And drank. Today I have a new source (to me anyway) for food history: the diary of a Colonial judge who rode the circuit, keeping accounts of his tavern food and drink along the way. I’ve been immersed in Salem diaries for the past few weeks, preparing a talk I’ve giving for Salem Ancestry Days and the Pickering House on April 23. I’ve got diaries from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, and Judge Benjamin Lynde Sr.’s is one of the earliest. He’s an early transatlantic man: born in Salem in 1666, he was sent to England by his parents in his teens for an education. I don’t know if the law was the plan, but he ended up reading it at the Middle Temple in London, and when he returned to Masssachusetts he became the first judge in the Massachusetts Superior Court of Judicature with formal legal training. He became chief justice in 1729 and his son and namesake succeeded him later in the century, serving as one of the justices in the Boston Massacre trial. I think Benjamin Lynde Jr. lived in more interesting times but I find Benjamin Lynde Sr. more interesting!
Two very different views of Judge Lynde: by the Pollard Limner, c. 1730 (Peabody Essex Museum) and John Smibert, c. 1731 (Huntingdon Library).
Given his legal training and experience, you would think that Judge Lynde would analyze some of his trials in his diary but that is not the case: very few legal concepts are discussed, although the occasional execution is referencd. He is more forthcoming about his travels and his tavern accounts, and he is tireless, riding the circuit from York, Maine (my hometown—then part of Massachusetts province), to Plymouth and Springfield. He rides out to the Cape, and sails out to Nantucket for a session. When he returns home to Salem for a spell he immediately goes out to his farm at Castle Hill and works the fields. He is hale and hearty and on the job into his seventies. Can we attribute this to his diet? Well, I don’t think so, but here it is.
Breakfast: frequent “chocolate breakfasts” but sometimes the Judge liked heartier fare: cheese and bread, fowl, lobster in the summer! But you can’t underestimate the colonial consumption of chocolate, it was food, drink, stimulant, even medicine all in one. The most popular transatlantic recipe called for the chocolate (sold in brick form and ground or shaved) to be mixed with sugar, long pepper, cloves, aniseed, almonds and other nuts, and some sort of flower water, “the hotter it is drunke, the better it is.” On those days which were not commenced with a Chocolate Breakfast, he went for ale, particularly sage ale, and a few times he referenced “superior wine” in the morning. No mention of coffee; tea pops up once or twice.
Lunch: is never referenced by the Judge. It’s more of a nineteenth and twentieth century concept, although I have found references to it in the 18th: one English author admits that he “clapp’d a good Lunch of Bread into my Pocket” in 1707. But Judge Lynde was busy, or on the road. Maybe he did have something in his pocket, but he doesn’t tell us—or his diary. When he stops in the middle of the day, he would have more ale, cider, the occasional “lime punch” and some plum cake, sometimes with cheese, sometimes without.
Dinner: a regular range from simple to substantive. There are quite a few “milk suppers” and also those of “three eggs” but he also orders up large dinners: lamb, mutton, turkey, fowls, bread with cheese and “isle butter,” lobster. Sometimes he is very detailed: he enjoyed a dinner of “fine chowdered cod” on one occasion, on another he dined on “puff apple pie and cheese with a bottle of ale, an ear of corn, and sugar brandy dram.” He ate “minced veal” and “neats tongues,” beef tongues which were seasoned and dried to preserve them and used in a variety of recipes (I included one below). He really liked sauces for his fish, and his lobster, and plum cake, any time and anywhere. Gingerbread and apple tarts are also referenced, and all sorts of beverages: madeira, madeira, and more madeira, “green Fyal wine,” cherry and brandy drams, strong beer, cider, different ales, flips, “Florence” flasks (I’m not sure of what this is: general “Florence” was a reference to olive oil at this time, but this seems to be something he is drinking), various punches, and “sangaree,” a form of sangria. And rum of course. Judge Lynde’s detailed tavern accounts are clearly intended for his compensation by the provincial authorities, but when he is at home the only commodities he records purchasing are gallons of rum and madeira, plum cakes, and “bread with cider for the poor.” Presumably someone else was keeping his household accounts.
Francis Symonds advertised the “first” chocolate mill in Salem in 1771 (Essex Gazette, 17 December 1771) so I’m not sure where the Judge got his supply when he was at home earlier in the century; a recipe for Neats Tongue and Udders Alamode for a late 17th century cookbook at the Folger Library; the Lynde family tankard, Sothebys.
Thanks to my friend Alicia Diozzi for the title! She envisioned the Judge’s meals as an Instagram account.
April 18th, 2023 at 5:54 am
So interesting! I love reading about details of people’s daily lives in past times. Thank you!
April 18th, 2023 at 7:26 am
Me too! You’re welcome!