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Each summer, July 4 offers an opportunity to celebrate the United States while learning about its past. This year, I explored the foods eaten by our Founding Fathers and by settlers on the Great Plains, and about how Native American civilization responded to the arrival of European colonists, all through Ebooks Minnesota.

A photograph of Country Captain, in a wooden bowl.

This past week, we celebrated the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the day in 1776 when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, inaugurating the push toward autonomy for America’s 13 colonies. As I reflected on this history, I wondered: What were those guys eating? Hunger certainly played a part in my quest for this knowledge, and Ebooks Minnesota did, too. 

I began by reading “Colonial Cooking” by Susan Dosier, a cookbook that details the different kinds of food prepared during the colonial period, given the available resources. This book describes colonial life and history and explains how early settlers were heavily influenced by the Wampanoags, a Native American tribe who taught them how to hunt and grow their food. As time passed, the different colonies developed regional foods based on nearby resources, climate, and the need to survive. Dosier even shares recipes for the foods the colonists made! Some of my standouts are the “Country Captain” and the “Philadelphia Pepper Pot.” 

Continuing my search, I found “Pioneer Farm Cooking,” a cookbook by the same author. The book describes cooking from the late 1860s through to the early 1900s, a time period during which the Homestead Act of 1862 encouraged Americans to settle in the Great Plains. The difficulty of moving into unfamiliar areas forced settlers to adapt and become self-sufficient. This is reflected in the food they made, using vegetables from their farms and meat from the animals they raised. Some recipe highlights include “Cornmeal Dumplings” and “Molasses Snow Cones.”

I make it a priority to learn about Native American History any time I explore the early history of the United States. There's a fascinating book in Ebooks Minnesota that places the initial settlement of Europeans on the east coast and their subsequent movement westward in its proper context. That book is "An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America," by Michael Witgen. The book describes how, just as European settlers were creating a "New World" in what would become the 13 colonies, the Native Americans who controlled the rest of the continent were creating a Native New World of their own.

If you want an American history refresher (accompanied by interesting food), these books are for you! Ebooks Minnesota has a whole variety of cookbooks on diverse cuisines, ranging all the way from easy-to-make snacks to complex dishes fit for fancy restaurants. Try one out for your next family gathering! I think I’ll fix up some Country Captain, with Molasses Snow Cones for dessert!

Written by

Jesus Maldonado Sanchez
Marketing & Communications Generalist
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Minnesota's statewide ebook collection for readers of all ages