restricted access "An Acceptable Refreshment": The Meaning of Food and Drink in the Hudson Valley, 1780-1860

The North American cornucopia is supposed to have removed the worry about nourishment from everyday concerns by 1800. However, close scrutiny of foodways, only possible at the grassroots level, uncovers a stratified society in which hunger remained a preoccupation. It also reveals the coherence of the organizing principles behind the workings of a local society. The belief that nature would inevitably foil human efforts led the population of the Hudson Valley to search for ways to achieve food security. Provisioning bore the mark of "an economy of expenditures," and vegetable and fruit gardens supplied culinary variety. They also fostered the circulation of foods and contributed to a barter economy in which foodstuffs served as a currency equivalent. Closely linked to collective work efforts that always ended with a shared meal, foodstuffs lubricated social relations. They constructed and integrated the neighborhood. Strangers found themselves excluded from such networks. Heavy ritual expenditures in kind and money proved necessary because the cooperative spirit between neighbors had its limits. The transformation of rural society in the nineteenth century not only failed to weaken, but probably reinforced, the most common function of meals: that of marking boundaries between insiders and outsiders, and hence that of inculcating social norms.