The Multi-Layered, Multi-Cultural History of New England Cuisine

If you want to learn more about the history and culture of a region, all you need to do is sample its food. Nowhere is this more true than New England, which boasts a long history that is peppered with the influence of many different cultures throughout America’s early and current history. Characterized primarily in cookbooks and references across the country by its use of local seafood and dairy, which come from its seaports, world famous fishing industry and inland farming regions, there is oh so much more to New England than in a namesake bowl of clam chowder.

In the Beginning…

The earliest settlers in New England were, of course, the Puritans. Around Plymouth, Massachusetts, you can still find restaurants serving up traditional English fare from that era – year round! Baking foods during that time were more common than foods that are fried, such as roasted turkey, baked beans and delicious pies. Local ingredients also played an influence, with common additions to these traditional foods including maple syrup and cranberries.

Potato is the most commonly served starch in New England today, which dates back to its early days, and is used in everything from chowders to hashes and everything in between. Potatoes are typically stewed or baked here, with a wide variety of seasonings added for flavor. Parley and sage are the most common, however in some areas other cultural influences have played a part, such as the Caribbean nutmeg and other spices.

Native American influences are also heavily seen in the foods and cooking methods used in New England. For example, the popular johnny cake has ties back to early influences by the natives and the use of oysters and clams were first used by early immigrants to the region. Many of the most well-known “Yankee” dishes served here come from a combination of Puritan and Native American influences.

18th and 19th Century Influences

The Caribbean influence comes from New England’s participation in the Triangle Trade. Molasses and rum became common ingredients in the local fare and well into the 19th century, molasses and honey were widely used as sweeteners by most New Englanders. In fact, rum became so popular that before Prohibition hit the country, some of the best rum distilleries were found in the New England states.

Over the years, settlers that came from Ireland, Portugal and Italy also influenced the flavors and tastes of the region. Special Portuguese sausage known as “chourico” is often served on sandwiches, in stews and with breakfast foods. Just pick up a menu at one of Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod or Rhode Island locations of Persy’s Place and you’ll see a whole world of influence and taste in the foods that are eaten today in New England.

Traditional foods are still very strong in this region and there are many dishes that are known across the country and around the world that will forever be tied to New England. Boston baked beans, New England clam chowder, homemade ice cream, lobster rolls and corned beef hash are just some of those well-known foods that are best identified with the northeastern states.

State by State

While the entire region as a whole has a strong identity with these traditional foods, some states are more known for some foods than others. Here is a short list of some of the most popular foods that are eaten in the New England states, listed by the state that is known for doing them the best.

Connecticut – New Haven claims itself as the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich in 1900. Hasty pudding is still served in many rural areas here, especially during the holiday season in the fall and winter months. White clam pie also hails from this state.

Maine – Most known for its lobster fishing industry, lobster rolls are identified easily with this state. The whoopie pie is the official treat of Maine, while blueberry pie is the official dessert. The Italian sandwich is said to have been created here at a restaurant in Portland.

Massachusetts – Once known for its cod, clams and cranberries are now the dominant ingredients best known for Massachusetts. Of course Boston baked beans come from here, but many other foods are grown in the state, including potatoes, wild blueberries, maple syrup and apples.

New Hampshire – Similar to the dishes served in the Boston area, many New Hampshire favorites feature fish and shellfish. Apples are also very popular and Portsmouth is well-known for its orange and cranberry cake.

Rhode Island – Not to be confused with the white, creamy clam chowder of Massachusetts and Maine, Rhode Islanders have their own clear chowder that uses quahog a “hard clam” instead of the clams used in other states. Johnny cakes are very common in Rhode Island.

Vermont – The influences of French-Canada are felt heavily in this state, with poutine and tourtiere served regularly during the holidays. Corn chowder and other dairy-based dishes are very popular here. Vermont is perhaps most well-known though for its maple syrup.

A Taste of New England

The best place to go for a complete taste of New England is Persy’s Place. With 9 unique locations scattered all over Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and Rhode Island, there are many opportunities to stop by and try all of the traditional and cultural offerings available at Persy’s. From traditional Cape Cod lobster rolls to a 4-hour World-Famous corned beef hash, fresh baked breads and muffins, Portuguese sausage, Boston baked beans, grilled cornbread and, of course, New England’s Largest Breakfast Menu – Persy’s Place has it all!