North American Cooking - The Chef's Cooking School

North American Cooking

There are a number of factors that contribute to the food culture in areas local to here in the US and internationally.  One of these factors relates to the people who live in a particular area.  In the US, we are really a relatively young country.  The late 1400’s is when Columbus made his introduction to the Americas, while the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth in 1620.  The people indigenous to our country are the Native Indians.

This very model is a test to how food culture can be influenced.  In this case the locals, Native Indians had a strong influence on the Pilgrims as they introduced them to corn.  They aided them in getting them through and surviving the harsh winters.  These circumstances were extreme in that the Pilgrims, in less than modern times, needed to build their homes and communities.  They arrived so late that they ran low or out of food supplies throughout the winter.

Over the winter the friendly local Indians befriended them.  They assisted them in learning how to grow corn that next growing season.  They ate together and shared insights on living.  While the Pilgrims didn’t take on all the Indians traits, they were influenced greatly by them.  The fundamental act of hospitality, showing a welcoming spirit, is at the heart of food cultural influences. 

This sharing of food with another is how a Boiled dinner, from Ireland, became a regular treat in New England kitchens.  This is how perogies and haluski became regular polish fair in North East Pennsylvania.  It is the Irish influence in Boston, and the Polish in Northeast Pennsylvania that have made these foods arise to the dinner table.

These are just a few examples of how foods have come to where they are eaten today.  This is important as we dig into our regional eating habits.  As our country has grown and populated these regions of our country they have been populated by Italians, Irish, Polish, English, Scottish, Norwegian, German, Asian, African, South American, Cuban, Canadian etc. etc.   The more of these folks in an area that there is, the greater the influence on the culture.

Utilization of the resources around you is a big influence.  In deep country areas game is a big thing, most people have guns and many hunt.  They hunt for both sport and for food, however, many stock their freezers with game during these seasons. In corn country they have corn roasts. In mid Atlantic coastal states, they have crab boils, while in New England they have Lobster Bakes, Clam Chowda and fish and chips.

Creativity and ingenuity are factors that affect our eating as well.  This is the intangible factor in all of this.  When ingredients are plentiful you try and figure ways to best utilize them. 

For example:

Corn we eat fresh on the cob

Canned Corn

Frozen Corn

Corn meal

Corn Flour’s

Corn Oil

Corn Starch

And all the different uses and applications that these can be used for.  While some of this utilization is done because these farms produce so much of the product, the idea remains the same not letting things go to waste.

Italians have a dish that people love, tripe.  Originally consumed out of necessity in not letting things go to waste, tripe is the lining of a cow’s stomach.  This has grown to be a treat in Italian culture.  Another example of this is chitlin’s, eaten in the south a chitlin is pigs’ intestine.  Originally consumed in necessity, it has become a part of the southern culture.  Chickens feet for the Chinese or sharks fin soup, or bird nest soup are all the same ideas. 

Did you know that New England Lobster at one point was so prevalent that they were harvested as they walked along the shoreline?  They were harvested, but because they were bug like in nature, they were viewed as bugs, and they were fed to inmates/prisoners.  Well that has changed, and now for lobster meat only the cost is $30.00 a lb. or more, this has become a delicacy.

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