What Was New Netherland?

The Prayer before the Meal, by Dutch painter Jan Steen, 1660

A well-fed Dutch family sits down for a meal of bread with ham and cheese. The pitcher on the bench probably holds beer.

What did they eat?

Most Dutch settlers brought seeds—for grains, greens, vegetables, and fruit trees and bushes—with them. They also owned European livestock—such as cows, horses, sheep, goats, and pigs. Much of what the settlers ate was what they had eaten back in Europe. But living in North America, they learned from the Indians to add new foods to their diet—particularly corn and squash.

Bread was always the settlers’ main food stuff. Breakfast might consist of bread with butter or cheese. In the middle of the day, as part of their main meal, settlers might enjoy smoked or salted meat, or perhaps a bowl of stew, with their bread. The evening meal was likely porridge—with bread, of course.

The type of bread colonists ate reflected their wealth and status. For example, a worker’s family typically consumed coarse wheat or rye bread. A wealthier family might eat only the more refined white bread.

In addition to bread, Dutch settlers ate sapaen, a cornmeal mush (much like polenta) that they often mixed with milk. Indians taught them how to make this dish.

Indians also ate bread. Before the Dutch, wheat was unknown to the Indians, but they quickly learned to enjoy bread, pretzels, and cookies. In fact, these goods were so popular among Indians that the colony’s government passed laws to limit trade between Indians and bakers during times when grains were scarce.

With their bread, Dutch settlers—even children—most often drank weak beer. Beer was safer to drink than water, because the brewing process killed contaminants.


About the New Netherland Institute

For a quarter century NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. Directed by Dr. Charles Gehring. More

 

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