History's Top Historian on Tastes of 'Liberty'

Libby O'Connell, chief historian at History, has a nifty new book out, The American Plate (Sourcebooks, November 2014), which breaks down many of our culinary traditions, from before Columbus to today, into two- or three-page, highly-readable narratives or “bites.”

The Wire wondered what she might recommend viewers serve at a viewing party for History’s upcoming Sons of Liberty (check out MCN's review here), about the Boston radicals who lit the spark for the American Revolution.

O’Connell suggested a couple of ways to go, one of which involved starting with a lot of plates on the table at once: raw oysters, a salad with kale and pickles, a meat pie. Followed by more plates, including oxtail soup and smoked meats. And on and on.

The Wire preferred her simpler option: Chowder with bread and cheese.

The chowder would be a fish chowder: “Boston is a very active seaport, and fish is one of its big commercial items.” Include potatoes (popular then via the Irish), carrots, onions and some bacon. “It would be a tasty stew, and it would be the type of thing that people would eat in the wintertime.”

Sourdough bread, or cornbread, on the side. Some sharp cheddar cheese, too. And butter. “They ate a lot of butter.”

Hot apple pie served with heavy cream for dessert. “You’re not worried about calories because you’re working hard every day. Getting your 10,000 steps in was never something people had to worry about.”

Wash it down with a mug of hard cider (available today at most grocery stores) or some local beer. Rum also was popular then.

“And before we are shocked by the quantity of alcohol these folks drank, remember they did not have prescription pain relievers,” O’Connell reassured The Wire. Instead of an Advil for a sore knee, a doctor might recommend a shot of alcohol, administered orally.

The author said her own viewing party, including some French neighbors (appropriately, our emerging nation’s first friends), will feature “a big fat chicken, roasted with Madeira.”

Sons of Liberty, a three-night event, kicks off on Sunday, Jan. 25, at 9 p.m.

A fine New England fish chowder recipe is in The American Plate and on our website at multichannel.com/Jan19.

This article originally appeared as part of Through The Wire in the Jan. 19 edition of Multichannel News.

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.