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Connecticut 101

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Connecticut 101

Otherwise known as the “Nutmeg State”, but not because nutmeg is grown there or plentiful; it is because of this:

“Nutmeg, the powder used for seasoning foods, is ground from the seed of the fruit of the Nutmeg Tree; Myristica fragans. A couple of stories exist as to the origin of this nickname. One story has it that this nickname came about as a comment on the ingenuity and shrewdness of the citizens of the state. In a story, perhaps originated by Sam Slick, it is claimed that the people of Connecticut were so ingenious and shrewd that they were able to make and sell “wooden” nutmegs to unsuspecting buyers. A variation on this story maintains that purchasers did not know that the seed must be ground to obtain the spice and may have accused Yankee peddlers, unfairly, of selling worthless “wooden” nutmegs. It may be that these wooden nutmegs were whittled by idle sailors on ships coming from the spice island and sold as souvenirs.”   –

Connecticut, like most states, does not have an official “state food” or recipe. These must be voted on, and adopted by, the state legislature. Most of the foods traditionally enjoyed by people in Connecticut are similar to those in the New England Region; Election cake, for example.

“In the early 1630s both the English of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Dutch of New Amsterdam Colony eyed the wide, fertile Connecticut Valley as a possibility for settlement, agriculture, and fur trading. In June 1633 the Hollanders built a fort at what was to become Hartford. In the fall of 1634, John Oldham and ten others left Watertown in the Massachusetts Colony to establish a permanent settlement at Wethersfield, south of Hartford. Members of the John Oldham group became the first Europeans to plant seeds in the soil of Connecticut. They sowed rye in a fallow Indian field. The next year several more groups came from Massachusetts and brought cattle and hogs. The harsh winters, however, drove most of these early settlers back to their Massachusetts homes. By the end of the 1630s, those who remained had created productive farms, started the mercantile town of New Haven, and established an independent government. The early Dutch settlers in the Hartford area did likewise. They planted apple orchards, appointed a committee to select superior calves for breeding stock, and developed a dairy industry. By the 1640s the efforts of both the English and the Dutch settlers had made the new territory of Connecticut virtually self-sufficient…As the population of Connecticut increased, so did the farming. The variety of crops expanded to include many vegetables, as well as berries and fruit trees. The farmers  raised radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, and melons…The early Connecticut farmers also dug underground pits where they stored cabbages, squash, potatoes, and other root vegetables…Fishing has always been an important part of the Connecticut economy. Shad fishing along the Connecticut River…has been a tradition since colonial times…When the English first settled in the Connecticut River Valley, the numerous shad were despised as food. Eating shad meant that a person was almost destitute or had exhausted his supply of salt pork.”

Taste of the States: A Food History of America, Hilde Gabriel Lee [Howell Publications:Charlottesville VA] 1992 (p. 12)


Did you know that lollipops were first made in New Haven, Connecticut in 1908 by George Smith? They were named after a race horse of the time; Lolly Pop. PEZ® Candy is made in Orange, Connecticut. Pumpkin halves were used as guides for haircuts in colonial New Haven, Connecticut, giving rise to the nickname “pumpkinhead.”


Supposedly, the first hamburgers in U.S. history were served in New Haven, Connecticut, at Louis’ Lunch sandwich shop in 1895. Louis Lassen, founder of Louis’ Lunch, ran a small lunch wagon selling steak sandwiches to local factory workers. Because he didn’t like to waste the excess beef from his daily lunch rush, he ground it up, grilled it, and served it between two slices of bread — and America’s first hamburger was created.

The small Crown Street luncheonette is still owned and operated by third and fourth generations of the Lassen family. Hamburgers are still the specialty of the house, where steak is ground fresh each day and hand molded, slow cooked, broiled vertically, and served between two slices of toast with your choice of only three ‘acceptable’ garnishes: cheese, tomato, and onion.

Want ketchup or mustard? Forget it. You will be told ‘no’ in no uncertain terms. This is the home of the greatest hamburger in the world, claim the owners, who are perhaps best known for allowing their customers to have a burger the Lassen way or not at all.

Library of Congress Local Legacies Project



Election Day Cake History

Back when Connecticut was still a colony, Election Day was an important holiday. Voters would take the day off from work and travel to Hartford, cast votes and then party into the night with booze — and cake.

The cake in question appears to have been adapted from English yeast breads or fruit cakes. Although some historic documents point to its appearance in the early 1700s, the first published evidence of an “Election Cake” recipe surfaced in 1796, when Amelia Simmons wrote “American Cookery,” the first known cookbook by an American.

Simmons’s recipe called for, among other things, “thirty quarts flour, 10 pound butter, 14 pound sugar, 12 pound raisins, 3 doz eggs, one pint wine, one quart brandy…” I wonder how many women were needed to carry this monster into a brick oven for baking. Talk about hefty!

Historical documents indicate that women would allow the cake to rise overnight. In the recipe below, which likely comes from an early 20th century source, the cake gets a double rise, totaling about 2 ½ hours.

The result — after a total of about 4 hours’ work — is a classic, old-time coffee cake. Imagine a homemade version of one of those Entenmann’s glazed coffee rings. It’s chockfull of raisins, nuts and spices and has a decidedly bready, rather than cakey mouth feel. –The Washington Post, 2006





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