Fairfield from Afar
In the 17th and 18th centuries, most food in Connecticut was local, and most people helped to raise or process the food they ate. But earlier generations in Fairfield were also part of a global economy, sending livestock, grain, salted fish, and farm produce to fuel the sugar plantations of the West Indies. In return, they received sugar and its byproduct, molasses, which was used on its own and also turned into rum. Spices like nutmeg and cinnamon (grown in Asia) and rare foods such as citrus fruit from the Mediterranean were imported from Europe.
Today, the majority of the food we eat comes to us from far away, part of a global economy of food production, distribution, and regulation of what we eat. Recent interest in “eating locally” has tried to reverse this trend in order to support local producers and provide fresher food.
Invented in the West Indies in the 17th century, rum caught on in the American colonies, where distillers began importing molasses and quickly created a major industry. At its peak in 1770, the colonies imported six million gallons of Caribbean molasses, much of which became rum in New England’s 159 distilleries. The style of New England rum varied widely, but it was said to be thicker and less sweet than its Caribbean cousin, and it was relatively affordable, unlike wine or brandy. Rum could be seen as the first “colonial” product that became a marker of British North America.
Almost all the rum was produced for domestic consumption, but a small amount was sold overseas in what was known as the triangle trade. Merchants sent rum to West Africa in exchange for enslaved peoples who were to be sold in the Caribbean; there, sugar and molasses were bought and shipped to New England for the making of rum.