New England Cuisine: From Simple to Complex
Native Americans showed the settlers how to cultivate the rocky New England soil and to maximize the relatively short growing season in order to grow corn and other vegetables. The settlers learned how to hunt and trap animals for meat and to sustain themselves.
Evolving DishesAs time passed, simple dishes taught by the Indians became what is known today as New England Cuisine. The colonial cooks—the settlers' wives—gradually transformed these recipes into increasingly complex and flavorful dishes.
A classic example is pancakes. The Native Americans taught the settlers how to prepare a simple mush made of cornmeal and water. To make it tastier, the women blended in some milk or cream and renamed it Hasty Pudding. Over time, rye or wheat flour and a dollop of molasses were added to the pudding, and it was steamed in a cloth. The result: the famous Boston Brown Bread. Eventually, the addition of a few eggs and a sprinkle of cinnamon, and heating this mixture in the oven, resulted in the birth of Indian pudding. All of these colonial recipes are derived from corn, a major staple during that period.
Comfort Foods Made HealthyWhen most Americans think of New England foods, they think of the Thanksgiving holiday or foods eaten during the fall season. Today, these are known as comfort foods, but people during colonial times called them survival foods.
London broil, Yorkshire pudding, baked beans, chowders, porridges and many more regional, indigenous foods were cooked in a hearth during Colonial times. These one-pot meals were also considered nutritious, as meat or seafood was an important component.
Like most regional American dishes, New England foods have been given a makeover by food manufacturers and restaurant chefs. New England cuisine is considered America's first comfort food because the early settlers learned to prepare it first.
Comfort foods usually taste good and make one feel good. However, the calories and fat content of most of these meals are high. Also, because we no longer have the labor-intensive jobs that people held during that period, the food industry has made attempts to satisfy the comfort food cravings without the high calorie and fat intake.
For example, Campbell's Select 98% Fat-Free New England Clam Chowder, Vermont Sugar-Free Low Calorie Maple Flavored Syrup and Fat-Free Boston Baked Beans products continue to see a gradual increase in sales, which could be due to winning slowly the confidence of consumers on a good health campaign.
Vermont GoldGood-tasting food was also important to the Indians and early settlers. Another culinary lesson the Indians taught the pilgrims was the process of retrieving maple sap from trees. The sap was collected, cooked into a syrup and used as a sweetener for cranberries.
Since 1991, some of the best maple syrup has been sold by owners Peter and Virginia Vogel under the brand Vermont Gold, Vermont. Company employees collect buckets filled with maple sap and bring it into a sugarhouse to be boiled over a wood fire until it has the proper consistency for syrup. Then, the syrup is poured into jugs and sold immediately. The company produces about 25 products, from sauces and salad dressings to butters and candies.
From Hearth to KettleAnother New England-oriented product, as well as an emerging market trend, is kettle cooked chips. The Cape Cod Company is one pioneer in this area. Kettle cooked chips usually are made with red potatoes and cooked in a kettle of vegetable oil, giving these chips a crunchier texture. Now, nearly every potato chip manufacturer has a line of kettle cooked chips. In terms of chip flavors, a Salt and Vinegar flavor is indigenous to New England. This flavor of chips also has similarities with the fish & chips served in England, where malt vinegar is sprinkled over the meal before being eaten.
Foodservice Taps Into New England TrendsThe website of MasterFoodServices (a division of Mars, Inc.), offers foodservice operators and restaurant chefs trendy New England recipes. The recipes are traditional with a contemporary twist, such as New England Chicken and Corn Chowder, New England Glazed Pork Chops and New England Harvest Supper.
The New England Chicken and Corn Chowder recipe is a smooth soup made with fresh milk, cream, sautéed bacon, onions, chicken and corn; the items are cooked and then ladled into a bowl over cooked chicken breast and wild rice.
The New England Glazed Pork Chops recipe consists of center-cut apricot glazed pork chops that are roasted and garnished with dried cranberries, and almonds; they are served with cooked zucchini and rice.
Another recipe is the New England Harvest Supper, a golden-sautéed chicken breast filled with cornbread stuffing, topped with gravy and served with green beans and lightly seasoned cornbread stuffing.
In the vegetables sector, Birdseye New England Vegetables are made with green beans, corn, broccoli, pasta and red pepper. This item falls under the category of a one-meal dish.