Colonial Pantry Raid! Food Preservation in the 17th Century by Kelly White

  • April 2, 2020
  • Posted By: Pennsbury Manor

The ongoing Covid-19 quarantine has inspired folks to get creative, especially when it comes to cooking. As the lines in the grocery store grow longer and it becomes more difficult to procure fresh produce, many are reaching to the back of their cabinets for non-perishables. To learn how people preserved food in William Penn’s time, read on! 


1.Get salty! (and a little bit smokey!) The practice of curing meat has existed for thousands of years and continues even today. Since water leads to mold, colonists would pack their meat in salt to draw out excess moisture. Meat was also smoked because the process further dehydrated the meat while adding flavor. Penn himself enjoyed smoked beef, pork, venison, and shad, a type of fish.  Though the governor opted to purchase his smoked meats from local Swedish settlers, it is unlikely that Pennsbury Manor had a smokehouse on property.  


2.In a pickle! The acid in vinegar brine prevents bad bacteria from growing, so pickling was another common method of food preservation in the colonial era. The Whole Duty of a Woman, an instructional guide from 1696, contains numerous pickle recipes. Aside from the classic cucumbers, the book lists instructions for pickling mushrooms, artichokes, oysters, and even blackberries!


3.Pile on the sweet stuff! In preparation for the colder months, fresh fruit was often candied or made into preserves like jam and marmalade. Boiling the fruit in a sugar syrup prevents rot because the natural waters in the fruit are slowly replaced by the sugar syrup. Though tasty, these foods were best consumed in moderation. Catherine Cotton’s 1698 recipe for “Pippins at Christmas Time” calls for a half pound of hard cooking apples, which are then stewed in a whopping pound and a half of sugar!


For more historical fun facts keep reading our blog!

Skip to content