Thursday, June 20, 2013

Timeline of Foods Introduced to the U.S.

Cowgirl hat banner

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.

Foods for blog

  • 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.

Foods for blog 2

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.

New Cover 2013

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. Winking smile


  1. I know my dad drank sassafras tea growing up, but I think he had it hot. I never asked him. ??? Now I wonder. I know iced tea (as we drink it) was first served at the 1890 World's Fair. I think I'll order that book, Lyn, because that is very handy information for us historical writers. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Ooftah! I thought I had the formatting worked out okay for the list of foods, but obviously it went haywire in several places. Sorry about that everyone.

  3. My pleasure to share, Caroline. I know you'll like the book. I bought a used copy, not sure if it's available new anymore. It was published in 1988. Sharla Rae reviewed it on Amazon. I saw it listed among her reviews and thought it sounded good.

    Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to stop by!

  4. That's interesting, Lyn. Thank you. I tweeted.

  5. Excellent info, Lyn. I'll have to look into getting the book. I love adding tidbits to make the story more intersesting.

  6. I've read of sassafras tea, but have had any. I read a novel long ago titled something like "Cold Tea on the Porch,"...cannot remember the exact title.
    I laughed about the man eating a tomato in public to prove her wouldn't die. Tomatoes (as well as potatoes, eggplant, pimentos, and a few others) are in the "Nightshade" family of plants. Nightshade plants were thought to be poisonous, and in face some people still believe the nightshade plants cause rheumatoid arthritis and a few other diseases we call Immune diseases.
    I applaud the man/people who brought us chocolate!
    Very interesting, Lyn. I knew Caroline would jump on that book--she loves vintage non-fiction books.
    It's true we do run into a few problems with foods as well other things for our historical novels.
    I'm writing one set in 1915, and I've questioned my use of certain terms. Sometimes a research question might take all day.
    Thanks for this useful information.

  7. Thanks for visiting and tweeting, Ella!

  8. Ciara, I totally agree. Those little historical touches do so much to draw our readers into the story. I love feeling like I'm really back there in time.

  9. Celia, I didn't know tomatoes and the others you mentioned are in the nightshade family. Wouldn't that be a great detail to include in a romance! It's going into my keeper file. Thanks!

    Chocolate is on my wonders of the world list! ;)

  10. Interesting post Lyn. Love your characters. I've never had sassafras tea. Would love to try it.

  11. Do you know about the Menu Collection at the New York Public Library? - it is hands down one of my favorite research tools - it's the largest menu collection in the world (45,000 dating from the 1840's to the present) and a project is underway to digitize the entire collection - you can explore the over 16,000 menus that have been digitized already at this site:


  12. Thanks, Linda! I've never had it either, but I think it's the base for old time sasparilla. And possibly some types of root beer.

  13. Hey, MM, thanks for dropping in. Glad to hear from you.

  14. Colleen, no, I didn't know about that menu collection. What a treasure trove! I will check out the site. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  15. Interesting post - and interesting info about how and when food was introduced to the US. I have the opposite interest - I'm writing 12th century Europe, and when I think about all the foods that came from the 'New World' (coffee, cocoa, potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, they didn't have pasta from China yet) - makes me think I wouldn't have enjoyed eating in Europe in the Middle Ages before all this stuff was brought back from the Americas.

  16. I have that book too, Lyn. It is a good one.

  17. Lacey, I wouldn't know where to begin to write about 12th century Europe. But I'm quite sure I'd agree with you when it comes to the diet most people consumed in those days.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

  18. Indeed it is, Charlene. Research is fun when you find such great sources.

  19. My husband loved the idea of sassafras tea and even made some once, but I didn't 'take to it.' Still, I liked the smell of sassafras and had a beautifully shape root I kept for a long time. Thanks for telling us about the book. I certainly want to look for it. Barb Bettis

  20. Barb, thanks for popping in. I've never tasted sassafras tea but I'd like to -- just once for the fun of it. I hope you enjoy Dearest Irish if you get it.

  21. Very interesting blog, Lyn. I was born and reared in Texas and as a young child I once had sassafras tea from a tree on our property. I didn't like it, LOL. --- I have lists of foods from the Anglo-Saxon period and from early Scotland and 19th c ME/NH/MA, but not from the old West.
    Thanks for sharing.

  22. Great blog. It was interesting to find out where all the food we take for granted became introduced into America. Thank goodness for Thomas Jefferson and peanuts--love the peanut butter.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.