Dealing with condiments in a cooking program is a good way to discuss some greater issues as well as offering the visitor a chance to see something different cooking in the kitchen. At Conner Prairie we have five kitchens that we cook in on a daily basis. Introducing the preparation and use of condiments to our menus has given us a greater chance to talk about social and economic differences, seasonality of ingredients and changes in taste of the American public.

The Definition of a Condiment

Webster Dictionary—1828
"condiment—Seasoning; sauce; that which is used to give relish to meat or other food, and to gratify the taste.”

"'As for radish and the like, they are for condiments, and not for nourishment.' Bacon"

Hearthside SuppersThe condiment that most of us think of first is catsup so we decided to see what Webster had to say about that. "Catchup - a liquor extracted from mushrooms, used for a sauce." We also checked the alternative spellings and found "ketchup - a sauce." With all of this reference to "sauce", we decided we had better find the period definition for that word as well. "Sauce - to accompany meat with something to give it a higher relish."

Just to make certain that Webster didn't have a biased opinion we checked Johnson as well and this is what we found.

Johnson— 1830
"condiment— seasoning; sauce"

"catchup— a poignant liquor made from boiled mushrooms"

"mustard— a plant"

"sauce— something eaten with food to improve it's taste"

 We found many recipes in the cookbooks of the time period. The next question was how often these were used and by whom. Here we have Baynard Rush Hall's description of the condiments found on the breakfast table at a stage-house while traveling through the Midwest in the 1830s.

"At all events we shall have a good breakfast at this fine looking stage-house. But whether we had arrived too soon, or the folks usually began preparation after counting the number of mouths, or the wood was green, or...very long was it, very long indeed, before we were summoned.

And then the breakfast!

Perhaps it was all accidental, but the coffee (?) was a libel on diluted soot, made by nurses to cure a baby's colic. ...the tea (?) was a perfect imitation of a decoction of clover hay.

Eggs, too! --it certainly was not without hazard to put them in the mouth before putting them to the nose.

Ay! but here comes a monster of a sausage coiled up like a great greasy eel!

Golden Eagle InnHot rolls came ...a composition of oak bark on the outside, and hot putty within--the true article for invalids and dyspeptics.

We had also bread and butter, and cold cabbage and potatoes, like oysters, some fried and some in the shell; and green pickles so bountifully supplied with salt as to have refused vinegar--and beets--and saltsellars in the shape of glass hats--with a mustard pot like a salve-box, with a bone spoon glued in by a potent cement of red-brown-yellow colour--and a light-green bottle of vinegar dammed up by a strong twisted wadding of brown paper.

Reader, what more could we wish?"

At Conner Prairie we have decided to use the recipes featured here primarily at our inn and with the more educated families in Prairietown who would have had access to and were more likely to use the cookery books. Our less educated families do use herbs in their cooking but not in such complicated combinations.