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Food, Glorious Food!

Doing Genealogy requires embracing several disciplines. Genetics, History, and Sociology all work together when we are trying to figure out Who I Come From. Sociology is the science that focuses on groups of people, their behavior, patterns of their relationships, and aspects of culture associated with everyday life. Let's add Gastronomy, per the Oxford English Dictionary, the practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food!

Thanksgiving Feast

When America was being colonized and settled back in the 1600 and 1700's, everything was strictly seasonal - no fresh vegetables in winter. You ate what you caught by hunting or fishing, or by slaughtering your own farm animals, and then "dressing" them, and I don't mean with socks. These were the original locavores ("A person who makes an effort to eat food that is grown, raised, or produced locally, usually within 100 miles of home" per

The early colonists adapted their recipes and meals from home (England, Holland) with what they learned from the native Americans. They also incorporated the cooking techniques and foods from the people brought here as slaves from Africa like slow cooked stews and collard greens, black-eyed peas, peanuts, sweet potatoes, yams, ccassava, kidney and lima beans, watermelon, rice, okra, sorghum, millet, pineapples, chili peppers, and sesame seeds (

Click the image on the right for a great Hopping John and Collards recipe from Food52!

When the 1800's arrived in America voluntary immigration expanded. People from all over the world came seeking a better life, and they brought their foods and traditions with them. According to Ancestry, between 1815 and 1860 more than 5 million people came to America mostly from countries like Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, the German states, and Prussia.

National Geographic cites how that continued, "Between 1870 and 1900, the largest number of immigrants continued to come from northern and western Europe including Great Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia. But "new" immigrants from southern and eastern Europe were becoming one of the most important forces in American life." May 19, 2022 The 1910's marked the high point of Italian immigration to the United States. Over two million Italians immigrated in those years, with a total of 5.3 million between 1880 and 1920 (Antonio de la Cova. "Italian Immigrants". Retrieved 2012-08-15).

Most of these newcomers came in search of work and settled in urban areas, where they would raise their own chickens and pigs in the yards they had. America has always been a land of plenty, especially when it comes to meat!

From Robert Dirks, Food in the Gilded Age: What Ordinary Americans Ate (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 129, "The dishes that many had only savored in their thoughts actually began appearing on their plate. Scots, who had taken pleasure in a piece of bacon or a shred of corned beef once a week, ate meat three times a day in places like Chicago and Pittsburgh. Bohemians, whose milk had been stripped of cream in Czechia, bought milk with cream in Chicago and drank it year round.

St. Louisans from Campania, who once had to be content with watching others eat spaghetti, could now cover it with tomato sauces rich in pig fat or olive oil and delight in it every day."

America has been called "The Great Melting Pot" since 1908 (after a play of the same name by Israel Zangwill), with the thinking that all of the vast cultures would melt into a homogenous one. But, in fact, we remain a multicultural society. This is especially evident in what we like to eat.

We are crazy about ethnic foods in America! Have you ever noticed that almost every culture has some version of a sandwich? Hamburgers, tacos, burritos, tortas, falafels, pirozhki, pork belly baos (or buns), shawarmas, gyros, panini, sabiches, etc., etc., etc. And you can find these foods in any major city or suburb in America. People use Google to search for restaurants, recipes, etc., and of course, Google keeps track of what we are looking for to send us relevant advertising. Below is a link to a recently completed study about the most popular ethnic cuisines in America.

A search for "Japanese cuisine will comprise hundreds or thousands of searches related to the topic such as Japanese restaurants, Japanese rice, sushi, sushi recipes, Japanese food, and even names of well-known Japanese restaurants." For way more information about EXACTLY what foods are most popular by state, city, cuisine, check out the whole article here:

US map of favorite ethnic foods by state

Before the pandemic changed everything in 2019 Americans ate out all the time. Being quarantined made a lot of us more curious and creative about cooking. Restaurants barely survived with drive through or curbside pick-up. Which is what we used to do if we didn't feel like cooking tonight (much less killing and plucking a chicken, baking bread, etc. like our poor ancestors), and we didn't want to get dressed up to go out.

Pig Stand Sandwich sign

On a side note, I would proudly (?) like to point out that the first drive-in restaurant was founded in Dallas, Texas in September 1921, The Pig Stand. Sadly, the last remaining Pig Stand in the Dallas area closed in 1985, and the chain itself filed for bankruptcy in 2006.

And now we can order any food at all at almost any time of day and have it delivered now. That used to be limited to only pizzas, remember?

Our diets and eating habits have changed A LOT from colonial times. Nowadays, we go to the supermarket (or get our groceries delivered) - we can buy everything our hearts desire any time of year from places all over the world. We can buy fresh produce from South America during the dead of winter; seafood from Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico; breads like Naan, Pita, tortillas, or baguettes, and our meats are all plucked, cleaned, and neatly wrapped in plastic with nary a clue as to their original source. The frozen dinner section is also multinational.

So what is your favorite thing to eat? Do you have a favorite cuisine? What do you know about the foods from the lands of your ancestors? Would you even eat the same things that they did? I'm looking you, lutefisk (literally "lye fish" - is dried whitefish [normally cod, but ling and burbot are also used]. It is made from aged stockfish [air-dried whitefish], or dried and salted cod, pickled in lye. It is gelatinous in texture after being rehydrated for days prior to eating). Oh, and haggis. Definitely not haggis (Haggis is a savory pudding containing sheep's pluck, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal's stomach though now an artificial casing is often used instead). No offense! (Thank you Wikipedia)

Well, this has made me hungry! I think I have some eggrolls in the freezer. Thank you for sharing your time with me again this week. Please feel free to share your thoughts and/or questions. If you need help finding your origins, that is what I am here for! Drop me a line, and let's talk.

¡Buen provecho!

Leslie Ryan

Not compensated by anyone or anything mentioned in this post.

*Haggis Image was orig. posted to Flickr* by zoonabar at: It was reviewed on 5 January 2007 by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

For additional reading on this topic, please see Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet By Harvey Levenstein, or "The Melting Pot: America, Food & Ethnicity: 1880-1960" by Jacob Kaus at

For additional reading about immigration trends in America, please see:


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