Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

American Food Glossary


Note: The following is only a partial listing of food terms.

Abelskivers: rich puffy Scandinavian pancakes baked in a pan with deep round wells.

Baked Beans: small white beans, slow-baked (often overnight), seasoned with salt pork, molasses, and mustard. (New England)

Boston Brown Bread: a steamed bread made of whole wheat flour, sour milk, and molasses. A favorite accompaniment to Baked Beans and both are traditionally served on Saturday night. (New England)

Cafe au Lait: in New Orleans that special taste and aroma comes from roasted chicory root.

Chili Con Carne: as the Spanish translated – “chili with meat” – suggests, this Southwestern favorite is made with chili seasonings and cubed beef thickened with Masa Harina (corn flour). Beans are served with it.

Clam Chowder: a creamy soup made with potatoes and fresh clams.

Coleslaw: a cabbage salad, finely shredded and dressed with vinegar. (Dutch origin)

Corn Oysters: a southern side dish of fritters made from corn dumpling batter blended with bits of bacon. Served with pot roast or chicken dishes.

Cornpone: a corn bread browned and cooked in a skillet.

Crullers: served with a drift of confectioners’ sugar, these Scandinavian yeast twists are fried crisp.

Custard Corncake: a bland, baked custard of eggs, milk, and cornmeal.

File: the dried leaves of the sassafras plant, introduced by the Choctaw Indians to Creole cookery. It is used for flavor (something like thyme in taste), and to thicken foods just before serving.

Grits: Also called hominy grits, kernels of corn boiled in lye solution, hulled, washed and dried. The resulting hominy is then coarsely ground to form grits. Grits may be cooked like a porridge and served at any meal as a side dish, with everything from eggs to meat or fish. Slices of cold grits may be fried. Grits are the favorite Southern cereal food.

Gumbo: there are many varieties of gumbo – thick stews combining meats and seafoods or shellfish, almost always containing okra and served with rice. Okra, called Gumbo by the Choctaw Indians, helps to thicken the juices. (New Orleans)

Hash Browns: cubed potatoes and onions usually fried in patties to a crusty brown, most often served at breakfast with eggs. A favorite food at almost any meal, now almost across the United States.

Hoecake: crispy-browned pancakes made of white cornmeal, salt, and water, and cooked in bacon fat or butter.

Hooch: the Tilnglet people of Hooch-in-noo, Alaska are said to have originated a potent brew by adding molasses to ferment in the sourdough pot. It became known as “hooch”.

Hoppin’ John: traditional New Year’s Day dish eaten in southern United States for good luck. Cowpeas or black-eyed peas are cooked and tossed with cooked rice. Usually served with ham hocks and collards, based on the cookery of the early West African slaves.

Jambalaya: a hearty Creole stew of fish, seafood, or chicken (many versions), thickened with File and served with rice.

Lagniappe: a menu conundrum for tourists until they discover it is an unexpected appetizer from the chef to you. (New Orleans)

Mile High Pie: New Orleans’s dessert pie with a cookie crust layered with several flavors of ice cream crowned with meringue.

Pepper Pot: satisfying New England soup of vegetables, potatoes, and tripe, thickened with cream and flour.

Persimmon Pudding: a steamed pudding made with persimmon pulp and walnuts. Served With a custard sauce. (New England)

Poi: a syrupy mixture made from taro root. Poi is eaten with the fingers, dipping into it as “one-finger poi,” “two-finger poi,” etc. Efforts are being made to reintroduce it as an inexpensive, traditional and authentic Hawaiian staple food.

Pompion: early New England word for pumpkin.

Ponhaus: Pennsylvania Dutch dish of cubed pork feet, meat scraps, cornmeal, and oats all molded in aspic and sliced cold.

Pork Cake: New England spicy molasses cake made with minced fruit and finely diced salt pork.

Pot-likker: southern treat of melted salt pork, poured over breads or cooked greens.

Red (kidney) Beans and Rice: the ubiquitous classic of Louisiana, accompanying most meals and sometimes even breakfast. Can be a meal in itself. Usually served spicy-hot.

Red Fish Hash: an economical Pennsylvania Dutch dinner of leftover codfish molded into patties, fried, and served topped with poached egg.

Sally Lunn: a very light corn bread baked as a dropped batter on a baking sheet, then served hot and well buttered.

Shaker Salt Cod Dinner: Pennsylvania Dutch favorite of poached cod served with mashed potatoes and sliced cooked beets, a white cream sauce poured over all.

Tabasco: just the most famed of the many devilishly hot-pepper sauces in Louisiana.

Tipsy Pie: actually a bourbon-drenched pudding of cake slices, fruits, and custard decorated with whipped cream. Also called trifle.

Washington “Pie” or Cake: a light sponge cake filled with a soft creamy custard and glazed with melted chocolate. Also called Boston Cream Pie.

Wild Cranberry Ketchup: Alaska’s specialty, said to put tomato ketchup in second place.

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