Food From The Fields And The Sea
( Originally Published 1902 )
IN former pages, the importance of kitchen gardens and orchards has been fully disclosed in the accounts of houses and estates for sale or lease. Fruits and vegetables were raised in large quantities from the earliest times. When the Dutch settled here, they brought with them their favourite salads, roots, greens, and fruits. They also found indigenous vegetables and fruits which they gladly cultivated and cooked. As good beer could be made here as at home, for wheat, rye, barley, oats, and corn were raised in profusion, while good hops grew wild in the woods.
Wild fruits that the land produced in great abundance included grapes of many varieties, mulberries, cherries, currants, plums, gooseberries, medlars, bilberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries and straw-berries in such profusion that people lay down in the fields and gorged themselves with them. Edible nuts that enriched the sylvan ways were sweet acorns, chestnuts, beechnuts, walnuts, butternuts, and hazel-nuts. Other wild products of which the settlers availed themselves were pignuts, artichokes, leeks, onions, peas, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, water-melons, squash and other gourds.
The Dutch and English brought native seeds for herbs and salads. We therefore find their gardens well supplied with beans, peas, turnips, cabbages, parsnips, carrots, beets, endive, succory, sorrel, dill, spinach, radishes, parsley, chevril (or sweet cicely), cress, onions, leeks, laurel, artichokes, asparagus, rosemary, lavender, hyssop, thyme, sage, marjoram, balm ; holy onions, wormwood, belury, chives, clary, pimpernel, dragon's blood, five-finger, and tarragon. The pumpkin, despised at home, was held in high esteem in New York in very early days, where the English used it for pies. They also made a beverage from it.
Gardeners were in demand for useful even more than ornamental service. Advertisements of seeds by the Fort gardener and others were common, and seeds imported by merchants were also often announced. From these we see what a great variety of the different herbs, roots, and esculents were cultivated. In March, 1775, we find a long list of seeds advertised. These consisted of many varieties of cabbage, salad, carrot, spinach, turnip, endive and parsley ; besides Italian broccoli, best Dutch cauliflower and cucumber ; Zealand, blood-red, French white, and great Spanish onions ; long, white and red radishes ; "ramanarse," suckerye, rosemary, artichokes, parsnips, peppergrass, caraway, Winter leeks, Summer do., red beet, Dutch celery, great Flemish do., ketchup, thyme, fattacouse and several other sorts of seed. The varieties of cabbage seed were early great Battersea, flat white Brunswick, low brown head, Utrecht head, high brown curled, high green curled, fine blood-red, red head, early white, yellow Bloomingdale, low green curled, great Amsterdam savoy, and green savoy. The " salad " seeds were Swedish, great yellow, large brown, great Berlin, small red, great Mogul, Spanish, speckled, yellow stone, small yellow, princes, cut head, large Amsterdam, sour, curled cut and early cut. The varieties of carrot were parsley, long yellow, long red, early, great yellow, schonanul and sugar carrot. The kinds of spinach were broad-leaved, round, small, and sour ; then there were broad-leaved, curled and broad curled endive; and yellow Dutch, green, curled and French parsley. The varieties of turnip included yellow, white, early, cabbage, above-ground, underground, long French and white.
Fruits were cultivated with equal assiduity. The best English and Dutch stocks were imported, and when possible grafted on the native trees to produce new and hardy varieties. The consequence was that in many cases New York orchards lost nothing by comparison with the best in Europe. The natural ad-vantages of soil and climate enabled the local nursery-man to raise pomology to a rare degree of excellence. In 1769, for example, William Prince, of Flushing, had the following varieties of fruit trees :
English cherries : May Dukes, Black, White, Bleeding, Amber hearts and Red hearts, Coronations, Honey, Kentish, Mazerine, Morello cherry.
Nectarines : The Fair Child Early, Large Green Clingstone, Yellow, Yellow Roman, Red Roman, Elruge, Temples, Brugnon or Italian.
Plums : Green Gage, Yellow Egg (as big as a hen's egg), White Sweet do. (bigger), Orleans do. (very large and fine), Imperatrice, Red Imperial, White Imperial, Drap d'Or, Royal, Apricot, White Bona Magnum, Vilet Pardegel, Red Diepper, Whiteten, Jean Native, Precose Deture, Fotherings, Perdigron, White Perdigron, Damis Vilet, La Prune Valure, Brig Nole, Carline, White Damson, Large Red Sweet, Large Holland, Early Sweet Damson, Late Sweet Damson.
Apricots : Large Early, Large French Brussels, Breda, Orange, Masculine, Bloucht, Algier, Roman, Turkey, Small Sweet.
Peaches : Rare Ripe, Early Nutmeg (ripe in July), Old Newington, New Newington, Large Early, Large Early Clingstone, Large Red Clingstone (weighs from ii to 15 oz.), Yellow Cling-stone called the Carolina Canada (weighs 1 lb.), Barcelona Yellow Clingstone, Murketong, Large Red Stone (10 to 15 oz.), Large Yellow Clingstone (ripe Oct. 15th, 10 to 12 oz.), Large White, do. (14 oz.), Large Lemon, do., English Double Rose, Large Yellow Malagatune, Large Yellow Winter Clingstone, Large White Stone, White Winter Clingstone, Blood Peach, Carolina Red Cheek Malagatune, Western Newington, Elizabeth, Yellow Catharine.
Pears : Burgamot, Catharine, Vergalue, July, Monsieur Jean, Tromp Valet, French Primitive, Winter Bon Chretien, Easter Burgamot, Amber, Chaumontel, Russelet, Early Sugar, Burie Vert, Winter Burie, Burie de Roy, Green Chizell, Swan's Egg, Colmar, Crassan, Spanish Bon Chretien, Large Bell, Citron de Camis, Summer Burgamot, Autumn Burgamot, Brocause Burgamot, Winter Burgamot, Hampden's Burgamot, Ammerzell, Lent Sangermain, Gergenell, Rouselon, Cuffe Madam, Green Catharine, La Chasserie, Yourdal's Sangermain, Orange, Large Winter (near 21 lbs.), Pear Wardens, Empress, Large Summer Baking.
Apples : Newtown Pippins, White Pippins, Large Pippins, Golden Pippins, AEsopus Spitzenburgh, Newtown Spitzenburgh, Pearmains, Vandevels, Large Red and Green (ripe at Midsummer, weighs over 1 lb.), Genneting, Bow, English Codlin, Red Streaks, Jersey Greens, Golden Rennets, Russitons, Lady, Non Parrel, Lidington, Rhode Island Greening, Swar, Large White Sweeting, Bell Flower."
Some of the names of these varieties appear beneath an almanac shown on page 344. Upon this is written, " From the collection of Robert Furber, Gardener at South Kensington, 1732, and sold by Thomas Bakewell, Birchin Lane, Cornhill, London. This hung in the state dining-room in Elizabeth, N. J."
Not content with what their own orchards could supply, rich New Yorkers imported the fruits of the West Indies. Pineapples were regularly on the market. Watermelons were early taken into favour. Kalm says : "The watermelons which are cultivated near the town grow very large ; they are extremely delicious and are better than in other parts of North America, though they are planted in the open fields and never in a hot-bed. I saw a water-melon at Governor Clinton's in September, 1750, which weighed forty-seven English pounds, and at a merchant's in town another of forty-two pounds weight ; however, they were reckoned the biggest ever seen in this country." In August, 1774, an item read : "A water-melon was last week cut at a gentleman's table in this city that grew in his own garden on this island, that weighed no less than 5o lbs."
The fish caught in the fresh waters of New York province from the earliest days were salmon, sturgeon, striped bass, drums, shad, carp, perch, pike, trout, thick-heads, suckers, sunfish, catfish, eels, lampreys, divers, mullets, or frost-fish. The sea-food comprised cod, weakfish, halibut, herring, mackerel, thornback, flounders, plaice, bream, blackfish, lobsters, oysters, crabs, mussels, periwinkles, shrimps, lobsters, clams, turtles, and porpoises. Sturgeon were plentiful in the Hudson, but only the small size was eaten. The roe was highly prized for caviare by the English. Sturgeon was also pickled for market. In 1765, John Alexander & Co. advertised New York pickled sturgeon and vaunted its superiority " both as to the quality of the fish and the richness of the pickle."
Coenties Slip Market (established 1691) was the Billingsgate of New York, and was known as the Great Fish Market. In 1721, Josiah Quincy petitioned the Corporation " for land at or near Kingsbridge to erect a fishery, with liberty to fish in the river at that place ; and proposes to supply the markets at New York with fish very fresh and at very easy rates, and in payment, rendering therefore yearly on every fourteenth day of October to this Corporation a good dish of fresh fish." Five years later, the General Assembly granted to Lewis De Langloiserie the sole right to the porpoise fishery within this province for ten years.
Shell-fish were particularly esteemed. This seafood was always plentiful. During the Dutch rule, writers had remarked the abundance and excellence of lobsters, crabs, periwinkles, oysters, clams, mussels, shrimps and turtles. Some of the lobsters were enormous " being from five to six feet in length ; others again are from a foot to a foot and a half long, which are the best for the table." Most important of all shell-fish was the oyster, very extensive beds of which existed in the adjacent waters. The oysters, lobsters and other fish were to be found at the very doors of many of the country-seats on this island and the islands in the bay. The provisions afforded by Nature have appeared in some advertisements already quoted. The following appears in 1772 :
" Little Bern Island at public auction, belonging to the estate of Mr. St. George Talbot, deceased, situate opposite New Harlem Church, in the out-ward of this City, containing upwards of one hundred acres of land and meadows. It abounds with wild fowl, as ducks, geese, pidgeons, quails, etc., and has the advantage of a fine seine fishery, and black-fish, oysters, lobsters, etc. Being in the vicinity of New York, the produce may be brought to the Fly Market with the tide of ebb, and the flood will waft the craft home."
New York oysters were always very fine. They were eaten raw, and cooked in almost as many ways as they are to-day. Moreover, every good hotel had pickled oysters on its bill of fare ; and they were ex-ported in large quantities. In 1774, Abraham Delanoy announced that he " pickles oysters and lobsters ; and puts up fried oysters so as to keep a considerable time even in a hot climate." In 1753, a writer testified :
" Though we abound in no one kind of fish sufficient for a staple, yet such is our happiness in this article that not one of the colonies affords a fish market of such a plentiful variety as ours. Boston has none but sea-fish, and of these Philadelphia is entirely destitute, being only furnished with the fish of a fresh water river New York is sufficiently supplied with both sorts. Nor ought our vast plenty of oysters to pass without particular observation ; in their quality they are exceeded by those of no country whatever. People of all ranks amongst us in general prefer them to any other kind of food. Nor is anything wanting, save a little of the filings of copper, to render them equally relishing, even to an English palate, with the best from Colchester. They continue good eight months in the year, and are for two months longer the daily food of our poor. Their beds are within view of the town, and I am in-formed that an oysterman, industriously employed, may clear eight or ten shillings a day."
In 1771, attention was called to the law to prevent the giving or selling of unripe fruit and oysters within the city of New York. There was a £3 penalty for bringing in oysters during May, June, July and Au-gust.
Terrapin was eaten here two centuries and a half ago. New Yorkers of the Eighteenth Century were as fond as a London alderman of turtle. The Rev. Mr. Burnaby notes : " There are several houses pleasantly situated upon the East River where it is common to have turtle feasts ; these happen once or twice a week. Thirty or forty gentlemen and ladies meet to dine together, drink tea in the afternoon, fish, and amuse themselves till evening, and. then return home in Italian chaises—a gentleman and lady in each chaise. In the way there is a bridge, about three miles distant from New York which you always pass over as you return, called the Kissing Bridge, where it is a part of the etiquette to salute the lady who has put herself under your protection." This bridge was over De Voor's mill-stream, about Fifty-third Street between Second and Third Avenues.
The arrival of shad in April was always welcomed. Several large catches of this fish are recorded. Thus on April 19, 1 756, we read : " On last Thursday,5, '75 1 shad were caught at one draught on the west side of Long Island." A week later, the editor notes :
" The end of last week on the departure of most of His Majesty's forces, fresh beef was sold in our markets at 6d. per pound by the whole quarter. This seemed to be a gloomy prospect for many poor who buy from hand to mouth; but that Being who careth for them, happily sent in a few days large supplies of fish; and on Thursday last, Mr. Bernard Johnson on Long Island, caught 5,700 shad at one haw' of a sein, be-sides large numbers of several other bawls; and the next day sold the greater part of them in our markets." A still greater catch is noticed on April 21st, 1774 : " Last Tuesday morning 9,000 shad were caught in the seines of Mr. Justice Cortelyou at the Narrows."
Bass also were sometimes caught in large quantities. Thus, March 21, I 765 : " On Saturday last were brought to town near 2,000 fine bass taken up in the North River near the Highlands, being much fresher and better than those usually brought from Long Island, which are not so soon brought to market after they are taken." For some years, the fishing trade languished after 1760, so that to encourage it the General Assembly passed an Act in 1773, granting 200 per annum for five years in premiums " for the better supplying the markets of the City with fish."
Ray and skate were excepted, and special premiums were offered for mackerel, sheepshead and cod. The next year dried herrings were added to the list. In 1771, some Albany men stocked the Hudson with salmon, and a law was passed here providing a penalty of 5 for the offence of catching a salmon in Hudson waters and tributaries for five years.
The quiet waters of the harbour were frequently visited by sharks and whales, whose arrival is noted in the newspapers. In September, 1764, for instance : " Monday a shark ten feet long was taken at the New Dock a very few yards from the shore ; " and in October, 1773 : " Several days last week, a considerable large whale was seen in the North as well as the East River of this City."
It will have been noticed that every house fit for habitation had its cellar, the capacity for wine storage of which was sometimes given. Not-withstanding the consumption of coffee and chocolate as bever ages, and the great vogue of tea, yet hard drinking was the rule rather than the exception here as in England. Every gentle-man had his cellar well stored with the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhenish Prussia, Spain, Portugal, and especially the Azores and Canary Islands. The latter included Cape, Madeira, Fayal, Vidonia and Canary. When Governor Burnet died, in 1729, his cellar contained more than twelve hundred bottles and flasks of wine, besides a pipe of Madeira and a quarter cask of Fayal.
Governor Burnet's table was well supplied with continental brands, particularly French and Rhine wines. The average cellar of the day contained a much greater proportion of island wines ; indeed Madeira was the most popular wine for a century and a half. This was the wine in which toasts were usually drunk, and that in which the health of the King was drunk when guests gathered at the Fort and else-where on His Majesty's birthday.
Beer was imported in large quantities both in cask and bottle. Bottled Taunton ale, York and Bristol beer, and London ales were on sale. Liqueurs, or " cordial waters" were also drunk in large quantities, and of these there were a great variety. Among the latter we find Clove Water, Orange Water, Carraway Water, Geneva, Rosa Solis, Usquebaugh (included among French liqueurs), Essence of Tea, Essence of Coffee, Anise, Free Mason's Cordial, Parfaite Amour, Oil of Venus, Oil of Hazelnuts, Bergamot, and many others.
In 1766, Richard Deane, distiller from Ireland, had for sale at his distillery on Long Island, near the Ferry : Aniseed Water, Orange Water, Clove Water, All Fours, or the Cordial of Cordials, Nutmeg Water, Red Ratafie, Golden Cordial, Royal Usquebaugh, Plain ditto, Royal Water, Cordial of Health, Cinnamon Water, Cardamun Water, Angelica Water, Aqua Coelestis, or Heavenly Water, Ros Solis, Stoughton's Elixir, Aqua Mirabilis, or Wonderful Water, besides Irish Whisky, Brandy and Rectified Spirits of Wine.
It is somewhat astonishing to count the generous number of toasts drunk at the various society festivities. Twenty was a modest list. When Captain McDougal received forty-five friends who visited him in gaol in February, 1770, they dined on 45 lbs. of steak and drank 45 toasts each. The appeal for temperance was sometimes heard. In 1749, a paper published a " warning to those who indulge immoderately in the pleasure of Madeira." In 1764, another writer complained that " Rum, tea and sugar now become habitual and necessary to all ranks of people, will considerably rise in their price, and also wines which some think are become more necessary than ever to keep up our spirits."