• Accokeek Foundation

Colonial Foodways 2011: Looking Back

by Matt Mattingly



During the winter of 2010, the National Colonial Farm began to reexamine what is known in the living history world as its “foodways” program.  Many living history museums offer this type of program, which at its core demonstrates how our ancestors prepared food.  Most living history sites develop programs that are consistent with their interpretation, which means that when you go to Mount Vernon you’ll see programs that discuss or demonstrate aspects of life peculiar to George Washington, his family, and slaves.  You won’t go to learn about the culinary preferences of say…Thomas Edison.  George Washington was a pretty successful chap and he was able to dine on whatever providence or pence offered him.  But what about those people not as wealthy as George Washington?  What did they dine on or cook with?


Not much, if you put stock in the study of probate inventories from the 18th century lower middling sort.  What we do know is that in a study of more than 50 such inventories from the last quarter of the 18th century in Charles and Prince George’s counties most ordinary planters had little more than a frying pan and a pot.  One pot meals do not make for the most exciting demonstrations in a foodways program, so the question was, “What can we do?”

It seems that no matter where you’re from in this country, or the world, you’re known for eating something that nobody else does.  We began to ask ourselves why and the program took off from there.  Rather than look solely at 18th century “receipts” we began to look at Maryland dishes in particular throughout our history.  We wanted to create a program that not only demonstrated colonial cooking techniques, but one that also celebrated the many rich, diverse food traditions that we have in Maryland and how they, along with the food, have changed over time. We scoured primary and secondary resources, and searched the archeological record for any and all food references.  We discovered a lot!  Don’t worry, I’m not going to go on about all that here…..though I could!