Every now and again Facebook proves itself useful: without following Dobyns & Martin Grocers, I would not have known about this interesting cook-along, the Historical Food Fortnightly.
The challenges look interesting, and I particularly like the seasonal fruit/vegetable one. This seems like a wonderful chance to cook historical recipes using seasonal, local ingredients, and I do like to remind people that historical eating is grounded in seasonal, local, eating. Plus pounds of raisins and sugar and gallons of alcohol.
Your local historical archive (or whichever one contains the works relevant to your interests) can be a great place to get started assembling documentation on local eating. Receipts for foodstuffs can be mixed into other accounts (cotton for your daughter, a parasol, a pair of shoes for your wife, 5/8 yard pink silk satin self) but you can still quantify tea, sugar, spices, Madeira, and flours. I find fresh produce somewhat harder to track–you won’t count what is growing behind your house– but fear not, New Englanders! Some of that hard work has been done for you.
J.L. Bell of the fantastic Boston 1775 blog wrote the book-length historic resource study General George Washington’s Headquarters and Home—Cambridge, Massachusetts, which I read before we went up to the “Washington Takes Command” event last July. (That sentence just seemed crazy, even to me…yes, I read 650 pages plus the event program to prepare for a 6-hour event…)
The report can be downloaded as a PDF, and if you’re looking for food, where you want to go is Chapter 6, Daily Life at Washington’s Headquarters (page 173 and following). On pages 195-197 the Steward’s Purchases are listed, sorted by Fruits, Vegetables and Grain, Spices and Flavorings, etc.
While Washington was maintaining (or causing to have maintained for him) a Genteel Household, the list of purchases is helpful in documenting the variety and types of foods available in Cambridge. I suspect that similar kinds of documentation exist in the historic resource reports or room use studies for places like Gunston Hall.
I cannot manage to keep up with the Historical Sew Fortnightly right now– things went pear-shaped in December— but we have to eat, historically or otherwise!