10 Specialty Foods Once Common in America

Today, America is known as the country of note when it comes to consumer choice. Americans have an absolutely incredible amount of products available at their fingertips every moment and infrastructure in place to quickly get a lot of things they cannot find locally. However, there are some drawbacks to this convenience as well. To begin with, Americans also have mostly processed foods available to eat, and due to the country’s assembly line infrastructure, many ingredients once popular have now almost completely fallen off the map.

Whether due to rarity, legislation, overfarming, overfishing, or preference, here are 10 specialty foods that were once more common—and less expensive—in America.

Related: 10 Bitter Conflicts Fought Over Seafood

10 Black Currants

When people from the United Kingdom come to visit the United States for any length of time, one of the things they miss from home is their black currant jam. In the UK, black currants are extremely popular—especially in the aforementioned jam for use on scones. However, in the United States, you simply will not find this jam in a grocery store, nor will you find black currants in general without going to a lot of effort. Many from the United Kingdom wonder why Americans don’t have this delicious fruit, and the truth is America once did.

By 1629, it was already popular in Europe and was brought to the New World, where it quickly became popular as well. This love of black currants actually continued in America for hundreds of years and was a common ingredient in colonial recipes.

Unfortunately, in the 20th century, the United States federal government became worried about a fungal disease called white pine blister rust that the black currant plants produced as part of its life cycle. So they banned the fruit from production in 1911 out of concern for the pine trees it might infect. The ban was recently lifted, but several states still have it banned, and true commercial production has not ramped up yet on any kind of scale.[1]

9 The Christmas Goose

All Americans know of the concept of a Christmas goose, as it has been mentioned in countless books, movies, and other media about days gone by. Many people have pondered this, wondering why goose is no longer a popular food in America, even though it was once eaten on a regular basis. Unfortunately, the truth is that the goose, also known as the Canada goose (Branta canadensis), is mostly protected in America and cannot simply be hunted or rounded up to be used as livestock. That said, some people do occasionally get to try it and say it has a rich, meaty taste and a fatty, delicious texture. They also note it is a great alternative to turkey.

So, how are people getting to eat goose in America? Well, while Canada geese are protected, the government can cull population problem spots occasionally as needed if they are invasive. When this happens, some states will give the meat to soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters. However, some states do not have a system for this. Several years back, New York State was under fire for killing thousands of Canada geese and having no system to distribute the meat to the poor.[2]

8 Hazelnuts

Americans already know what hazelnuts taste like. They eat a lot of Nutella and also enjoy plenty of Ferrero Rocher candies, all of which are coincidentally sold by the same company. Americans will also put hazelnut flavoring in their coffee and occasionally use it in a delicious dessert. However, if things had gone a bit differently in America’s past, hazelnuts might have been way more common, cheap, and easy to get your hands on. So, where are all the hazelnuts, and why don’t we have cheap handfuls we are munching on right now?

Well, it turns out that Oregon currently produces 99% of the United States’ hazelnuts, most of which are used for the candy products mentioned above and sold on a commercial basis. And yes, Nutella is candy.

At first, you might think that Oregon is somehow special for growing this item. But the truth is that many states are good for producing hazelnuts. In fact, there were once several states that had a significant population of the trees. Unfortunately, in the 1960s, a disease known as Eastern Filbert Blight ripped through most of the country’s hazelnut trees, including some of the ones in Oregon, nearly wiping out the entire lot.[3]

7 Suet

If you are American, you likely either haven’t heard of this ingredient, or you have, but not in conjunction with any kind of edible human cuisine. Namely, most of the time in America, if you actually see suet for sale, it is the backbone of a suet cake used as bird food. If you want to buy suet in the United States today, you will have to find it online and pay a premium, and you may not even be getting 100% of the genuine article. This is because apart from people trying to reenact historical recipes, there is no demand for it in the country anymore.

For those of you who are not familiar with it already, suet is a hard fat taken from the kidney and loins of a cow. It is used in baked goods, especially to help give them a light and spongy texture. In the United Kingdom, it is still used fairly often and is easy enough to find for many recipes that it is traditionally used in. For Americans who wish to imitate period recipes or recipes from the UK that still use suet and cannot find it, lard is about the closest thing easily on hand. However, this will never give you the exact same results as using real suet.[4]

6 Salmon

Salmon were once abundant all over the coastal streams in the United States, and Native Americans could use them as a plentiful food source and as a tool for trade. They were seen leaping upstream when the season was right all over the country. In addition, you could get them easily and smoke a whole bunch to keep for later. Now, while there are plenty of salmon worldwide, and lots in Alaska if you are counting parts outside the contiguous United States, they are all but gone from the mainland of the country.

So, where did all the salmon go, and why aren’t Americans able to buy salmon as cheap as chicken? Well, the problem is that in its haste to expand and become gigantic, America did some damage to certain parts of the ecosystem. While overfishing and pollution did hurt them some as well, one of the biggest factors was all the dams, hydroelectric or otherwise, that were built up around the country. These dams killed some salmon outright and disoriented and shocked others who survived their turbines.

Today, Maine is the only state left in the mainland United States to have wild Atlantic salmon, and they are not being hunted in the hopes their population will bounce back. The populations of West Coast salmon are also endangered and much less abundant than in the past. Most of the salmon produced in the world is farm-raised salmon—about 70%![5]

5 Turkey Eggs

Americans eat an absolutely incredible amount of turkey every year around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and a decent enough amount throughout the year from ground turkey as well. Americans are very familiar with the flavor and love to celebrate it as a quintessentially American food. This has left some Americans scratching their heads, wondering why the country doesn’t consume more turkey eggs, as that would be about as American as you can get. Unfortunately, the answer starts like everything on this list, and that is that Americans once actually ate quite a lot of turkey eggs.

Wild turkeys were once way more common, and turkeys were more popular to keep around in general. For this reason, turkey eggs used to be eaten more than chicken eggs. So, why do Americans not eat them today? Well, apart from most of the wild turkeys being killed off, there is little reason for farmers to produce and sell them over chicken eggs. Turkeys do not produce nearly as many eggs, and while their eggs are slightly bigger, this is not nearly enough to make up for it. Further, they don’t really taste markedly different, so there is no luxury market for them.[6]

4 Gooseberries

Gooseberries are similar to geese only in that they are also mentioned a lot in period media, but Americans today don’t really know anything about them aside from a piece of historical pop culture trivia. Gooseberries, which some say are similar to black currants, can also be compared to grapes but are said to have a more acidic pop. In America today, despite the old legends of things like gooseberry jam, you just aren’t going to find them in a regular grocery store.

However, many years ago, they were actually quite popular in America. The craze started in Europe in the early 1800s and quickly spread to America. Soon, gooseberries were available all over the early Americas, and people were eating them on a regular basis. Remember, however, that they taste similar to black currants—that unfortunate connection to black currants actually caused their demise. Gooseberries and black currants are closely related, and this meant they were also spreaders of white pine blister rust. Due to this connection, the federal government banned them along with black currants.[7]

3 Lobster

Today, lobster is one of the most expensive luxury foods in the world. People pay ridiculous prices for a relatively tasteless piece of meat that they dip in butter. In some regions, they are hard to find at all if it is not the right season for them, and the prices have only gotten higher. Being able to afford lobsters, even once in a while, is still seen by many as the height of riches and excess wealth.

What makes this funny, however, is that if you went back in time, you would find the early Americans giving you strange looks for being excited about eating lobster—and even stranger looks for paying a premium for it. You see, back in the 18th century and earlier, lobsters were incredibly plentiful in America, and no one was very impressed with their bland flavor profile. It was considered a poor man’s protein and mainly given to prisoners and servants; it was even used as fertilizer.

However, over time, modern food preservation methods meant it was being shipped out of its native area, and people started to think it was neat just because they didn’t have it at home. This meant locals couldn’t get it so easily, and over time, they started to prize it as well. [8]

2 Eel

Today, in the United States, the main freshwater fish you will find sold in grocery stores is the catfish, and that is because there aren’t any other freshwater fish in American streams in any significant numbers anymore. However, back in early America, there were once eels wiggling their way through rivers and streams, abundant and ready to be eaten. They were so plentiful at one point that they accounted for a full one-fourth of the fish in the Atlantic rivers and streams.

Today, however, places like the Eel River in Indiana are nothing more than a historical monument to what once was. The freshwater eel has all but disappeared from the United States, and our old enemies are to blame. Similar to salmon, they were hit by overfishing, pollution, and, most dastardly, dams.

While many Americans have still tasted eel, which has a moist texture and a delicious, fishy, savory taste that many describe differently, they could have had it in abundance. Instead of the fresh eel Americans could be having, they have to settle for the stuff shipped in on ice from far away—and pay the price for it.[9]

1 Bison

Many Americans who have tried alternative meat products like venison (deer meat) would guess that bison would be gamey, like many other similar items on the market. However, bison is actually known for having a mild flavor similar to beef, with earthy undertones. Texture-wise, it is known for being very hard to overcook compared to beef while still being low in fat. For this reason, it sounds almost like a miracle food, and many who have tried it don’t want to eat anything else. Unfortunately, while it is available, it is prohibitively expensive for most in America.

Although bison once roamed the plains in huge numbers in the United States, today, they have nearly vanished from the USA and only recently reentered the commercial market. Bison is often at least 10 dollars a pound, which is out of most people’s reach, and it still only accounts for about half a day’s worth of U.S. beef production.

So, what happened to all the bison in America? Well, part of the loss of the bison was due to the railroad messing with their grazing lands and industrialization in general. However, in a much larger part, it was deliberate. The United States government wanted to weaken the power of the Plains Indians and thought that encouraging people to destroy their main food source might help bring them down. This is a perfect example of karma in action, as the Plains Indians’ demise was hastened, but the country lost an abundant superfood.[10]

Comments are closed.