First up: colonial Virginia.
|the cookbook in question|
Since the book we're using was created by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, I think we can safely assume that most of its recipes date from between 1699 and 1780, the years when Williamsburg served as the capital of colonial Virginia. These are also the years (roughly) represented by the current Colonial Williamsburg living history site.
So, to be clear, we're talking about pre-independence America here. Virginians are still supposed to be loyal to the British king, and while the Revolutionary War might have begun (1775) and the Declaration of Independence issued (in 1776), America won't officially become its own country until 1783.
|engraving by Theodor de Bry, 1590, of Virginia Indian chief|
For a while most Virginians were young bachelors hoping to make a buck or two on the tobacco trade. Then women started to arrive in 1619, along with indentured servants and African slaves to work the tobacco fields. The colony began to expand, especially after it was made a royal colony in 1624 (governed by the king of England). Finally, African slavery became entrenched in Virginia and the other southern colonies around 1700.
How It All Relates to CookingBy the mid-18th century, Virginian society was pretty hierarchical, because of its status as a royal colony and its reliance on a cash crop. Here's how it broke down:
- Royal Governor (the big kahuna)
- Wealthy Planters (who were also political)
- Small Farmers (rather poor)
- Landless Whites (very poor)
- Indentured Servants (who worked out apprenticeships)
- Slaves (owned by the wealthy or small farmers)
|"The Good House-wife" of the 18th century|
In other words: this is not a cookbook for the small farmers, the landless whites, the indentured servants, or the slaves. It represents what the governor or wealthy planters would have eaten--only they would have wives known as "gentlewomen."
My uncle recently visited Colonial Williamsburg, and he told us about his visit to a small 18th-century farm where people ate an extremely limited diet, often 1-2 types of food per day. So as I'm cooking all these recipes, it's helpful to keep in mind who exactly would have been eating this food, because this cookbook certainly doesn't represent all of colonial Virginia.
I hope this was helpful for you, friends! Do you have other questions about old Virginia? Or cooking in general? Or what on earth an indentured servant was?
Works Consulted: The American Pageant, 13th edition. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photos: 1. Author. 2. History of Virginia. 3. "Women and Education in Eighteenth-Century Virginia."