Making Colonial Furniture

Colonial and Early American Fashions

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

somewhat overclouded by his suggestion that the eels be arranged in a wreath.

The frequent references to eels in early accounts prove that they were regarded, as Izaak Walton said, "a very dainty fish, the queen of palate-pleasure."

Next to fish, the early colonists found in Indian corn, or "Guinny wheat"—"Turkie wheat" one traveller called it—their most unfailing food-supply. Our first native poet wrote, in 1675, of what he called early days:

                      "The dainty Indian maize,
Was eat with clamp-shells out of wooden trays."

Its abundance and adaptability did much to change the nature of their diet as well as to save them from starvation. The colonists learned from the Indians how to plant, nourish, harvest, grind, and cook it in many Indian ways, and in each way it formed a palatable food. The Indian pudding which they ate so constantly was made in Indian fashion and boiled in a bag. To the mush of Indian meal they gave the English name of hasty-pudding. Many of the foods made from maize retained the names given in the aboriginal tongues, such as hominy, suppawn, pone, samp, succotash; and doubtless the manner of cooking is wholly Indian. Hoe-cakes and ash-cakes were made by the squaws long before the landing of the Pilgrims. Roasting ears of green corn were made the foundation of a solemn Indian feast and also of a planters' frolic. It is curious to read Winthrop's careful explanation, that when corn is parched it turns entirely inside out, and is "white and floury within;" and to think that there ever was a time when pop-corn was a novelty to white children in New England.

Wood said that sukquttahhash was "seethed like beanes." Roger Williams said that "nassaump, which the English call Samp, is Indian come beaten & boil'd and eaten hot or cold with milke or butter and is a diet exceeding wholesome for English bodies." No-cake, or nokick, Wood, in his "New England Prospects," thus defines: "Indian corn parched in the hot ashes, the ashes being sifted from it, it is afterward beaten to powder and put into a long leatherne bag trussed at their back like a knapsacke, out of which they take thrice three spoonsfulls a day." It was held to be wonderfully sustaining food in most condensed form. It was carried in a pouch, on long journeys, and mixed before eating with snow, in winter and water in summer. Jonne-cake, or journey-cake, was also made from maize. For years the colonists pounded the corn in stone mortars, as did the Indians; then in wooden mortars with pestles. Then rude hand-mills were made—"quernes"—with upright shafts fixed immovably at the upper end, and fastened at the lower end near the outside edge of a flat, circular stone, which was made to revolve in a mortar. By turning the shaft with one hand, the corn could be supplied to the grinding-stone with the other. These hand-mills are sometimes still found in use as "camp-mills." Wind-mills and water-mills followed naturally in the train of the hand-mills.

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This page was last updated on 12 Oct 2005