United States Northeast Region
Cuisine Of The Northeastern United States
Long a landing point for immigrants, the Northeast is a rich cultural stew pot into which new arrivals add their food traditions.
- 1. GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
- 2. HISTORY OF FOOD
- 3. FOODS OF THE NORTHEAST
- 4. FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
- 5. MEALTIME CUSTOMS
- 6. POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND NUTRITION
- 7. FURTHER STUDY
1. GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
The Northeastern region of the United States, often referred to as “New England,” consists of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Most of these states border the Atlantic Ocean on their eastern coasts. The combined population of these states is more than 14 million people.
Besides the Atlantic Ocean waters, states such as New Hampshire and Maine have thousands of lakes and ponds, which are protected by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.
2. HISTORY OF FOOD
Long before the British first established permanent settlements in what was to be called New England, the Native American tribes of North America had already occupied the land for hundreds of years. In fact, much of what the European settlers learned about harvesting crops and surviving in a new land was adapted from the Native Americans.
Crops such as beans and squash are native to the Indians and are still evident in modern-day New England dishes, such as baked beans and succotash (a corn and bean dish). Maize (“Indian corn”) was first domesticated in Mexico, but was introduced to the Native Americans nearly 400 years before the arrival of the first settlers.
When the first settlers, the Pilgrims, arrived off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts (which was named for its abundance of cod fish), in the 1620s, they brought from England such foods as meat and vegetables. Local tribes were kind to the Pilgrims and helped them plant seeds for harvesting crops such as cranberries, corn, and tomatoes, taught them how to catch lobsters and clams, and taught them how to raise turkeys (called “turkie-birds” by the settlers).
The Pilgrims were also introduced to such native dishes as Indian pudding, Boston brown bread, New England Clam Chowder, and maple syrup. In return, the Europeans introduced many foods to the Indians, including almonds, apples, apricots, garlic, lemons and limes, peaches, rice, sugarcane, wheat, cattle (beef, cheese, and milk), and pigs (pork, ham, and bacon).
During the 1600s, most colonists ate from carved round or square wooden bowls known as trenchers. Within 100 years, bowls and plates made of pewter replaced trenchers. Early colonists ate with knives and spoons, with the fork first introduced in 1633. Linen napkins were often kept in high supply due to frequent messes when having to eat with fingers. The iron kettle pot was one of the most important cooking utensils in the colonial kitchen, allowing several items to be cooked at the same time.
Baking was also important. A sheet of tin was initially used to reflect the sun’s heat onto foods to heat them. However, Dutch ovens (portable metal covered cooking pots) set over an open fire and permanent brick ovens were used later. Most of what people ate was prepared at home (although shops carried baked goods and imported items). “Eating out” was not common, as most taverns were used mostly to socialize and drink.
By the 1800s, Irish families, Acadians from French Canada, Scandinavians, Central European Jews, Eastern and Western Europeans, and those from the Middle Eastern nations began immigrating to New England. With the introduction of new immigrant groups came new traditions, tastes, and foods. Immigrants from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean soon followed, making the New England diet a melting pot of international cuisines.
2.1 Indian Pudding
- 3 cups milk
- ⅓ cup molasses
- ⅓ cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 egg, beaten
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons butter
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- In a deep skillet, combine the milk and molasses.
- Using a wooden spoon, blend in the cornmeal.
- Cook this mixture over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. It will gradually become thick and hard to stir.
- Remove from heat and let the mixture cool slightly.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the egg, sugar, butter, spices, and salt.
- Add the hot cornmeal mixture a few spoonfuls at a time, stirring until smooth.
- Pour into a 2-quart casserole dish and bake uncovered for about 1½ hours. Indian pudding is great served hot with ice cream or whipped cream.
- 2 cups lima beans, fresh or frozen
- 2½ cups yellow corn kernels
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper (optional)
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- Cook the beans by covering with boiling, salted water in a saucepan for 7 to 8 minutes. They should be tender but still firm.
- Add the corn and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Drain the corn and beans and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat.
- Add the drained corn and beans and stir to coat.
- Add the remaining ingredients and stir until they are well blended. Succotash goes well with sliced tomatoes, biscuits, and baked apples sweetened with maple syrup.
Serves 4 to 6.
2.3 Typical Colonial New England Meal
Dried, salted codfish
Cabbage and turnips
Brown biscuits with butter
These used to be called “journey cakes” in colonial days
because they were made to take on long journeys.
- 7 Tablespoons cornmeal
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup milk
- Place the cornmeal, sugar, and salt in a bowl and pour boiling water
over them to scald the cornmeal.
- Beat the mixture to a smooth consistency, then beat in the milk.
- Grease a heated griddle, drop the batter by spoonfuls on the griddle,
and fry until golden brown on each side. For thinner johnnycakes,
flatten each cake with a spatula.
- Serve warm with maple syrup.
Serves 4 to 6.
2.5 Maple Butter
- 1 cup maple syrup
- ½ stick butter, softened
- In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the maple syrup with the butter
until well blended.
- Place in a container and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Serve on toast or crackers.
3. FOODS OF THE NORTHEAST
When most people picture the foods eaten in the New England states, the simple and hearty foods eaten by early colonists probably come to mind. Many of the same foods of hundreds of years ago continue to be grown and produced, including cranberries in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, dairy and sheep farming (especially in Vermont), and maple syrup throughout forested areas.
However, 200 years of immigrants migrating to the region have introduced a variety of international foods into New England’s cuisine. In the countryside of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, Scottish and Welsh settlers’ descendents continue to bake scones (biscuit-like pastries) and oatmeal bread and grow a variety of vegetables. French Canadians introduced split pea soup and pork pies to the region, and Germans in central Massachusetts and Maine still make sauerkraut and a variety of sausages.
Each state in New England has its own unique foods that it contributes to the cuisine of the region as a whole. Connecticut adds milk, eggs, apples, pears, mushrooms, and beef. Its long coastline gives the state a successful fishing industry that includes clams, oysters, scallops, and a variety of fish. The world’s first lollipop was made in the city of New Haven in 1908. Maine is the country’s leading producer of blueberries and lobster (over 90 percent of U.S. lobsters are from Maine’s waters). More potatoes are grown in Aroostock County in Maine than in any other county in the country.
Cranberries require an abundance of water to grow, and the “Bay State” of Massachusetts has plenty (it is the country’s leading producer of the fruit). In addition, the first commercial yogurt was produced in the northeast city of Andover, and baked beans are Boston’s renowned dish. New Hampshire is dotted with dairy cows that produce large amounts of milk. Potatoes, apples, and the production of maple syrup are also popular.
Seafood, poultry, eggs, and milk are most common in Rhode Island. Clams are its specialty, as demonstrated by its famous clambakes each year. Vermont’s maple syrup production (the largest of any state) is nationally recognized. Dairy products and apples are also produced on the state’s abundance of farms. The popular Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was first made in the city of Burlington.
As a whole, New Englanders are best known for the wide variety of seafood the North Atlantic Ocean has to offer. New England Clam Chowder and Maine lobster are two popular seafood dishes. Seasonal fruits such as apples, pumpkins, and a variety of berries are often included in meals, particularly as ingredients in fruit pies (which may be served for dessert along with puddings and milkshakes called frappes). The boiled dinner, a one-dish meal of boiled beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, is a New England original. After a large meal, tea (an influence from the British), coffee, or a New England wine or beer may be served.
3.1 Boston Baked Beans
- 1 onion, peeled, halved, and cut into small pieces
- 2 cans (16-ounce each) navy beans
- 1 can (15-ounce) pinto beans
- ⅓ cup ketchup
- 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons molasses
- 1 Tablespoon spicy brown mustard
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Spray a sauté pan with cooking spray and heat over medium heat.
- Add the onion pieces and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
- Open the 3 cans of beans and empty them into a sieve in the sink, rinsing them under cold, running water.
- In a 2-quart casserole dish, stir together the onions, beans, ketchup, brown sugar, molasses, and mustard.
- Cover and bake for 30 minutes until the mixture is bubbly.
Makes 6 servings.
3.2 Coffee Milkshake
- 1 cup brewed or instant coffee, cooled
- 1 cup 2 percent milk
- 1 Tablespoon light vanilla syrup
- 3 scoops coffee ice cream
- 4 ice cubes
- Put the coffee, milk, vanilla syrup, and ice cream in a blender and mix well.
- Add the ice cubes and blend until the mixture is smooth.
- Pour into 4 tall glasses.
Makes 4 servings.
3.3 New England Clam Chowder
- 1 can (10¾-ounce) condensed cream of celery soup
- 1 can (10¾-ounce) condensed cream of potato soup
- 1 can (10¾-ounce) New England Clam Chowder
- 2 cans (6½-ounce each) minced clams, with juice
- 1 quart half-and-half cream
- 1 pint heavy whipping cream
- In a slow cooker, mix together cream of celery soup, cream of potato soup, New England clam chowder, 1 can undrained clams, 1 can drained clams, half-and-half, and heavy whipping cream.
- Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.
3.4 New England Boiled Dinner
- 4 pounds corned beef (brisket is preferred)
- 8 small white onions
- 8 parsnips
- 8 carrots
- 8 potatoes
- 1 cabbage, cored and cut into eighths
- Wash the beef under running water.
- Place in a large kettle, cover with water, and slowly bring to a boil,
cooking for 5 minutes.
- Remove debris, cover, and simmer for 2½ hours.
- Skim excess fat off liquid, then bring meat to a rolling boil; add whole
onions, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes, and cook gently, uncovered,
about 20 minutes.
- Add cabbage and cook for 20 more minutes, or until vegetables are
- Place meat on a hot, large platter and arrange vegetables around it.
Garnish with parsley.
4. FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
The United States was partially founded by those who were seeking religious freedom. The Pilgrims, who settled in New England in the early 1620s, had separated themselves from the Protestant Church of England. They were known as separatists. As a result of this early influence, much of New England today is Protestant, although influences from other countries have brought Catholicism and Judaism to the area as well. Because the majority of the population is Christian, such holidays as Easter and Christmas are widely celebrated.
Thanksgiving originally was the Pilgrims’ celebration of their first year in the New World. It has become a national holiday now celebrated by all Americans for everything their country means to them, including food on the table. The historic Thanksgiving feast in 1621 lasted three days and included venison (deer), wild turkey, bass, cod, and maize (corn).
Secular (nonreligious) holidays are also widely celebrated, often in the form of festivals throughout New England. Many festivals honor the harvest of a specific crop or the abundance of seafood off New England’s
Connecticut’s Southington Apple Harvest Festival is the first two weekends in October, celebrating the rich tastes of the state’s autumn apple harvest. The city of Norwalk participates in the Norwalk Seaport Association’s Oyster Festival each September. For three days, nearly 100,000 visitors come to the festival to enjoy live entertainment, art and craft shows, and a diverse selection of food. Oyster boats and tall ships line the waterfront while oysters and clams are eaten in abundance.
4.1 A Typical Christmas Menu
Baked honey ham
Apple, cranberry, and walnut salad
Hot cranberry punch
Eggnog Custard Pie
One of New Hampshire’s largest annual events is the two-day Seafood
Festival each fall. The city of Hampton Beach hosts more than 50
restaurants and 60 caterers, who compete for prizes for the best food,
including best New England Clam Chowder and most creative dish.
Maine’s famous lobsters are honored each year during the Maine
Lobster Festival in the city of Rockland. The event celebrates the
importance of the lobster to the region. Festival participants enjoy an
abundance of lobster, as well as a parade and a variety of marine
displays. At the end of the five-day festival, The Great International
Lobster Race takes place. Contestants compete to run over partially
submerged lobster crates floating in the city’s harbor.
4.2 Hot Cranberry Punch
- 4 cups cranberry juice
- 4 cups apple juice
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Sugar (optional)
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 cloves
- 2 lemons, thinly sliced
- Cranberries, whole
- Apple slices
- Mix all of the ingredients in a pot, except for the cranberries and
apple slices, over medium heat.
- Reduce heat to low and gently simmer until completely warmed.
- Garnish with cranberries and apple wedges.
- To serve chilled, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then chill for at least 2
hours. Serve with frozen whole cranberries instead of ice cubes.
4.3 Honey-Baked Apples
- 4 large tart apples
- 4 Tablespoons honey
- 3 Tablespoons orange juice
- 1 Tablespoon walnuts, chopped
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Core the apples, being careful not to cut all the way through; trim off a ½-inch band of skin around the middle.
- Combine the honey, orange juice, and nuts, and divide equally to fill the apple centers.
- Set the apples in a baking dish, pouring in boiling water to ¼-inch depth.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the apples are tender.
- Sprinkle the tops with a little sugar and freshly grated nutmeg, then put the apples under the broiler to glaze. Bring to the table hot.
5. MEALTIME CUSTOMS
New Englanders typically eat three meals a day. Blueberry pancakes or waffles topped with fresh fruit and homemade maple syrup are popular breakfast dishes, and bacon, sausage, or eggs often accompany them. Toast with butter or homemade preserves with freshly squeezed juice may also be served. A national restaurant chain founded in Massachusetts, Dunkin Donuts, is a popular establishment to purchase coffee, donuts, and other morning or afternoon pastries.
On the weekdays, people on the go often grab lunch at a restaurant, occasionally from a deli, a seafood or steak restaurant, or possibly from one of many national fast food chains. Children may purchase lunch at school or prepare one at home and bring it with them to eat. Peanut butter and jelly, meat and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches are most popular. Most lunches will also include fruit (often an apple or banana) and a snack such as potato chips or pretzels. To drink, milk is most commonly served in school cafeterias, although soda and fruit juices are also popular among children.
Dinners may include several courses, including an appetizer, fresh bread with butter, salads, the main meal, and dessert. Appetizers are commonly soups, particularly cream-based chowders made with seafood and vegetables (such as potatoes and celery).
Desserts are likely to follow dinner after a short break to digest some of the food. During this break, freshly brewed coffee and tea are often enjoyed, particularly when guests are visiting. Popular desserts are fruit pies, sweet puddings, and ice cream. New Englanders consume more ice cream than any other region in the country.
6. POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND NUTRITION
In general, the people living in Northeastern United States receive adequate nutrition and have a large amount of natural resources. Because of its coastline, Connecticut has a wide variety of fish and seafood including clams, oysters, scallops, and flounder. These foods, caught fromthe Atlantic Ocean, are considered low in fat and rich in iron. Maine is also a top fishing state and is famous for its lobster. Rhode Island fishermen pull in large amounts of tuna and striped bass.
Not only is fish and seafood plentiful along the coastal Northeastern states, but fruits and vegetables are grown as well. In north Maine, more potatoes are grown in Aroostock County than any other county in the United States. Maine is also among the top producers of blueberries, and Massachusetts grows more cranberries than any other state. Such fruits provide a variety of vitamins and nutrients, including Vitamin C.
For those who cannot afford it, the United States government provides money and programs to assist needy families. New Englanders, however, earnabout $5,000 more in annual income than the national average.
7. FURTHER STUDY
Beilenson, Evelyn L.
Early American Cooking:
Recipes from America’s Historic Sites
. White Plains, New York: Peter Pauper Press, Inc., 1985.
D’Amico, Joan and Karen Eich Drummond.
United States Cookbook
. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.
Jones, Judith and Evan.
The L.L. Bean Book of
New New England Cookery
. New York: Random House, 1987.
How We Lived in Colonial New
. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2000.
Kirlin, Katherine S. and Thomas M.
. London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Celebrate the States: Rhode Island
. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1999.
Celebrate the States: Connecticut
. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1998.
7.2 Web Sites
Creative Cuisine. [Online] Available
(accessed April 24, 2001).
Ethnic Food and the Making of Americans. [Online] Available
(accessed April 24, 2001).
Sallys Place. [Online] Available
(accessed April 24, 2001).
Soup Recipes. [Online] Available
(accessed April 24, 2001).
Welcome to America the Bountiful. [Online] Available
(accessed April 24, 2001).