Young America Post #6: Breakfast in New England, December 17, 1773
“What? No tea for breakfast?” yelled an astonished John Adams.
“I could have gone down to the beach and collected a cup of sea water,” replied Abigail languidly, “And it would have tasted much like tea except for the salt.”
John opened his mouth as if he would speak, but Abigail hushed him with a wave. “It was rather cold this morning and my feet just weren’t up to it.”
John humphed and said, “But…but didn’t we have any left from before the…before the, ah, event?”
“I’m afraid your cousin Samuel’s ‘exertion of popular power,’ along with his Indian friends, destroyed our last hope of English tea––or any tea––for breakfast, until he and your friend Hancock can bring us some smuggled Dutch tea.”
“It’s all from China, my dear,” said John, calming down a bit. “No matter who brings it to us.”
“Why couldn’t they have left a few chests intact so we could have collected them on the beach?”
“Well, you must know, my dear, it was the principle of the thing.”
“Well, you must know, my dear, that breakfast will be somewhat different now and in the days ahead, since you have done this rash act.”
“Does that mean going back to my cider?”
“I suppose so, dear, as long as you can remain sober enough to meet your clients respectably.”
No bacon and eggs, black pudding, sausage, roasted tomatoes, toast, butter, and jam? Not likely. That’s today’s breakfast in England, not an eighteenth century breakfast in New England. Well then, what did they have for breakfast?
Hmm. I’ll be doing many posts on food, scattered among posts on disease, travel, dress, grooming, riches, poverty, money, and other matters of daily life in post-revolutionary America. I started with breakfast because that’s how we start our days. But actually, though you and I may start our day with coffee or tea, the coffee and tea didn’t start in our cupboards. They started in plants that grow very far away.
And, for most of us, the coffee and tea have required companions: sugar, milk, cream, or other flavor enhancers and disguisers. All of those (okay, maybe not the soy, almond, coconut, oat, or synthetic material non-dairy creamers we have today, but the rest of it)… all of those then, also came from somewhere else. Okay again, maybe some of it came from the cow in the barn, which doesn’t work well, however, if you don’t have a cow or a barn. But not the sugar. No. The sugar, queen of the supplements, that also came from somewhere else. And I’m going to start today a brief discourse on where it came from, why it came from there, and what it was like there where it came from.
Also, I’ll tell you why sugar was a significant contributor to the revolutionary war and all the skirmishes and outrages that followed for years until Napoleon decided he wanted out of the West Indies quagmire and made someone invent the sugar beet.
That’s for the next post. Let’s finish this one.
In case you didn’t know, the main outcome of the three-hour effort by more than a hundred “Indians” swarming aboard three ships to throw three-hundred-forty-two chests of tea (totaling forty-five tons) into Boston Harbor, was what were later called the ‘Coercive Acts.’ Which led, eventually, to the British closing the port of Boston, occupying rooms in colonial households, and bringing about a thirteen-colony-wide boycott of British goods. Then things kind of took on a life of their own…
The other outcome of the Boston Tea Party, just so I keep the implied promise of the title of this post, the other outcome was less tea. The ascent of coffee. Plus more anger, more defiance, and, eventually––the worst outcome of all for the British––the engagement of colonial women in the struggle for independence.
By the way, for breakfast, the Adams family, adults and children alike, probably had small beer (a low-alcohol beverage), pottage, which was basically everything left-over from the last few days boiled to oblivion in the family pot overnight, hasty pudding (cornmeal boiled in milk with a bit of bacon thrown in if they had any), oatmeal, or, on some days, just plain bread. With baked beans, of course. It was Boston, after all.
Watch for the next post when we’ll talk about that sweet white stuff that cost so much…well, wait and see.