Colonial Era
African Americans in Food Service
1600 - 1770

Early Americans preparing a meal
Credit: Fort Mose Website
The First Food Producers

Food service was one of the earliest and most common means of providing incomes for free Blacks during the Colonial period.  Food service workers, while not producing the raw food or produce itself, are often involved in final stages of preparation or processing and most often deliver the product to the consumer.  In the 18th century such jobs included market or produce sellers, vendors of prepared "fast foods" (fritters were a favorite),  domestic cooks, caterers, commercial chefs, stewards, hoteliers, and waiters-- a range of skills, occupational status, and incomes.

Though Africans have been left out of many of the Colonial Period dialogues, they were present in the New World. The first Africans in the Americas were not slaves and the first group of people enslaved in America were not Africans but Caribbean from the West Indies brought to Boston.

During periods of hardship when diets were meager, Africans, Native Americans and Europeans assisted one another. It is from these interactions that the transcultural foodways of the African American, European and Native Indian have formed and evolved. Over time, these foodways also blended and combined as a result of interracial intimate relationships.

Notice the similarities in these recipes for "greens."

Appalachian Wild Greens

Mixed Greens

1 1/2 pounds mixed greens, such as collards greens, mustard greens, kale, dandelion greens, Swiss chard, and so on, tough or thick stems removed, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons bacon drippings*


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt and the greens and bring to a boil. Simmer until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain well and chop coarsely.


Heat the bacon drippings in a large skillet. Add the greens and sauté, stirring to coat, until heated through.


4 lbs. mixed collard, mustard, and turnip greens, 6 strips bacon, 6 cups water, salt & pepper, hot sauce (optional), chopped onions (optional), vinegar (optional)


Wash and drain the greens well. Tear the greens into pieces. 


Place the bacon strips in a large heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat until it is translucent and the bottom of the pot is coated with the rendered bacon fat. 


Add the greens and the water and bring to a boil over medium heat


Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the greens are tender, about 2 hours. 


Add the seasonings and serve hot.


Traditionally greens are accompanied by a hot sauce, chopped onions, and vinegar. 

*Indicated that the Cherokee preferred to use bear grease or bacon.

Originally taken from The Indian Cook Book by the Indian's Women's Club of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Reprinted in Michael Krondl's Around the American Table

In some parts of the South, cooks add a pinch of sugar to the greens to take away a bit of their bite.


Recipe taken from Jessica Harris' The Welcome Table

Trade & Marketing

Market trading provided one of the greatest forms of social interaction between whites and blacks.  Trade in fresh produce in the open-air markets that were found in virtually every American city centered on women--slave and free, black and white.  African Americans dominated the oystering trade and also sold fish, shrimp, and regional specialties such as crawfish, turtle, and frog's legs.

Women were very active in trade and marketing. Isavel de los Rios was a free black woman who sold fresh baked ‘rosquetes’ (spiral rolls), sugar syrup and other provisions from her home.

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