Cuisines of the New World.

Christopher, what have you done!! I’ll save you the rant about what the Spanish actually did to the New world…. another day. Today, I would like to look at the cuisines of the “Americas”. A little history, a little geography and of course the foods.

Columbus embarked on the first of what would be four voyages, reaching the Bahamian Islands on October 12, 1492. He discovered a thriving indigenous people, the Taino (a tribe of the native Arawaks), who drew sustenance from colorful native crops, fish, and game. Maize, beans, squash, and seafood were central components of the native diet. In one of his logs, Columbus described a native meal, which was comprised of fish and “bread which tasted exactly as if it were made of chestnuts.” Fish and wild fowl (turkey) were the main sources of meat. Other regional crops included cacao (chocolate), maize, potato, tomato, capsicum, peppers, cassava, pumpkins, and groundnuts (peanuts). Tropical fruits enhanced the native diet, such as pineapple, avocado, guava, and papaya. Most of these foods were new and unfamiliar to Columbus and his crew. In Hispaniola, the first settlement in the New World, the native foods of the Taino tribe became an important source of sustenance to the European colonizers. In the early days of Hispaniola, many European colonizers died due to disease. At the time, their demise was largely attributed to malnutrition. While European settlers enjoyed native foods made with maize and cassava, they believed that somehow their bodies were not equipped to handle these foods. On subsequent voyages to the New World, Columbus brought with him European foodstuffs that would drastically change the cultural and ecological landscape of the Americas. While European colonizers had difficulty adjusting to the new food culture of the Americas, their arrival took an even greater toll on the native landscape. Before Columbus came to the New World, it is estimated that some 250,000 natives Arawaks lived on the Bahamian islands. By the early 1500’s, less than 15,000 remained, most having perished after exposure to European diseases (for which they had no immunity).

Many of the staples we take for granted today are not native plants or animals in either the Americas or in Europe. This is the first real evidence of global markets. Many of us are unaware of the fact that many of the things we take for granted, are not native to this side of the pond. You can do a little research on this yourself…. look into tomatoes, corn, wheat, beef, lamb…etc. Tomorrow, because this blog is getting to long I will introduce you to some of the famous dishes of the Americas. Cheers, and happy cooking!