Learning About Colonial America with Felicity Part 2: Colonial Food, Tea, and the Boston Tea Party

The colonists in Felicity’s day were proud of their hospitality. They welcomed family and friends in for tea, and strangers as well. The “middling” class and the gentry loved to throw fancy balls and galas, and they included lots of wonderful food. A festive meal would have several courses, sometimes with over 20 dishes in a course!

The Virginia Colony, of which Williamsburg was the capitol, had a great mixture of cultural influences on its food. There was, of course, a lot of British influence on colonial food, and quite a bit of Native American influence too. The Native Americans shared many of their traditional foods with the colonists, including pumpkins, corn, and beans. So we can thank Native Americans for pumpkin pie, corn on the cob, popcorn, and baked beans! The colonists also adapted some of the cooking methods and foods from slaves that came from Africa, and from French cooks, which were considered fashionable at the time among the wealthiest colonial homes.

Colonial food was typically cooked over a fire in a huge fireplace in the kitchen, which was usually an outbuilding in order to remove the heat and smell of cooking from the main house.

This fireplace is in R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse in Williamsburg
Spider Griddle

The cooking would be done by the women of the family in a poor or lower middle class household, and by servants or slaves in an upper middle class or gentry household. They would use dutch ovens and large kettles and pots suspended from a spit over the fire, and the spit itself would be used to cook meat. Usually a small oven was built into the wall of the fireplace for baking. Cooks would test the temperature by putting their arm in the oven and counting. If they could count to a certain number (usually 20 or 30) and no more the oven was the right temperature! If they could not get to the right number without pulling out their arm, the oven was too hot. If they could count longer it was too cold. Colonists would also fry food over the fire on something called a spider. That is how Johnny Cakes were made!

Let’s sample some of the foods commonly found in Williamsburg that Felicity would have eaten!

Puddings

Puddings were often served in the colonies as a main dish, a side, or a complete meal in one! Chicken pudding most likely would have been served at dinner, which was the biggest meal of the day and served around 2 pm. The colonists would have breakfast around 8 or 9, which usually would include tea, then dinner in the early afternoon. They had tea again around 5, which included bread, and sometimes sweets such as tarts and spiced nuts. The final meal of the day was supper, which was a light meal in the late evening before bed.

Try making some colonial food to try!

Chicken Pudding (from Felicity’s Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • shortening or butter to grease casserole dish
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Directions:

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat
  2. Add the chicken breasts to the skillet. Brown on both sides.
  3. Add water and 1 teaspoon of salt to the skillet. When the water boils, turn down the heat until it simmers.
  4. Cover the skillet and cook chicken 1/2 hour.
  5. Grease a 2 quart casserole dish.
  6. Transfer chicken breasts to the casserole dish and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Make the batter for the chicken pudding: combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl.
  8. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter.
  9. Beat the eggs with the milk in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the melted butter.
  10. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture. Beat the batter until it is smooth, then our over the chicken breasts in the casserole dish.
  11. Bake the chicken pudding for about 40 minutes or until the batter puffs up and is golden brown.
  12. Let cool for a few minutes and enjoy!

One of Felicity’s favorite foods was pumpkin pudding. Pumpkins were a popular food in Williamsburg because they were easy to grow and they kept very well throughout the winter. You can make your own pumpkin pudding to share with your family and friends!

Pumpkin Pudding (from Felicity’s Cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 pound can of pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1 cup milk
  • butter or shortening to grease a casserole dish

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Beat them with a fork until they are light yellow, then add the pumpkin and mix well.
  3. Add spices, molasses, and milk. Mix well.
  4. Grease a 1.5 quart casserole dish. Pour the mixture into the dish.
  5. Bake the pudding for 1 hour. Serve warm.

Now it’s time for dessert!

Almond Tarts (from Felicity’s Cookbook)

Ingredients

Pastry:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • extra flour for rolling dough

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup butter (I actually found this to be too much, you might try 1/4 or 1/3 cup instead)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Directions:

  1. To make the pastry dough, measure the flour and the butter into a medium mixing bowl. Use a pastry cutter or fork to blend them until the mixture is crumbly.
  2. Crack the egg into the bowl. Add the cream and stir to form a smooth dough.
  3. Chill the pastry dough for 15 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
  4. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  5. To make the filling, melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.
  6. Zest the lemon. Put 1 tablespoon of lemon zest into a large mixing bowl.
  7. Add the melted butter, ground almonds, orange juice, eggs, and sugar. Mix well. Set aside.
  8. Divide the pastry dough into 12 pieces and shape each into a ball.
  9. On a floured cutting board, roll out each ball into a circle about 1/4 inch thick.
  10. Fit each circle into the cup of a muffin pan. Pat the sides to make them fit like tiny pie crusts.
  11. Scoop filling evenly into each tart crust.
  12. Bake the tarts for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  13. Enjoy!

Yum! Tarts were a popular dessert in the colonies and for good reason!

Candied Flowers

Colonists used things like dried fruit, candied flowers, fresh herbs, spices, and other plants to decorate their food and tables. You can decorate your tarts with candied flowers.

You will need:

  • edible flowers (you can find these at a health food store)
  • 2 egg whites
  • fine white sugar
  • a new paint brush (wash it with soap and water)

Directions:

Make sure your flowers are clean and dry. Whisk the egg whites until they are foamy. Use the paint brush to brush each petal of your flowers with a thin coat of egg whites. Sprinkle your flowers lightly with sugar. Allow them to dry overnight.

Liberty Tea

Tea was an important drink in Williamsburg, and in all the other colonies too. By the time Felicity was a girl, just about everyone was drinking tea, two or more times a day! But there began to be a problem with drinking tea. England had decided to tax all the tea that the colonies imported. It also had decided to dictate who the colonists could buy tea from. And the colonists were not happy about it. England had just spent years and years fighting wars with the Spanish, the French, and the Native Americans, and its treasury was depleted. England wanted to build its treasury up once again. King George III and parliament had a simple solution to this: tax the colonies. So first they taxed sugar (the Sugar Act), and then they taxed official papers and published items (the Stamp Act). The colonists didn’t like this, and they protested it, but when England started taxing tea, that was the last straw! The colonists had no say in parliament, so they could not give any input on these taxes, and they felt that was incredibly unfair. They called it “taxation without representation” and declared that it was against their rights.

The colonists began to boycott tea. Tea was an important part of their way of life, so they replaced it with coffee, chocolate, or “Liberty Tea” which they made from whatever plants and herbs they could find. They used raspberry leaves, chamomile, and other herbs.

Drink to Freedom with Liberty Tea!

You will need:

  • an herbal tea such an chamomile or raspberry leaf (use either a loose leaf kind or cut open tea bags for a more authentic experience)
  • a tea service and tea strainer
  • hot water

Place the tea in the teapot with the hot water. Let it steep for a few minutes, then serve tea to your guests as Felicity did! (Find details below)

In Felicity’s day, tea parties were important occasions, and so were the manners that went with them! The hostess of a tea party was the one who poured the tea and she was responsible for keeping the tea cups full. The colonists used loose leaves, not tea bags, so the tea would be strained as it was poured. The hostess would refill all of her guest’s cups again and again until they signaled that they were finished by turning their tea cup upside down and and laying their spoon across the top. If a guest was unaware of this custom, they might end up drinking a lot of tea!

A colonial tea service would include a teapot, cups, saucers, a small pitcher for milk, a sugar bowl, and a dish for discarding the tea leaves. You will notice in the pictures that these tea cups had no handles. The tea cups that Felicity drank from would not have had handles because the tea pots and cups that were used at the time were imported from China and the Chinese did not put handles on their cups. Sugar was added with little tongs from a cake of sugar. In colonial times, white sugar was made through a process that used water and resulted in a hard cone or “loaf” of sugar. The sugar was hard and was broken off in “lumps,” which is where we get the phrase, “one lump, or two?”

Make a Sugar Loaf

You can easily make a sugar loaf to go with your tea party. All you need is white sugar, water, cooking spray, and a small bowl. I used a silicone muffin cup so that I could remove my sugar cone easily, but a small glass or plastic bowl would work fine, I think. Just be sure to spray it with a little cooking spray before adding the sugar. In a small mixing bowl, mix about 1/4 cup of sugar with a teaspoon of water. Add water as needed until your sugar mixture is like damp beach sand and sticks together when pressed in your hand. You do not want your sugar to be too wet. Once the sugar is moistened. press it into your greased bowl until it is packed down. Then, leave it to dry completely. It should be dry in a couple of days, and you can turn it out of your bowl to use for your tea party.

As the colonists were boycotting tea, they were also organizing more aggressive protests. Samuel Adams had formed a secret society called the Sons of Liberty. It was the Sons of Liberty that organized the famous Boston Tea Party to protest England’s tax on tea.

Make a Teacup for Felicity!

These tea cups do have handles, so they are not accurate in that way, but they are still cute and fun to make!

You Will Need:

Just use your Sharpies to draw a pattern onto your tea cups and let dry. That’s it! Now your American Girl Doll can have her own tea party!

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