As our nation celebrated the Fourth of July with displays of patriotic colors and festive firework shows, many families and friends also gathered to enjoy such staples as hamburgers, hot dogs, corn, and french fries. Dessert most likely consisted of watermelon and ice cream. Beverages of choice were undoubtedly soda and beer.

When celebrating the birth of America, it is interesting to compare current popular Fourth of July meals with what the nation’s Founding Fathers ate and drank in the late 18th century.

The Founding Fathers definitely ate locally-grown foods as transportation systems were still developing. They literally ate “farm-to-table.” Foods such as legumes, produce, and any game that could be easily hunted were present at their tables.

In the Mid-Atlantic States, seafood was abundant and thus was central to colonists’ diets. George Washington enjoyed seafood so much that he operated three fisheries processing more than a million fish annually. His plantation featured menu items such as crabmeat casseroles, oyster gumbos, and salmon mousse.

After serving as a Minister to France form 1785 to 1789, Thomas Jefferson brought back his love of French food and popularized such classics as french fries, ice cream, and champagne. Macaroni and cheese, another favorite of both children and adults, was also introduced to America from Jefferson’s kitchen. His enslaved chef, James Hemings, brought the creamy creation from France to Monticello.

Many current day desserts were also present as our Forefathers were crafting our countries’ independence.

John Adams’ wife Abigail made Apple Pan Dowdy, a pie/cobbler combination. Dolley Madison, James Madison’s wife, catered to his love of ice cream by creating delicious varieties of cakes and pastries. John Jay reportedly traveled with chocolate on long trips, probably “shaving or grating it into milk,” says Kevin Paschall, chocolate maker at Shane Confectionery in Philadelphia.

Alcoholic beverages were often a drink of choice not only because they made discussion lively and conversations free, but also because they were the safest drinks available. Safe drinking water was scarce, and whatever water was around was likely contaminated with diseases like smallpox, lockjaw, and black vomit. As such, avoiding water and choosing an alcoholic drink was a matter of survival and hydration. Even children were given a beer based drink called “ciderkin,” a combination of hard cider and molasses. Colonial Americans drank close to three times as much as contemporary Americans in the form of beer, cider, fortified wine, and whiskey.

Benjamin Franklin was open about his love of “cups” and regularly enjoyed wine. He was also said to have liked some early attempts at cocktails such as the milk punch, which consisted of brandy, milk and lemon juice. Both Washington and Jefferson were fond of Madeira. In fact, Jefferson loved Madeira so much that he bought and drank the Portuguese wine by the truckload. He even tried, unsuccessfully, to grow and produce it in Monticello.

Alcoholic beverages were often served in taverns where daily business was conducted and discussions on a multitude of topics often arose. Before post offices, courthouses, and libraries sprang up, taverns were ideal places to conduct affairs and get a drink.

The Founding Fathers frequented the taverns to be in the midst of things: they would hear the local news, learn of what the political opponents were proposing, and negotiate with supporters.

According to Walter Staib, the host of PBS’ “A Taste of History,” it was in these taverns that the Founding Fathers, “emboldened by liquid courage,” and freed from existing ideas of governance, derived the concepts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Feature Image via Dreamstime/Awcnz62