Farms, established in 1941 in Iowa, the producer of the famous Maytag Blue Cheese.
While many small dairy farmers where making cheese from their excess milk, most of it was for private consumption. These cheesemakers began to think that they may have a product to sell and many would travel to Europe for training in traditional cheesemaking methods in order to improve their craft. Goat cheese was introduced to America in the 1970s by Laran Chenel and Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, CA. Beginning in 1983, California's Mary Keehn of Cypress Grove Chèvre was one of the earliest goat cheese pioneers, known for her Humboldt Fog, a two layer goat cheese with a central layer and outer covering of ash.
In 1983, The American Cheese Society was formed to promote American cheeses, an organization that boasts more than 1,200 members. By the 1990s Americans had become more interested in artisan handmade cheeses and many cheese stores became to pop up throughout the country. While most cheeses were still being imported from Europe, American artisan cheesemakers were becoming experts in their own right. Rising demand for natural cheese in the US brought it production to over 6 billions pounds in the early 1990s.
Over 300 varieties of cheese are made in the America today, and consumption has hit nearly 31 pounds of cheese per person annually. Mozzarella is the most consumed cheese in the US, followed by Cheddar and processed American cheeses. Sales of specialty and artisan cheeses have grown in recent years, with Asiago, Gorgonzola and Havarti leading the way. Today, more than 1/3 of all milk produced in the US is used in the manufacture of cheese. As consumer demand increases in the coming years, so will the American cheese industry.
Our gourmet American Food selection includes cheeses, meats, desserts, sauces, spreads, oils, vinegars and many others. When searching for gourmet food online, look no further than igourmet.com.