The Fourth of July is right around the corner, which means it is the perfect time for a history lesson. George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it!”
It’s easy to live as though freedom is a given, but history shows us that many brave men and women fought for the freedom we now enjoy. This began with the American Revolutionary War.
During the second year of the Revolutionary War, representatives from the original 13 colonies came together to declare their independence from Great Britain. Then, on July 4, 1776, they signed the Declaration of Independence. But the war continued until 1783.
Here’s what you may not know. The food that the American soldiers ate was a major contributing factor to our victory as an independent nation.
As Tom Standage writes in An Edible History of Humanity [quoted in Smithsonian Magazine], “In theory, the British should easily have been able to put down the rebellion among their American colonists. Britain was the greatest military and naval power of its day, presiding over a vast empire. In practice, however, supplying an army of tens of thousands of men operating some three thousand miles away posed enormous difficulties. … The British failure to provide adequate food supplies to its troops was not the only cause of its defeat, and of America’s subsequent independence. But it was a very significant one.”
In the spirit of America’s Independence, let’s go back in time and see what food these early patriots ate that helped them survive and thrive.
What American Revolutionary Soldiers Ate
Unlike the British troops struggling to provide food for their men, American troops had food because they had access to local farms. In addition, they rationed food to make sure soldiers would have enough to eat. Now, this wasn’t always the case. There were times of great scarcity during the war; however, they found ways to make stretch provisions stretch (such as serving soldiers unappetizing but hearty hardtack).
Here is a list of daily rations for troops in Boston from the National Museum of American History:
- One pound of bread.
- Half a pound of beef and half a pound of pork; and if pork cannot be had, one pound and a quarter of beef; and one day in seven they shall have one pound and one quarter of salt fish, instead of one day's allowance of meat.
- One pint of milk, or if milk cannot be had, one gill [half a cup] of rice.
- One quart of good spruce or malt beer.
- One gill of peas or beans, or other sauce equivalent.
- Six ounces of good butter per week.
- One pound of good common soap for six men per week.
- Half a pint of vinegar per week per man, if it can be had.
The longer the war went on, the more rations were cut and adjusted. However, the troops were fed so they had enough energy for the battle.
The American Spirit and Food
During the American Revolution, it was important for early patriots to do all they could to set themselves apart from their British counterparts. They strived for self-reliance so they could gain independence.
The colonists knew how to hunt and grow. As food historian Cynthia Clampitt explains in the New York Post, “If you knew how to hunt at all you were stuffing yourself all the time. Corn was superabundant, so dinner might be ham and a pile of Johnny cakes and a glass of rum.”
Moreover, the colonists wanted to separate themselves from the British and sought out ways to introduce new foods and create new dishes. They also made a point to avoid eating or drinking anything British (i.e., tea). It was during this time that coffee and pumpkin pie became popular.
Takeaways for Today
The diet of the early patriots and Revolutionary War soldiers can teach us much about survival. We never know when we will be in a situation where food and water will be difficult to come by, but there are things we can do today to prepare.
- Learn to hunt. As mentioned, the colonists who knew how to hunt never ran out of food. They hunted in the morning for what they would eat for dinner.
- Grow your own food. Ensure you always have food by learning how to grow your own food. See The Only True Long-Term Survival Plan: Here’s the Secret to learn why you need to plant a Patriot Garden.
- Similar to rationing, it is wise to invest in an emergency long-term food supply and other survival essentials.
- Know how to find clean water. The early colonists drank a lot of alcohol. The National Museum of American History explains, “Water and milk were big carriers of disease. Americans stuck with cider and whiskey because they were alcoholic. Alcohol-based drinks typically wouldn't spread disease, and they had a much longer ‘shelf-life,’ than non-alcoholic beverages. Even children drank alcohol—of course, it was significantly watered down.” We now know the dangers of alcohol and dehydration. Avoid finding yourself in a situation where you risk drinking unsafe water by learning how to purify water in the event of an emergency.
Celebrate the 4th of July with a Historical Independence Cake
Unlike other American holidays, there aren’t certain dishes associated with Independence Day. To be honest, this is likely because much of what the patriots were eating was unappetizing. We doubt your family and friends would enjoy eating hardtack on their holiday.
However, the early patriots knew they had something to celebrate, so they found a way to turn even simple foods into celebratory dishes, such as Independence Cake. The cake is similar to a plain bundt cake, but it was served to celebrate America’s Independence from Britain.
According to the Museum of the American Revolution, “But Americans did care about what they ate, and much evidence indicates that they wanted their food to be – like their newly articulated political principles – honest, virtuous, simple, free from artifice, and, in a way, robust. Newspapers printed recipes for such patriotic dishes as Independence Cake, Federal Cake, Election Cake, and Ratification Cake.”
The original Independence Cake was designed to feed a lot of people (with recipes calling for twenty pounds of flour). Since you likely won’t need to cook a giant cake, here’s a recipe for a modern version of Independence Cake from, funnily enough, London Eats.
- 4 tablespoons rum
- 1/4 cup citrus peel, chopped
- 1/3 cup currants/raisins
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 lb butter
- 1 1/8 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
- 2/3 milk
Ingredients for Glaze
- 1/3 cup icing sugar
- 4-5 teaspoons double cream
- Place the rum, raisins, and citrus peel into a bowl. Mix, cover, and leave to sit overnight.
- Using a bundt pan, brush with melted butter, and then dust with plain flour. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition, until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Add the spices and mix well.
- Combine the flour and the baking powder. Add half of the flour mixture and half of the milk to the batter, and mix until smooth. Repeat with the rest of the flour and the milk.
- Finally, fold in the rum and raisin mixture.
- Spoon the mixture into the cake pan and bake for around 45-60 minutes.
- Once baked, remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
- To finish the cake, make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and cream. Mix until smooth – it should be soft, but not runny. Drizzle on top of the cake.
From all of us here at My Patriot Supply--Happy Fourth of July!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply