Native American Foodways

This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook

William Penn was a friend of the native Lenape who were inhabitants of his new colony of Pennsylvania. The foodways of the Lenape were curiously different, and Penn had a thirst for knowledge about all the ways and customs of these people. For the English, wheat was the most important grain; for the Lenape, it was corn. Besides corn, they cultivated beans and squash. They also foraged for many other plants, including Jerusalem artichokes and sunflowers.

Penn and the colonists learned from Pennsylvania's native peoples about these indigenous foods, which became a staple of American and Pennsylvania cooking.

The gardens at Pennsbury Manor in Morrisville, Bucks County, incorporated both traditional English garden elements and the plants adopted from Native Americans - corn, squash, sunflowers *, and medicinal plants.

The Conrad Weiser Homestead, in Womelsdorf, Berks County, celebrates the life of the man who is credited with maintaining peace with the powerful Iroquois Confederacy. Conrad Weiser's career as an interpreter and negotiator with the Native Americans began in 1731 and resulted in a close relationship built on mutual trust. Weiser had a more intimate relationship with Native Americans than almost any other colonist. He walked their trails, ate their foods, spoke their language, and slept in their longhouses.

In the summer of 1744, Weiser traveled to Lancaster to negotiate a treaty with the Indians. The Iroquois Confederacy sent a delegation of 252, and 24 other chiefs attended, as well as leaders from Penn's colony and commissioners from Maryland and Virginia. After exchanging gifts, a banquet was served, and the subsequent talks resulted in the Lancaster Treaty. There are no records of the menu, but it may have included foods familiar to the Native Americans in attendance, such as Indian pudding * and acorn squash soup *.

* Recipes are available in the Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook


Pennsbury Manor, Morrisville, PA
The country estate of Pennsylvania's founder, William Penn.

Conrad Weiser Homestead, Womelsdorf, PA
Discover the Colonial diplomat, who kept peace with the Iroquois Confederacy.

For Further Reading

pa-trail-of-history-cookbook-sm.gif Pennsylvania Trail of History Cookbook
Edited by Kyle R. Weaver, Diane B. Reed, and Fred Lauver
Forward by William Woys Weaver

Stackpole Books and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
pennsbury-manor-toh.gif Pennsbury Manor: Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide
by Larry E. Tise

Stackpole Books and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
conrad-weiser-toh.gif Conrad Weiser Homestead: Pennsylvania Trail of History Guide
by John Bradley

Stackpole Books and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Articles 2
Native American Foodways