Tag Archives: food history

The American Revolution Food Fight in a Cup of Tea

Women fought for liberty from the familiar territory of their kitchens. The British empire was overextended and the American housewife’s boycott of goods deprived them of taxes. The goodwifes punched the enemy right where it hurt the most. In the pocketbook.

During the American Revolution, the women contributed their frugality and ingenuity in the kitchen, in addition to their moral support. We will see on Thursday’s profile of Elizabeth Hubbard how difficult it could be for a woman with three sons and many relatives and townspeople in the army.

Boston Tea Party

W.D. Cooper. “Boston Tea Party.”, The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. From Wikimedia.org

Tea became a battle ground. Although it had not always been the drink of choice as this passage from an article in the Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine points out.

Not familiar with Bohea (Boo-hee)? It is a smoky black tea from China, and according to this website was the majority tea destroyed at the Boston Tea Party.

In A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances Laura Schenone points out how critical women’s help was in defeating the British.

In addition to going without countless necessities, women ran farms and businesses while their husbands were fighting.  They followed battalions of soldiers, ministering to and feeding the sick and wounded. They were competent, strong, and highly involved.

Specifically, they gave up staples they were used to, as Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John,

“If I have neither Sugar, molasses, coffee nor Tea I have no right to complain.  I can live without any of them and if what I enjoy I can share with my partner and with Liberty, I can sing o be joyfull and sit down content.”

Colonial tea kettle and tea cup

Colonial copper tea kettle. by D.F. Shapinsky (pingnews) From Flickr.

The website, The Food Timeline, quotes a book about tea:

“The young ladies of Boston signed a pledge, ‘We the daughters of those patriots who have, and do now appear for the public interest, and in that principally regard their posterity, as do with pleasure engage with them in denying ourselves the drinking of foreign tea, in hope to frustrate a plan that tends to deprive a whole community of all that is valuable to life.’ They were joined by others around the country, drinking instead ‘Balsamic hyperion’ made from dried raspberry leaves, or infusions of other herbs. The Boston Tea Party did not destroy the American taste for tea, although few retailers in Boston dared to offer it for sale for a number of years. George and Martha Washington continued to serve the best quality tea”

A Social History of Tea, Jane Pettigrew [National Trust Enterprises:London] 2001 (p. 48-51)

Foreign tea consumption fell by more than 2/3 in a three year period (1769-1772)

New Jersey Tea/Red Root

New Jersey Tea herb tea

New Jersey Tea, also known as red root. Photo by Jim Stasz at USDA NRCS Plants Database.


You can see many quotes from Revolutionary times and more information about this plant and its use for tea, used widely as a tea substitute, at this web site.

Since I am a fan of green tea, I really should see if I could grow some of this plant. One newspaper even claims that “(it) is preferred by many to the best Green Tea.”



Garden Plants

Chocolate Mint for a cup of tea

Chocolate Mint for a cup of tea

Bergamot, a garden herb, which is the flavoring used in Earl Gray Tea.

Raspberry Bush leaves (I think I would also dry some of the fruit and mix it in with the leaves when I make the tea.)

Strawberry Bush leaves

Rhubarb Leaves (I can’t vouch for this one, but have to admit it does not sound attractive.)

Mint, which could be found in many varieties in a housewife’s herb garden. When I was growing up, we always had mint growing beside the house wall and would always add it to a glass of iced tea. Beware if you plant it in your garden. It spreads by runners, like that peeking over the edge of this plant and will take over EVERYTHING.

Sage, still used as a tea. In fact, I was offered some in Greece by a woman who let me know despite our lack of common language that it would cure colds and women’s ailments.

For any of these herbs and plants, hang the stems with leaves upside down to dry for a couple of days.  When dry, store in glass jars. To make tea, lightly crush the leaves and place in a strainer or tea ball, pour over them boiling water.

And enjoy your liberty.

The Blackmarket Spread: Oleomargarine

Icebox for Oleomargarine

An early refrigerator with motor on top, and the real icebox. (Ice went in the top right hand door.) Photo by Wendi Dunlap

Grandma kept oleo in the icebox. Fortunately, by the 40s and 50s she did not have to be a bootlegger to obtain oleomargarine, now  called margarine.

Isn’t it amazing how our food terms change over time? Youngsters today may think we’re talking about a thermos chest for picnics when we say icebox.  And I’ve seen several recipes on the Internet that find it necessary to translate “oleo.” And how about our attitudes? Repulsive one day, acceptable the next.

Oleomargarine, a butter substitute developed in France, because of the interest of Napoleon in having a spread that would not turn rancid in the field as butter would. The product, originally made with beef fat mixed with milk was patented in 1869 in Europe and in the U.S. in 1873. Then followed an 80 year war between the dairy farmers and the manufacturers of the “other spread.” Eventually the name became “margarine” and the ingredients were vegetable instead of animal.

Sales of oleomargarine

Photo by Jessica Kelly

First, butter substitutes were outlawed entirely. Then the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional. Then yellow butter substitutes were outlawed. Besides forcing the sale of white margarine (not very appetizing-looking), margarine was sometimes required to be pink or red or even black (even LESS appetizing).  Because these laws were enacted state by state, people would cross state lines to obtain yellow margarine or dye packets for the white stuff and smuggle it back to their own states. Then various onerous taxes were applied. And meanwhile a propaganda campaign accused margarine of being “the slag of the butcher shop…a compound of diseased hogs and dead dogs,” and other creative slurs.

The laws were touted as protecting the consumer, but they obviously were protecting the dairy industry and hurting consumers who wanted to save money.

Fun fact: Some enterprising researcher checking census records found numerous examples of people named Oleo Margarine, or Oleomargarine or just Margarine during the early part of the 20th century.

Smith has a lovely baby girl

The stork left her with a flutter

Smith named her Oleomargarine

For he hadn’t any but her.

Margarine Ad

Margarine Ad

The oleomargarine manufactures,  realizing that people wanted YELLOW spread, added color capsules that could be stirred into the oleo. While it was illegal for them to sell colored margarine, the law did not prohibit people from coloring it once they bought it.  It was kind of messy, but Cudahy (the meat packers) in 1947 got the bright idea of packaging the capsule of food coloring inside a heavy plastic bag that contained the white margarine.

Where I colored Oleomargarine

House on left, Columbus Ohio where the Kaser family lived around 1950. (Picture taken in late 1990s)

It was while we lived in this house in  Columbus, Ohio, that I experienced the plastic bags and enclosed color capsule.  For a short while before that, it came in blocks of white stuff that looked just like lard. But margarine became the spread of choice with high prices of butter during the Depression and then shortages of butter during World War II.

Mixing color into the white oleomargarine may sound awful to you, but as a nine-year-old, I thought it was great. The white margarine came in a plastic bag. We’d break the capsule apart by squeezing it through the bag. Close the bag and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until it turned yellow. Food magic.


Thanksgiving Recipe: Pickled Beets and Eggs

Here’s another decorative dish for your Thanksgiving table.

Pickled Eggs and Beets for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Table

I don’t recall mother or grandmother making cold pickled beets, but mother’s favorite way to serve canned beets was Harvard beets (a recipe for another day) which also is a sweet and sour sauce.

When I first added  pickled beets and eggs to our Thanksgiving menu, my main thought was how beautiful the bright magenta beets and eggs would look in one of my great-grandmother’s cut-glass bowls on the Thanksgiving table. Now I can’t leave them off the table, or I’ll hear from my son Mike.

Of course pickled vegetables were a staple of my ancestors, and you can use basically this same recipe to “put up” beets in glass jars, if you wish. You can find directions on the Internet in many places. The history of the humble root is fascinating for its International flare. At first, beets were deemed only fit to feed livestock. (Lucky pigs!) Our early ancestors would have called this vegetable a blood turnip, and Ken’s Swiss family persists in calling them “red beets.”


Orange beets with other farmer’s Market finds

Growing up we knew nothing BUT red beets, so it seemed redundant to me to call them “red beets,” but recently at farmer’s markets, I have tried yellow, striped, and orange beets.

You can see various recipes used for beets in the 1800s at this American Cookery site.

The history of pickled eggs is interesting as well. They seem to be considered an English tradition–definitely pub food.  In the early days of this country visitors to bars might have gotten a little food for free along with their drink and big jars of disgusting brownish liquid held pickled eggs.

Whoever decided to mix them with beets to turn them beautiful red, deserves our everlasting thanks.

PIckled Beets and Eggs


  • 5 beets (medium or 1 can whole beets)
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cloves (whole)
  • 8 eggs (hard cooked and peeled)


1. If using fresh beets, cook,peel and slice. If using canned, drain liquid and use as part of called-for water.
2. Mix vinegar, water, sugar, salt and cloves.
3. Put beets in large glass container and pour vinegar mixture over.
4. Let marinate overnight in refrigerator.
5. Next day, remove half beets and add shelled eggs. Put reserved beets back on top of eggs. Refrigerate at least another day.

6. Will keep in refrigerator for a long time, but eggs will get rubbery if left more than a week.
7. To serve, spoon the beets and eggs out of the liquid. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise, or slice crosswise. Slice beets if they are large, or leave small ones whole. ( Do not return sliced eggs to liquid or you'll have a muddy mess.)


The hardest part about this recipe is getting neatly peeled eggs. To ensure you have attractive peeled eggs, set aside however many eggs you are going to use about a week before you plan to make this. Old eggs peel better.

Amounts are flexible. I usually use two cans of beets and a dozen eggs. The liquid is still enough for that amount.