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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sauce for Meat in Colonial America

Here is an excessively long post. But, I think it's significant because I think I am uncovering something about colonial American cuisine that has up to now not been known. Here is the short version.

My original plan was to use the book A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin as a primary source for a book that I am writing.

At first read, I assumed that the sauce the writer was mentioning so much was some sort of vinegar and oil (butter, lard) mixture that the English were so fond of using. But, the passage from page 245 about vinegar piqued my interest and made me reevaluate what I was reading. The writer claims that he only had access to vinegar one time and then only a spoonful. Therefore, he couldn't have been writing about a vinegar based sauce. So, I started comparing the passages that mention "sauce" and came to the conclusion that he must have been referring to vegetables or other side dishes to accompany the meat. That all means that the word "sauce" had a much broader meaning in colonial times than it does today.

I am in discussions over this with some friends who are colonial food experts. We should have some conclusions soon. What say, thee?

Page 246

When in the field, and often while in winter quarters, our usual mode of drawing our provisions, (when we did draw any,) was as follows:—a return being made out for all the officers and men, for seven days, we drew four days of meat, and the whole seven days of flour. At the expiration of the four days, the other three days allowance of beef. Now, dear reader, pray consider a moment, how were five men in a mess, five hearty, hungry young men to subsist four days on twenty pounds of fresh beef, (and I might say, twelve or fifteen pounds,) without any vegetables or any other kind of sauce to eke it out. In the hottest season of the year it was the same; though there was not much danger of our provisions putrefying, we had none on hand long enough for that, if it did, we were obliged to eat it, or go without any thing.

Page 18

I was brought to an allowance of provisions, which, while we lay in New-York was not bad: if there was any deficiency it could in some measure be supplied by procuring some kind of sauce; but I was a stranger to such living; I began soon to miss grandsire’s table and cellar. However, I reconciled myself to my condition as well as I could; it was my own seeking, I had had no compulsion.

Page 28

We continued here some days to guard the flour. We were forbidden by our officers to use any of it, except our daily allowance; we used, however, to purloin some of it to eat and exchange with the inhabitants for milk, sauce, and such small matters as we could get for it, of them.

Page 46

One day, after roll-call, one of my messmates with me, sat off upon a little jaunt into the country to get some sauce of some kind or other. We soon came to a field of English turnips; but the owner was there, and we could not get any of them without paying for them in some way or other. We soon agreed with the man to pull and cut off the tops of the turnips at the halves, until we got as many as we needed. After the good man had sat us to work, and chatted with us a few minutes, he went off and left us. After he was gone, and we had pulled and cut as many as we wanted, we packed them up and decamped, leaving the owner of the turnips to pull his share himself.

Page 91

we were put into the kitchen; we had a snug room and a comfortable fire, and we began to think about cooking some of our fat beef; one of the men proposed to the landlady to sell her a shirt for some sauce; she very readily took the shirt, which was worth a dollar at least,—she might have given us a mess of sauce, for I think she would not have suffered poverty by so doing, as she seemed to have a plenty of all things.

Page 149 - This quote is pretty straight forward, I think.

pound of lean fresh beef and a gill of wheat for each man, whether we had any salt to season so delicious a morsel, I have forgotten, but I am sure we had no bread, (except the wheat,) but I will assure the reader that we had the best of sauce; that is, we had keen appetites.

Page 215

The first night of our expedition, we boiled our meat; and I asked the landlady for a little sauce, she told me to go to the garden and take as much cabbage as I pleased, and that, boiled with the meat, was all we could eat.

Page 245

One pound of good and wholesome fresh or salt beef, or three fourths of a pound of good salt pork, a pound of good flour, soft or hard bread, a quart of salt to every hundred pounds of fresh beef, quart of vinegar to a hundred rations, a gill of rum, brandy or whiskey per day; some little soap and candles, I have forgot how much, for I had so little of these two articles, that I never knew the quantity. And as to the article of vinegar, I do not recollect of ever having any except a spoonful at the famous rice and vinegar thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, in the year 1777.


I also found another source that uses the word "sauce" in the same way. In a letter written by Jabez Huntington to Joshua Huntington on August 6, 1776 the author wrote "These Comes per your Schooner Capt. Ingraham with sundry Artickles for the Army I understood per Letter from Colo. Huntington that it was verry difficult to Obtain green Sase (sauce) in N York so orderd a Box filled with Betes, Carriots, Puttatoes, and Turnups directed to your Care to be divided between your Self and Brothors in Camp".


FOLLOW UP - Continuing my review of the literature around this subject here is what I found on 8/15/13.

I have discovered that, in fact, veggies were called sauce when used to accompany meat. It is not well known, even among colonial food historians apparently, but, in the book Food in Colonial and Federal America:

"Vegetables' place in the diet is revealed by the description of them as garden sauce, or "sass," and accompaniment to meat." (pg. 55) The book also mentions that "pumpkin was boiled and used as a sauce to accompany meat." (pg 23)


So, there you go!

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