Recently, I discovered a book titled Domestic Technology: A Chronology of Developments on Amazon. Written by Nell Du Vall, It’s a font of data about the beginning of many household and community advancements. Some topics included are Food Origins and Production, Preservation and Processing, Cooking, Clothing,Cleaning, Water and Waste Disposal, to name just a few.
With Nell’s permission, I’m going to share with you some entries from her Table of “Food Origin and Migration.” The listed developments reach back into prehistoric times, but I’ll concentrate on the introduction and growth of foods in the Americas during the 18th and 19th centuries. Be aware, this is not a complete list of that time period. I don’t want to test Nell’s generosity in allowing me to quote her work to much. The author cites her sources at the end of the book, in case you want to dig into her research.
- 18th c. Spanish missionaries introduced almond trees into California.
- 1707-10 Oranges planted in Arizona.
- 1719 Irish migrants began potato cultivation in New Hampshire.
- 1751 Sugarcane planted in Louisiana.
- 1765 Chocolate factory established in Massachusetts Bay Colony.using … cacao beans from the West Indies.
- 1769 Oranges planted in California.
- 1769 Spaniards introduced domestic pigs to California.
- 1781 Thomas Jefferson listed tomatas in his garden journal at Monticcello,
- 1790 Thomas Jefferson grew peanuts in Virginia.
- 1791 Antonio Mendez made sugar from Louisiana cane.
- 1820 Robert Johnson demonstrated the tomato was edible by eating one … eating one in public and surviving.
- 1820 Large-scale peach cultivation began in the U.S.
- 1825 Jefferson Plum developed in Albany, New York.
- 1836 Scientists discovered how to pollinate vanilla artificially, enabling … cultivation outside Mexico.
- 1850 The banana was first brought to the U.S.
- 1850 Large-scale cultivation of asparagus undertaken in the U.S.
- 1863 West Indian avocado introduced into Florida.
- 1869 Joseph Campbell and Abraham Anderson of Camden, New Jersey,… successfully canned tomatoes.
- 1870 Dutch farmers in Kalamazoo, Michigan, began growing celery for … commercial consumption.
- 1873 Washington Navel Oranges, originally from Baia, Brazil, planted in … California.
- 1876 Tinfoil wrapped bananas sold for ten cents at the American … … Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
- 1890 Thomas Lipton began selling tea.
- 1893 Thomas Lipton entered his tea in Chicago’s World Fair and received … first prize.
Perhaps knowing when these foods were introduced in the U.S. might make interesting tidbits for our stories. More importantly, this info can help us avoid having our characters eat foods that weren’t yet available in the old west.
I faced a food dilemma (actually a beverage) while writing Dearest Druid. Rose and Jack are visiting a family of sharecroppers who rent land from Jack. I wanted their hostess, Mattie, to offer them a cool drink -- but what? This family is not well off; they couldn’t afford store-bought tea like we take for granted today. (Iced tea is the “national drink” of Texas.)
After discarding several ideas, I decided upon sassafras tea, which is made from the roots of sassafras trees. These trees grow in the sandy loam of east Texas. Taking a leap of faith, I stretched that local to near the Red River, where my sharecroppers live.
Here’s an excerpt from the scene. Warning, it’s a bit of a spoiler because it comes near the end of the book and hints at a happy ending. But there are still a few surprises to come.
Clearing his corded throat, [Oscar] added, “I reckon yuh already said how-do to my Mattie.” He laid a big paw gently on his wife’s shoulder and they exchanged an affectionate glance.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t have the chance, but I’m most happy to make your acquaintance, Mattie.”
“Same goes for me, Rose. Come and set a spell in the shade.” Pointing to the cabin’s porch, their genial hostess led the way, chattering, “Land o’ Goshen, it shore is warm for a spring day! I brewed us some sassafras tea a while ago. It’s mighty refreshin’. And Oscar has him a jug stashed away, if you wants a taste, Mr. Jack.”
“The tea will do fine, Mattie.”
With a nod, she looked up at her husband, who was a good foot taller than her, and commanded, “Oscar, go fetch some ice from the ice house.”
“Yessum. Be back right quick, folks,” he told Rose and Jack, and he loped off to do Mattie’s bidding.
Mounting the shallow porch steps, she pointed to a pair of rough-hewn chairs padded with calico covered cushions. “Set you down and be comfortable. Where’d y’all ride in from?”
“From the Territory,” Jack replied, refusing a chair in favor of leaning against one of the porch roof supports framing the steps.
“Visited yore mama, I reckon.”
“Yeah, I wanted her to meet Rose,” he said, not mentioning his mother’s illness.
“Uh-huh.” Planting her hands on her ample hips, Mattie eyed them shrewdly. “How’d she take it seein’ the two o’ you together?”
Rose caught her meaning and stiffened while Jack merely crossed his arms and crooked his lips in a half smile. “She wasn’t in favor of us marrying at first, but she came around.”
Mattie opened her mouth as if to question him further, but she evidently thought better of it. “Glad to hear that. I’d best collect the tea and some cups.” With that, she turned and entered the cabin, leaving the door ajar.
Rose searched Jack’s face, looking for his reaction to the woman’s question. Meeting her worried gaze, he moved to crouch beside her and patted her knee. “It’s all right. She wasn’t judging us. She’s afraid for us, the same as Khaw.”
Taking his word, Rose’s trepidation eased. Before she could speak, Oscar returned. Jack rose and stepped back as his tenant – and clearly his friend – took the steps in one giant stride. He carried a bucket filled with chunks of ice, no doubt chipped from a larger block.
“This oughtta do us. We’ll have that tea nice n’ cold. Just yuh wait n’ see.” Grinning, he marched into the cabin to help Mattie prepare the drinks.
Moments later, as promised, Rose enjoyed her first swallow of the iced drink from a cold tin cup. “Oh, that’s delicious! Ye must give me your recipe, Mattie.”
“Glad yuh like it, M . . . er, Rose. Ain’t nothin’ to makin’ it. Just boil some chopped up sassafras root, strain it good and add honey, or sugar if you got it.”
“Think I could have some more?” Jack asked.
“Lawsy me, course yuh can.” Taking his cup, Mattie dashed inside to refill it.
Do you have any historical food facts you’d like to share? Don’t be shy. I’m always eager for more info to tuck away for future books.