The Making of a Melting Pot

  April 13, 2022   Read time 3 min
The Making of a Melting Pot
The cooking style of a region’s indigenous people is called its indigenous cuisine. An indigenous cuisine comprises indigenous foods, or ingredients that are native to a particular land. Indigenous foods may be wild or cultivated.

In American cuisine, turkey and corn are indigenous foods. Both turkeys (wild) and corn (cultivated) existed on the North American continent before European settlers arrived. Precontact Native Americans had the cooking technology to spit-roast a turkey and boil corn. Thus, roast turkey and boiled corn on the cob are indigenous dishes, or dishes primarily made with indigenous foods and indigenous cooking techniques. The point in history at which an indigenous group of people first makes contact with another culture is typically a crucial turning point in their way of life and thus also in their food culture. We call the indigenous cooking style prevalent before this point precontact cuisine and the style that develops after this point postcontact cuisine. When studying the modern cooking of indigenous groups, it’s important to distinguish between precontact and postcontact cuisines. For example, Native American griddle-baked corn tortillas are a precontact dish, but wheat flour fry bread is a postcontact dish.

The first settlers to arrive in a particular region are either colonists or pioneers. American colonists primarily came from Europe. To them, the American continents constituted a “new world,” whereas Europe was the “old world.” Thus, the homeland cooking styles of America’s European colonists are collectively called Old World cuisines. Colonists traveling to a new land try to bring along familiar foods and raise them in their new homes. Food plants and animals that settlers bring from home and establish in the new land are called colonial domesticates. Colonists also bring previously developed cooking technology to their new homes. Roast beef and apple pie are considered Old World dishes because beef, apples, and the wheat used to make the flour for the piecrust were brought from Europe by European settlers, and because oven roasting and baking is European cooking technology. Dishes made primarily with colonial domesticates and European cooking technology are called Old World dishes.

When the Old World cuisine of a colonist group is blended with indigenous cuisine, the resulting hybrid cooking style is called colonial cuisine. Thus, a colonial dish is made with a mixture of indigenous foods and colonial domesticates and may use both indigenous and European cooking technology. New England–style cornbread is a good example of a colonial dish; it is made from Old World wheat flour blended with indigenous American cornmeal and baked in an oven using Old World cooking technology. If the Thanksgiving turkey is stuffed with a wheat bread dressing and roasted in an oven, it becomes a colonial dish as well.

As colonial cuisine becomes established, cooks develop a repertoire of colonial dishes that become the foundation of the region’s cuisine. When first-settler colonists become pioneers, they take their cooking style on the road and transplant it to the new lands where they settle. En route, and until their farms or ranches become established, pioneers achieve only a rough version of their original colonial cuisine. They may need to borrow new ingredients and cooking techniques from the new indigenous groups they encounter, creating another hybrid cooking style known as pioneer cuisine. Thus, pioneer dishes combine previously adopted indigenous ingredients, Old World ingredients, and newly discovered indigenous ingredients from a new area. They may combine European cooking technology with several types of indigenous technology. Pies made from chokecherries and other wild fruits indigenous to the Midwest are examples of pioneer dishes.

Both colonial cuisine and pioneer cuisine are first-settler cooking styles. Sooner or later, though, first-settler cuisines are altered and enriched by the food products and techniques brought by immigrants. Today some of America’s favorite ingredients are immigrant foods. Immigrant foods are items added to the ingredients of an established regional cuisine by groups who arrive later in the area’s history. Olive oil, pasta, soy sauce, and tofu are examples of immigrant foods that have been embraced across America.

Write your comment