What the Founding Fathers ate on 4th of July

Friday, July 4, 2014 - 12:13pm

Many Americans will serve up hot dogs and hamburgers this Fourth of July, maybe top it all off with some all-American apple pie and ice cream.

But marking our nation's independence didn't always revolve around the grill.

“We can look up July 4th, 1776 and see that the headquarters staff had mutton, veal, roast beef, cabbages, peas, potatoes, beets, beans and then from the fish market they had black fish and lobster,” said Susan Schoelwer, who is the curator of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia.

Despite the differences, she says there are at least a few similarities between our summer menus, and those of the founding fathers.

“The 18th century British and American colonist basically liked anything you can put in a crust and eat. And so we think particularly cherry pies and cherries would have been in season at that that time of year,” Schoelwer said.

Most of what was served was grown right here on the estate, which meant a lot of fresh vegetables with a meal, whatever was in season.

But during his travels to the young nation's more cosmopolitan cities like New York and Philadelphia, Washington likely discovered something a little more refreshing, ice cream.

“Usually flavoring it with something like strawberries or raspberries some kind of fruit. You really didn't get chocolate or vanilla ice cream in the 18th century, but fruits so I think that was another favorite,”

And Washington likely would have sipped his favorite beverage, the fortified wine, Madeira, with a meal. It was also preferred by Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers, who had reasons to raise a toast each July 4th.


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