by Wm. Gorby
is information out there on 18th century foods,
but it is sure scattered all over the place. As I
gathered the information together and filed it
away for my own use I tried to organize it in a
way that was at least partly logical. The way I
collected and filed it is the way in which I will
present it. I have placed items into general
categories such as: fruits, vegetables, grains and
breadstuff, food processing, etc. Hopefully by the
time I’ve completed the coverage of the 18th
century foods we will all be a little smarter. Of
course, the information that you use will depend
on your personae, the time period, geographical
location, and station in life of your portrayal.
all that aside, I would like to start with sugars,
chocolate, and confectionary. This is always my
favorite part. In the beginning, fruits were
probably a very principal source of our ability to
sweeten other food stuffs. In addition to fruits,
one of the earliest forms of natural sweetening
was found in honey. Archeological records date the
use of honey as far back as 10,000 years. Records
of bees and beehives appear as far back as part of
the hieroglyphic records of the Egyptians.
was widely used in Europe from the earliest
recorded times until the 17th century. It was
during this time period in Europe that the
increasing availability of cane sugar made honey a
less attractive alternative. Cane sugar is easier
to produce, store and ship and will be discussed
later in this article. While bees were present in
the new world prior to the arrival of Europeans
they were exclusively a tropical species and
produced honey that was as such a poor quality
that it was considered unusable. European settlers
introduced the honeybee into North America in
1625. The American Indian, while pleased with the
introduction of honey to North America, considered
bees to be the harbinger of the White Man. The
Indian soon discovered that as the bees advanced
so did the White civilization and in proportion
both the Red Man and buffalo also retreated.
is composed of the two simple sugars, fructose and
glucose and more complex sugar, sucrose, along
with about 17 percent water. It has little to
offer in the way of vitamins and minerals, but it
does contain a compound known as Hydrogen
Peroxide. Early colonial physicians used honey to
dress wounds, noting that it did indeed retard the
advent of infection. Amazingly enough it wasn’t
until 1963 that we were able to isolate the
compound responsible for this antibiotic type
effect, ie. Hydrogen Peroxide. While I hope that
this bit of information is never needed, it could
be useful when trekking with regards to actual
colonial first aid.
compound used commonly in the early part of our
American history as a sweetener is maple syrup and
maple sugar, both of which are correct for 17th,
18th, and 19th century trekking. Until the arrival
of honey in North America, maple sugar was the
only source of concentrated sweetness available to
the Indians. The Indians taught the early
colonists their techniques of processing the maple
sap to syrup and sugar. Because of the writings of
a young colonist, James Smith, we have an
excellent record of how the Indians extracted the
maple sap and then converted into syrup and sugar.
Captured in 1755 and later adopted into a tribe of
Indians in the area now known as Ohio he wrote of
his remark- able adventures in his later years;
1799 to be exact.
to having access to European trade goods,
concentrating the sap to syrup or sugar was a
considerable problem. Attempts to boil the sap
using clay pots was only marginally successful.
Often the Indians would construct a tray from
birch or elm bark, long and wide with low sides.
They would fill the container with a few inches of
sap and then let it freeze over night. In the
morning a layer of water was frozen on the top and
that was discarded, leaving behind the sugar which
did not freeze. This process along with simple
evaporation would concentrate the sap to a point
where it was useable or where it could be boiled
in a clay pot with greater success. Early
colonists often used this technique to concentrate
the sap prior to boiling, particularly if they had
only limited access to large kettles.
relatively rare in Europe, North America has some
100 species of maple trees, four of which are
useful in sugar and syrup production. A single
tree may yield 12 gallons in one season. It takes
about 35 gallons of sap to make one gallon of
syrup. In its final concentration maple syrup is
approximately 62% sucrose, 1% glucose, 1%
fructrose, 1% malic acid, and 35% water. The
characteristic flavor of the syrup is the result
of a complex reaction between the sugars and amino
acids in the sap. The longer and hotter the syrup
is boiled, the heavier the taste.
sugar is made by concentrating the sugars in the
syrup to a point that that they crystallize out of
the solution when the syrup cools. For those
trekkers interested in trying this, make sure that
you have real, 100% genuine maple syrup. Heat it
to a temperature that is 25 degrees above the
boiling point of water. Remember that water only
boils at 2120 F at sea level, this temperature
changes with changing altitude.
colonists in the 18th century, maple sugar was
much cheaper and more available than the heavily
taxed and refined cane sugar from the West Indies.
Even after the American Revolution when taxation
on sugar deceased, most Americans still preferred
and used maple sugar. Part of the reason for this
was based on morality. and sugar was produced with
slave labor. In some of the writings of Thomas
Jefferson, the moral issue of cane sugar is
mention- ed. It would seem that the use of maple
sugar would be more correct than the use of cane
sugar in trekking, and just as convenient to use.
Ordinary table sugar, is approximately 99%
sucrose, a complex sugar that is a combination of
1% frutrose and 1% glucose molecule. Sucrose was
relatively unknown in Europe until about 9
centuries ago and was an absolute luxury reserved
for a fortunate few until 1700. The principal
source of sugar that we will deal with is the
sugar cane plant, a 20 foot tall member of the
grass family with an unusually high content of
our other source of sugar is the sugar beet. Sugar
was first extracted from this plant in 1747 by a
Russian chemist. However no significant commercial
use was made of his discovery until after 1840,
and so is not something that we need to discuss.
processing of cane sugar is more involved than the
product- ion of honey and maple syrup /sugar,
while honey and maple sap contain water and
sugars, the sugar cane extract contains a
multitude of com- pounds, carbohydrates, pigments,
resins, and proteins that not only interfere with
the sweet taste but break down to undesireable
components when subjected to heat. The sugar
extract itself must go through four separate
procedures to achieve its final state. The cane
stalks were first cut and pressed to obtain the
juice. This extract was then cleared of organic
impurities by heating it with lime and egg whites.
Once the impurities were removed, the remaining
liquid was boiled down in a series of shallow pans
to remove the water. Once the majority of the
water was removed, it was poured into cone shaped
molds. Each mold held from 5-20 pounds of sugar
concentrate. The cones were stored with the
pointed ends down and allowed to cool. This would
allow the sucrose to crystallize at the top and
the non-sucrose portion, known as molasses to run
out a very small hole in the tip of the cone. Once
the molasses was removed the remaining sucrose
crystals were "washed" by packing wet
clay over the large end of the cones and allowing
the moisture to percolate through the solid block
of crystals for 8-10 days. The remaining sugar was
yellowish in color. It was because of this color
that the final sugar cones were always wrapped in
blue paper, dyed with indigo. Blue wrapping has a
tendency to make the yellow sugar look whiter. It
is this same blue paper that early colonists
valued as a source of indigo dye for clothing.
next food source that will be discussed is one
common to most trekkers and one that for obvious
reasons is usually associated with one or all of
the above sweeteners - chocolate. Chocolate is one
of the many New World foods, unknown to Europeans
prior to 400 years ago.
first Europeans to see the cocoa bean were, in all
likelihood, the crew of Columbus’s fourth voyage
in 1502. It was on this voyage that cocoa reached
Europe for the first time. Both words, chocolate
and cocoa are derived from the Aztec language.
Cocoa is an 18th century corruption of the
original word "cacao".
first "factories" where cocoa beans were
converted into a paste fit for mixing with water
were built in Spain in the year 1580. Within 70
years, despite serious Spanish efforts to keep the
drink a secret, chocolate had found its way into
Italy, France, and England. For the first two
centuries after its introduction into Europe,
chocolate was used almost exclusively as a
principal reason for the lack of interest in
chocolate as an ingredient in candy and cakes
during the 17th, 18th, and early 19th century was
the actual texture of the chocolate and its
limited capacity to incorporate sugar. The
chocolate of this time period was coarse and
crumbly and did not mix well with liquids or
sugars because of its high fat content. The bean
is better than 50% fat by weight. Even when used
as a beverage each person served would be given a
stick, called a moulinet, to whip the drink into a
froth in an attempt to disperse the fat content
evenly throughout the liquid.
in 1828 a man named Concrad van Houten, a
chocolate merchant in Amsterdam, Holland,
developed a process to remove most of the fat
(butter) from the bean. His final product was
cocoa powder, very similar to our present day
product of the same name. After 1828 "hot
chocolate" has been a very different drink
from the chocolate beverage of the 1600 to 1800
time period. The early chocolate drinks would have
been very similar to a drink made with today’s
unsweetened bakers chocolate. With most of the
cocoa buffer intact, trying to dissolve high fat
chocolate in hot water or milk becomes a problem.
Remember, don’t forget your moulinets.
finally, I would like to discuss confectionery or
candy. While trekking or preparing for an
adventure I’ve always thought that carrying
along some good type of candy would be a good
idea. But what type? Was anything actually
available and if so, what? And how prevalent was
it in my area or to my personae? I found some
answers, but it was perhaps the most difficult
area to research.
as candy did not exist prior to 1847. Marzipan, a
paste of almonds and line sugar was known by about
1300. Hard sugar candies had become common place
by 1600 and by 1650, pralines were in existence.
The documentation of candies seems to improve by
the beginning of the 18th century, but remember,
sugar was a luxury prior to 1700 and more common
place thereafter. While candy as we know it today
did not appear until around 1850 (remember the
development of chocolate) enough commonly existed
according to 18th century records to justify its
use in trekking. The question is what kind is
historically correct. The following is a listing
the available types of confections taken from an
encyclopedia of cooking that was published in
1751: whole fruit in transparent syrup,
marmalades, jellies and preserves, conserves (a
dry preserve made with fruit pulp), fruits covered
with a hard sugar shell, marzipan, hard candy
(rock candy), and bonbons, which I am sure are not
what we know of today. After reviewing this list
it is now obvious that only ones that I might want
to consider are the jellies, preserves and hard
candies. But at least I know these things were
commonplace during the 18th century.
those people who have made candy in the past, the
use of a thermometer is usually important. But as
I continued my research I discovered that during
the 1700’s confectioners used a more direct
method of sampling the sugar syrups fit- ness for
different candies. Many of the recipes
specifically talk about a "cold water
test"; removing a small portion of the heated
sugar and placing it in cold water and examining
the results. So even making the candy can be done
in historic- ally correct manner. As for
flavorings, you can use a fruit juice that would
have been available either in your geographical
area or that would have been commonly imported.
Kroyd,W.R. The Story of Sugar. Chicago:
Honey: A Comprehsive Survey. London:
The English-American: His Travail by Sea and
Land. (1648). Edited by J.E.S. Thompson.Norman,
OK.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1958.
History Begins at Sumer. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.
From Honey to Ashes. Translated by
I.Weightman & D.Weightrnan, New York: Harper
and Ron, 1973.
The Book of Chocolate. New York: St.Martins
The Cultivation and Marketing of Tea. 3d.
Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964.
& M.Walls.,The Oxford Book of Food Plants.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Early History of Coffee Houses in England.
London: Kegan Paul, 1983.
Book of Spices. New York: Jove, 1973.
& K.Schapira, The Book of Coffee and Tea.
New York: St.Martins Press, 1975.
Ecology. New York: Academic Press, 1970.
in Food Research. 24 (1978): 229-287.
Delectable Past. New York: Simon &
in Antiquity. London: Thames & Hudson,
1919. Carson,G.Cornflake Crusade. New York:
Conquest of New Spain. Harmondsworth, England:
Penguin Books, 1963.
Chemistry & Technology. St.Paul,Minn.:
American Association of Cerceal Chemists, 1972.
Maize Processing Techniques in the New
World". Science. 184 (1974):765-73.
of Cereals. 2d. ed. Oxford: Pergarnon, 1975.
& J.H.Martin.Cereal Crops New York:
Cereal Technology. Westport, Conn.: AVI,
Lowlands of Scotland". Gourmrt.January,
The Wild Rice’s Guide. Berkeley,CA.:
The Foxfire Book. New York: Anchor Books,
"American Cooking: The Eastern
Heartland." Foods of the World Series.
New York: Time-Life, 1973.
maple syrup is a tough business, so tough that
many families don't even share found secrets with
their own families, this was true a century ago
and still holds fast today.
harvest starts in February and runs for a few
months, as the frost starts to leave the ground
leaving the hillsides in ankle deep mud with ruts
left after the wagons and teams pull the equipment
into the sugar bush. This is a tough business that
Thos.'s involved will see an excellent year and
then periods that they barely break even, those's
that survive will become legends in the syurping
one would follow the tracks across the fields and
into the woods through the stands of maple trees,
soon they would smell and see the smoke from the
"sugarhouse" and hear the creaking and
jingling of the harness as the teams worked from
one tree to another. The trees are bare but spring
will soon come to the north woods and the sugar
bush (called a sugar bush; as an orchard of apples
or cherries), even today this old term is still
used when referring to the maple syrup trees.
centuries teams of horses have pulled the wagons
to harvest the maple syrup, at first being the
only available transportation but even as time
passed it was found still the best as a motor
driven vehicle would require a driver to get in to
move the unit, with the horses one could walk them
over to the next tree with less effort. The same
goes for the equipment for processing the sap
taken from the trees, its unchanged for several
generations or longer, if a system works why
change ! Depending on the amount of ground owned
by the producer, will usually determine the
location of the sugarhouse, found centered in the
sugar bush most of the time making it easy to
access from any direction as the sap is gathered.
One of the biggest changes seen was in this
century with the introduction of stainless steel
containers, and tanks, at last the age old problem
of leaking vessels has been cured.
have setup central vats - where the sap is dumped
and then by gravity feed it travel down hill to
the sugarhouse and into the evaporators. The sap
is like oil, and it should not gush when being
delivered to the sugarhouse, thus good lines are
needed and amount are carefully distributed while
being feed into the vats. Inside the sugarhouse is
a wood burning evaporator with one that runs on
wood and today you will find a second equipped to
run on oil, running off the steam that it creates.
sap when collected is said to be as clear as
water, it has been collected as early as February
and boiled as late as mid May; there are no set
rules for collecting and processing according to
several interviewed on the subject. If anything
can be said about sugaring its
year will be different than the one before, with
sugaring its like haying, if its not right today -
we'll do it tomorrow. One of the biggest fears is
moving full vat's at the end of the day to the
sugarhouse; a spooked horse can very easily turn
over a top heavy wagon, loosing the sap and a
day's labor for several men, much care is taken in
keeping horses, men and product in a safe
environment getting back from the sugar bush to
the sugar house.
are rated by percent with a 3% tree considered to
be a sweet flavor producer, they know which is the
warm side of each tree (warm being better to tap
than the cold side) this will change as the sun
changes position. A good sugarman will know which
trees are good producers, as well as the ones not
to waste his time with, some claim that they have
a few trees that are 8% sweet, but refused to show
which they were. This is knowledge gained from
being in the woods day after day, living with
their sugar bush is a way of life and this type of
attention is needed to have success in this
industry. At the sugarhouse you will find small
clear glass bottles filled with syrup, each a
different color of copper, each load of sap has to
be boiled and readied for storage, as another
batch will be here tomorrow, aging does not
improve the flavor.
of the producers of maple sugar have other sources
for income that work in conjunction with each
other, liking raising beef cattle, dairying or
wood lot management. This a hard life, but a
fulfilling one, if you don't weaken.
Until next time, we leave as friends and followers of
those that went before us.