William Penn - Historical Fruits and Nuts In The Colonies

Historical Fruits And Nuts In The Colonies Of North American

Matthew Baron Healthy

Fruits and nuts have played an important, but understated role in our eastern North American colonial heritage. Going back to early Jamestown Virginia and New England settlements in 1622, settlers documented many varieties of these historical nuts and fruits. They were easy to notice as they were discovered growing everywhere. Some varieties, such as grapes, were considered very similar to what they had come from back home and some were reportedly superior in quality. Chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, cranberries, crabapples and cherries were gathered and prepared for winter storage.

The Drying Of Fruit In The American Colonies

The vast variety of berries, cherries, grapes and other fruits were dried in the sunlight for preservation and provided essential supplementation of nutrition during this delicate time for colonists. Though the cherries in New England didn’t measure up to one colonists’ recollection of the cherries back home in England, being as he called them “red bullies” to swallow, they were prolific and nutritious. The grapes in Virginia were compared to those in Italy and England as being far larger and also delicious.

In the very earliest of colonies, Jamestown (establishment in 1607), pineapple and orange transplants were attempted, but obviously failed. Other weather hearty fruit trees like figs, cherries, apples, and apricots were later imported from England in the form of seeds and cuttings transplanted successfully in the new environment.

William Penn In The Colonies

Years down the line, toward the end of the 17th century, William Penn and Roger Williams both marveled at the abundance and variety of fruits and nuts which flourished in the new America. Roger Williams made a rare acknowledgement that the indigenous population had intentionally cultivated the large, seemingly wild fruit groves. Luckily for colonists, these native historical fruits and nuts were in ample supply and variety in eastern North America, giving them the ability to make a good supply of wine and gather a less perishable plentiful bounty for winter sustenance.

Sending Plant Grafts And Seeds Back To Europe From The Colonies

As grafts and seeds were sent over on ships from England, grafted orchards and vineyards became well established and fruitful. Cider and wine were now flowing. In some cases, these precious starters plants and seeds were carried by colonists from Europe on the long voyage. On arrival in Europe, they were used as payment in exchange for land for the colonists and their families.

While in London, Ben Franklin received a shipment of “Newtown Pippin” apples from the colonies. This would become the first noted transatlantic shipment of apples from eastern North America in 1758. Philadelphia’s John Bartram filled the order for the grafts.

John Bartram - Historical Fruits and Nuts In The Colonies

Before The Revolution, American Apples Were A Main Export To England

In 1773 a bad crop of english apples led to large quantities of apple exportation from the colonies to England. These apples were considered more delicious and cheaper than England’s usual apples importer, Italy.

By the time of the start of the American Revolution, as wealth and people amassed, so did the varieties of fruits. Raisins, pears, plums, apples, figs, filberts, quince, barberry, apricots and peaches were growing in the colonies. America was about exporting food and only a small amount of fruit was now being imported from the Mediterranean. These historical fruits and nuts and other bounties from the new world were being sent back to Europe. These foods were shipped as gifts and exports to countries or people on privately chartered ships.

From the start of the American Revolution to Ben Franklin’s death in 1790, he regularly received food shipments. Apples and various nuts and seeds were shipped over to him in France by his son-in-law, Richard Bache. Dr. Benjamin Franklin had written and saved his recipe for energy bars in 1784. He was known for his dietary innovations, and even entertained tofu (made from soybeans) regularly in his diet. Franklin was actually well known for his granola bar recipes which contained almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries and raisins. He encouraged what we now consider to be a raw food diet. This diet was high in fiber and mostly vegetarian. Benjamin Franklin lived to be a ripe 84 years old when the average life expectancy of men during this period was a mere 39 years old.   

Words By Dana Witengier