March 8, 2024 | Sarah Ng

Nasty Meals Americans Loved In The 18th Century

They Ate WHAT??

Colonial Americans certainly had different palates than today's Americans. From calf's foot jelly to oyster-flavored ice cream, their "scrumptious" meals were on another level.


Eel Pie

Though people still eat eel today, Colonial Americans did it a bit differently. They enjoyed baking the eels into pies. Wilder still, they would lure eels into traps using lobster as bait.

Eel pie served on a plate.mimohe, Shutterstock

Stewed Swan

18th-century Americans had no qualms when it came to eating one of the earth's most beautiful animals: the swan. Taking a page out of England's book, they happily stewed swan meat for protein.

Swan at the Globe - mealEwan Munro, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Beaver Tail

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the beaver population in North America was incredibly high—and the fur trade flourished. However, that also meant that beaver tail became a sought-after delicacy.

Homemade Beaver Tail - 2010Catherine (Katarzyna) Bulinski, Flickr


Delicious Fat

Colonial America found something to love about the fatty beaver tail meat. One cookbook author described the roasted dish as "essentially gamey-tasting fat".

Beaver Stew in restaurant - 2008UnorthodoxY, Flickr


Perhaps one of the most cringeworthy foods from history is ambergris—a fancy word for the substance that whales regurgitate. According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is "a waxy substance that originates as a secretion in the intestines". Yum.

Real ambergris from a whale - 2006Peter Kaminski, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Mix It With Chocolate

In the 18th century, folks would add ambergris to their dishes as a special indulgence. Europeans began adding it to chocolate in the 17th century—and the recipe eventually reached Colonial North America.

Ambergris of a Sperm Whale - 2012EcomareDerivative, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

It's Used In Perfumes

Perhaps another bizarre aspect of ambergris is that it has a musky smell. These days, it is best known as an ingredient in perfumes and not as a delicacy.

Seductive woman perfumeImpact Photography, Shutterstock


Sometimes known as the rodents of the sky, pigeons served a different purpose in the 17th and 18th century. With mindful preparation, the elite served them up as a special dish.

Those who weren't as affluent also ate pigeons, but without the benefit of fancy spices.

Roasted quail stuffed with polenta with dried tomatoes.Lyudmila Mikhailovskaya, Shutterstock

Calf's Foot Jelly

The fascination with molded jellies in the 18th century is certainly a headscratcher today, but back then, something called calf's foot jelly was all the rage. However, the process of making it wasn't exactly appetizing.

Calf's Foot JellyNizzan Cohen, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons


Boiling The Hoof

How did one make calf's foot jelly? Quite simply, by boiling a calf's foot and collecting the gelatin it creates. Americans also thought that it was an excellent remedy for illnesses.

Calf's Foot JellyNizzan Cohen, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Turtle Soup

If you were rich in the 18th century, there's a good chance you'd dine regularly on turtle soup—and it actually sounds quite delicious. The soup was prepared with butter and wine, making it incredibly luscious and rich.  

Turtle soup imageHelloRF Zcool, Shutterstock


The word "clabber" isn't the most inspiring name for a dish, but it's not as offensive as it seems. Essentially, clabber was a type of yogurt, which came from curdled milk. Keep in mind, however, there wasn't proper refrigeration at the time. 

Sour clotted milkKagor, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

A Sour Delight

Clabber's flavor likely wasn't as subtle as the yogurt we know today; it had a very forceful, sour taste. Toppings like pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon helped enhance the dish.

Sour milkVarchar N, Flickr


Hailing from the Pennsylvania Dutch country and some mid-Antlantic Colonies, scrapple certainly doesn't sound appetizing. It was a loaf made of pork scraps and cornmeal. 

Home made scrapple.stu_spivack. Flickr

Waste Not Want Not

Moreover, scrapple often incorporated the parts of the pig that would usually get thrown in the trash—the organs, including the liver and the heart. However, scrapple didn't completely disappear. 

Even today, some Mennonite and Amish folks still prepare the dish.

Home made scrapple.John Donges, Flickr


Pepper Cakes

Martha Washington's cookbook, A Booke of Cookery, had some peculiar recipes, some of which used pepper in unbelievable ways.

Grandma's cookbooklitlnemo, Flickr

The Power Of Pepper

You see, pepper was a relatively new spice from India, and using it in one's dishes could help boast one's status—and many 18th-century folks put pepper in their desserts. 

Chili-powder on the tableAjit Pendse, Pexels

A Recipe To Remember

Notably, Matha Washington had a cake recipe that used pepper, which claimed that these cakes could keep for "a Quarter or Halfe a Year".

A black and white photo of a woman in a kitchen - 1935Library of Congress, Picryl


At first, the dessert known as posset sounds quite delicious. How can you go wrong with custard made out of eggs, flour, and cream? Well, all you have to do is add one extra ingredient and it becomes a completely different thing.

lemon posset - 2010jules, Flickr

Curdled Custard

In order to make the posset drinkable, 18th-century folks would add ale to it, which curdled the cream component of the dessert. This was a popular beverage often served at weddings.

Lemon posset (pre-dessert) - 2011Ross Bruniges, Flickr

The Problem With Ice Cream

During the last half of the 18th century, ice cream had captivated the tastebuds of dessert lovers. However, there was just one problem. It was incredibly hard to preserve ice cream without freezers.

Ice cream bowl.Rahul Pandit, Pexels


Keeping It Cold

In order to store their ice cream, Americans had to use enormous ice houses, which were laborious to maintain. Even some famous historical figures adored the sweet treat, including the Washingtons and Thomas Jefferson.

However, when it came to flavors, some folks had truly odd cravings.

Ice house at Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson - 1943Library of Congress, Picryl

Oyster-Flavored Ice Cream

Reportedly, the first lady Dolley Madison had a bizarre affinity for oyster-flavored ice cream. Apparently she'd use "small, sweet" oysters from the Potomac River to enhance her ice cream experience.

Portrait of Dolley Dandridge Payne Todd Madison - 1848National Portrait Gallery, Wikimedia Commons

A Different Kind Of Ketchup

Ketchup is undoubtedly one of the best condiments around, but back in the 18th century, "katchup" was a completely different thing.

Close up of ketchup and tomatoes placed on a wooden background.masa44, Shutterstock


Imagine ketchup...without the tomatoes. That's katchup. There were varying recipes, but it was a sauce that took a lot of inspiration from Asian cuisine.

Farm woman cooking at stove in kitchen - 1925Library of Congress, Picryl

A Wild Concoction

One recipe for katchup called for: vinegar, white wine, cloves, ginger, anchovies, horseradish, and nutmeg. Paired with fish or meat, this condiment was just the ticket.

Fish & Chips on the, Flickr

Not The Lobster Of Today

Today, when we think of lobsters, we think of a pretty pricey delicacy. But 18th-century Americans were riding a different wavelength. 

Thanks to the flourishing Atlantic seaboard, there was more than enough seafood—and the way Americans saw lobster was quite surprsing.

Lobster Dished in restaurant.Nowforever, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Poor Dined On Lobster

In Colonial America, the lobster was thought of as a dish meant for poor people. In fact, lobsters were so affordable, prisoners and slaves often dined on them.

A plate of freshly cooked Norway lobster,Bernt Rostad, Flickr

A Special Apple Drink

Apples didn't actually originate in North America. English colonists brought the tree over and the fruit became a big deal. However, there was one potent drink that could be produced from apples—and it was not for the faint of heart.

People standing around a truck full of apples - 1939New York Public Library, Picryl


Enter: Applejack. The alcohol content of apple jack was about 30% and was created through a freezing process. through freeze-distillation, apple cider became far stronger than the average drink.

A Jack Rose cocktail, featuring applejack, limes, grenadine - 2011Antonio Cavallo, Wikimedia Commons



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