Turtles, beaver tail soup and eel pie were once beloved staples of the continental diet. What happened? (The American Plate)
By Li Zhou, smithsonian.com
There have always been food trends, says Libby O’Connell, author of The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites. Before hamburgers and sushi, there were centuries of epicurean staples, including eel pie, pear cider and syllabub, foods that have since dipped in popularity and might seem a little, well, unconventional, in today’s diet.
O’Connell attributes the rise and fall of different delicacies to, among other reasons, overharvesting of certain foods, the shift from active to sedentary lifestyles and a greater focus on convenience over time.
Jellied eel, eel pie and mash are popular dishes in England that colonists once also enjoyed. (Flickr user Uglix)
Many of the earliest foods that became deeply ingrained in American cuisine were carried over by English settlers who had affinities for items like oysters and turtles.
As immigrants from around the world came to the U.S., they adapted dishes and drink from their home countries, creating new offerings such as chow mein and salsa, which became integrated into the broader menu of options.
While today food fads are fleeting and capricious –think the cronut–in the past, trends emerged that fulfilled key dietary or financial needs.
Squirrel supplemented the protein of frontier families who needed meat to bolster their stews, while canned SPAM offered an inexpensive alternative to fresh options during challenging economic times and World War II.
Unfortunately, many prevalent dishes lost steam mostly because they became too popular and the ingredients they needed, scarce.
Others disappeared because a more accessible option took their place or they were simply no longer needed.
Here are seven lost foods highlighted in O’Connell’s book that were once go-to options, but have since faded from mainstream diets.