J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Print Record of Pickled Olives in Early America

Yesterday I recounted an anecdote about Henry Knox’s first, unhappy encounter with pickled olives. And I wondered whether those were truly an exotic delicacy in North America.

I went to Readex’s Early American Newspapers database for more information on this question. Its search function confirms that pickled olives weren’t advertised or widely discussed in America until after the Revolution, and then appear to have been a special import.

The only mention of “pickled olives” in American newspapers before independence is a 2 Apr 1767 item in the New York Gazette, reprinting a article in the Quebec Gazette, which in turn quoted from Henry Baker’s Employment for the Microscope, published in London in 1753. That quotation described treating a woman after accidental arsenic poisoning with an emetic, and it compared her resulting excrement to pickled olives.

Moving on.

In the 18 July 1785 Connecticut Courant, a Hartford merchant named Daniel Smith announced that he’d just put on sale a very wide assortment of imported goods, including “pickled Olives and Capers.” The 22 Dec 1788 State Gazette of South Carolina had an advertisement from the mercantile firm of Crouch and Trezevant offering, among other things, “Pickled Olives and Girkins.”

Finally, in the New York Daily Advertiser starting on 31 July 1797 the Coster brothers ran an ad about a ship just arrived from Bourdeaux. Among its goods were “pickled olives, capers anchovies.” That was during the decade when Martha Washington reportedly served pickled olives to Knox, Secretary of War.

In that same year, Samuel Deane of Bowdoin College published a book titled The New-England Farmer, or Georgic Dictionary, in which he encouraged American farmers to plant olive trees. “The oil and pickled olives brought from thence [Europe], amount to more than a trifle, which ought to be saved if practicable.” By that point pickled olives were clearly known in America, but Deane still had to argue that their import from Europe amounted to “more than a trifle,” so they probably weren’t widely consumed.

1 comment:

Daud said...

Glad we got to the bottom of that. Up next week: what was the most popular cheese of the 18th century. Spoiler Alert: it was Chestershire by a long shot.