Saturday, March 5, 2022

The Road to Independence: From the Molasses and Sugar Acts to the Boston Tea Party and Beyond

So did you know that sugar, coffee, tea and other basic foods played a role in some of the key events that led to the American Revolutionary War? Because volumes could be written about each of these events, I decided to compile a timeline to make this fascinating part of food history a bit easier to digest:

1760 - King George III ascends to the British throne.

1763 - The Treaty of Paris is signed ending the French and Indian War. Part of the Seven Years War between France and England, the French and Indian War was fought in North America between 1754 and 1763. Although victorious, the war plunged Britain deeply into debt, which King George III and the British Parliament decided to pay off by imposing taxes on the colonies.

1764 - On April 5, the Parliament passed the Sugar Act which lowered the rate of tax placed on molasses but increased taxes placed on sugar, coffee, and certain kinds of wines. At the time, most colonists agreed that Parliament had the right to regulate trade, as it had done with the Molasses Act of 1733. But the Sugar Act was specifically aimed at raising revenue which was to be used to pay for the maintenance of British troops stationed in the colonies. Although most colonists were accustomed to being taxed by their own assemblies, they strongly objected to being taxed by Parliament, where they were not represented. It was during angry protests over the Sugar Act that the famous cry, "No taxation without representation" was often heard.

1765 - In May, the Quartering Act was passed which required colonists to house British troops and supply them with food.

1765 - On March 22, Parliament passed the Stamp Act which placed a tax on newspapers, pamphlets, contracts, playing cards, and other products that were printed on paper. Unlike the Sugar Act which was an external tax (e.g., it taxed only goods imported into the colonies), the Stamp Act was an internal tax levied directly upon the property and goods of the colonists. The Stamp Act forced the colonists to further consider the issue of Parliamentary taxation without representation. Outraged and united in opposition, patriot leaders convened in October at the Stamp Act Congress in New York and called for a boycott on British imports.


1766 - Bowing to the pressure, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but, on the same day, passed the Declaratory Act which asserted Parliament's authority to make laws binding on the colonists “in all cases whatsoever.”

1767 - A series of laws known as the Townshend Acts are passed which impose taxes on glass, paint, tea, and other imports into the colonies. One of the most influential responses to the Acts was a series of essays by John Dickinson entitled, "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania." Articulating ideas already widely accepted in the colonies, Dickinson argued that there was no difference between "external" and "internal" taxes, and that any taxes imposed on the colonies by Parliament for the sake of raising a revenue were unconstitutional.

1768 - British warships arrive in Boston Harbor to enforce custom laws. So now there's a bunch of young British soldiers in red coats dragging loaded cannons and guns and thousands of outraged American patriots. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

1770 - Nothing too terrible. Until the cold, snowy evening of March 5. That’s when a rowdy crowd of colonists started harassing British soldiers on duty in front of the Custom House in Boston. Tensions intensified as the crowd grew and colonists began throwing snowballs at the soldiers, daring them to open fire. Then, one British soldier was hit in the face with a stick. Shots rang out. When the smoke cleared, three American colonists were dead, including Crispus Attucks, a former slave who worked on a whaling ship, and two others later died from their injuries. Outraged, Sam Adams calls the British soldiers “bloody murderers” and labels the event “The Boston Massacre.”


1773 - After that, British soldiers are ordered to leave Boston. Tensions settle down for a while. But, in 1773, Parliament makes another REALLY. BAD. MOVE. In an effort to save the struggling British East India Company, Parliament passed the Tea Act. This act did not place any new taxes on tea. Instead, it eliminated tariffs placed on tea entering England and allowed the company to sell tea directly to colonists rather than merchants. These changes lowered the price of British tea to below that of smuggled tea, which the British hoped would help end the boycott. But that's NOT what happened!

1773 - Instead, at around midnight on December 16, a group of colonists led by Samuel Adams disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and boarded three British ships that were docked in Boston Harbor. Armed with axes and tomahawks, the men chopped open 342 crates and dumped 46 tons of British tea -- that's the weight of 400 baby elephants! -- into the harbor. As news of the "Boston Tea Party" spread, patriots in other colonies staged similar acts of resistance.


1774 - When news of the Boston Tea Party reached London, King George became enraged and threw a fit. Calling it “violent and outrageous,” he viewed it as a complete rejection of British rule, and he vowed to punish Massachusetts swiftly and severely. At the king's request, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts (also called the Intolerable Acts) which closed Boston Harbor to commerce until the colonists had paid for the lost tea, drastically reduced the powers of self-government in the colonies, and provided for the quartering of British troops in the colonists' houses and barns.

At that point, patriot leaders had had enough and agreed to convene in Philadelphia to come up with a plan of action. And, in September, Samuel Adams and his younger cousin John Adams set out from Boston to the first Continental Congress.

Meanwhile, down in Virginia, George Washington was preparing for the Continental Congress, as well. One of the few patriot leaders with military experience (he was a general in the French and Indian War), Washington was widely-respected and committed to the American cause. “If need be,” he promised, “I will raise one thousand men, subsist them at my own expense, and march myself at their head for the relief of Boston.” It was under these explosive circumstances that the FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS convened in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774.


There were fifty-six delegates from twelve colonies, including Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. After heated debate, the delegates declared the Intolerable Acts to be an illegal violation of the rights of American colonists. They also decided it was time to start boycotting all British imports again. Most important, it was agreed that the colonies should start raising and arming militias (groups of citizen soldiers) should war break out with Britain.

1775 - Now the stage was set for a major showdown, and things started happening fast. King George announced to Parliament that the colonies were in “a state of rebellion” and that “blows must decide” who would control America. By early April, 1775, General Gage was in command of an army of 3,000 soldiers in and around Boston, with thousands more on the way. On April 19, 1775, shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. When the smoke cleared, more than 200 American and British forces had been killed.

In June, 1775, the Second Continental Congress unanimously voted to appoint George Washington as General and Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Continental Army.

1776 - Throughout early 1776, some Americans hoped to avoid war with Britain. But, on July 4, 1776, Congress formally approved the Declaration of Independence, and soon, British forces arrived in New York Harbor, bent on crushing the American rebellion!

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

George Washington "Sweet Cherry Cobbler

An early nineteenth century American book peddler, itinerant preacher and author, "Parson" Mason Locke Weems is best known today as the source of some of the most beloved if apocryphal stories about George Washington. The famous story of George and the Cherry Tree is included in Weems' masterpiece, The Life and Memorable Actions of Washington, which was originally published in 1800 (the year after Washington's death) and was an immediate best-seller.

Reprinted in ever more inventive editions over the next 25 years, it contains, according to Edward Lengel, "some of the most beloved lies of American history, including the cherry tree myth" and other exaggerated or invented anecdotes that extolled Washington’s virtues and provided an entertaining and morally instructive tale for the young republic.

In telling his cherry tree story, Weems attributed it to "an aged lady,” who was reportedly a distant relative of George, and who, as a young girl, supposedly spent much time with him. This is how the fable famously unfolded:

"When George was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it.


The next morning, [George’s father], finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favorite, came into the house, and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree.

Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. "George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden?" This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."

“Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”


Although plausible enough, most historians generally agree that this quaint story is almost certainly not true. What is true, however, is that George was particularly fond of cherries, and Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery contains several family “receipts” for preserving this sweet and tangy highly versatile fruit.

Of course, then, as today, sweet and sour cherries can be used in all kinds of pies, tarts, jellies, jams, breads, muffins, and soups, as well as in a fabulously wide array of cobblers, like this recipe for cherry cobbler, which George surely would have loved had he had time to try it during his extraordinarily illustrious life:


Crust: 1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold milk, cream or water

Filling: 2 cups cherry preserves
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In the workbowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cornmeal and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter, toss carefully with your hands to coat the butter cubes in flour. Pulse in the food processor several times until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add the egg and 2 tablespoons of milk, cream or water, and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a ball. Add the additional tablespoon of liquid if needed until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly to shape it into a disk about 5 inches across. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a shape a ½ inch wider than the tart pan you are using. Loosely fold the dough in half and transfer it to the tart pan.

Line the pan with the dough, being. Trim any excess dough from the rim of the pan, leaving a blunt neat edge. Gather the trimmings into a ball (it should be about the size of a pingpong ball). Wrap the tart and the ball of dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat to 375 degrees. Remove tart pan from refrigerator and spread the marmalade evenly over the crust. Grate the chilled ball of pastry onto the filling, and sprinkle the almonds over the top. Bake until the pastry is golden, the filling is bubbly and the almonds are toasted, 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. When the tart is completely cool, dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve at room temperature.