A Page from History: Favorite Dishes in Uncles Sam’s New Possession

A visitor to Puerto Rico, Otto Schoenrich, brought back word of the local cuisine to his local paper in Baltimore. Puerto Rico had recently become a U.S. possession, and people in the States were curious about the way of life in the new territory. The New York Times published the article the day after Christmas, 1898.

The luxuriousness of Puerto Rican meals impressed the traveler. Two or three different kinds of meat are served at every meal, he claimed, with rich sauces. Vegetables and fruits complement the meats, but the kinds available were very different from what Mr. Schoenrich was used to. He went into great detail on the many ways bananas and plantains were prepared on the Island.

Mr Schoenrich reported that the ladies of Puerto Rico were astonished to discover that apples could be cooked “like bananas!”

He was impressed by the amount of oil, onions, garlic, and peppers used in cooking. The strong flavors were sometimes overwhelming to him, as was the strength of the coffee.

Mr. Schoenrich shared a typical breakfast menu:

  • Wine and rum
  • Omelet
  • Fried banana chips
  •  Macaroni with cheese
  • Sweet potatoes with agnacate (avocado)
  • Roast beef and potato chips
  • Tomato and potato salad
  • Red beans and white rice
  • Guava paste with cream cheese
  • Fruit
  • Coffee

This lavish breakfast was eaten in the middle of the day. What we might now call breakfast was bread and coffee, and dinner might consist of soup, plantains, steak, chicken croquettes, salad, garbanzos with yellow rice, coconut sweets with fruit, and coffee.

The soup mentioned was sancocho soup, and the traveler described it as containing beef, ham, salt pork, chicken, sausage, potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbage, garbanzos, green and ripe plantains,onions, garlic, yucca, celery, and various kinds of peppers. “The question is not so much what they put in,” the traveler joked, “but rather what they do not put in.”

He went on to share the recipe for Arroz con Pollo and a description of local candies and sweets.

Puerto Rico had been a possession of the United States for just about six months at this point; it was the first Christmas for Puerto Rico and the United States after the Treaty of Paris.

 

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