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What did pilgrims eat for breakfast?

Breakfast was an important meal for the pilgrims during their journey across the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower and after they arrived in the New World. As with all their meals, breakfast provided sustenance and energy for the difficult tasks that lay ahead each day. The Pilgrim diet was very different than a modern breakfast. While today we may eat cereal, eggs, toast and fruit, the pilgrims ate a simple, but hearty meal. Let’s take a look at what a typical Pilgrim breakfast consisted of in the early days of the Plymouth Colony.

What food was available to the Pilgrims?

The pilgrims brought non-perishable food items like biscuits, dried peas, salted meats and fish for their voyage on the Mayflower. Once they arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, the Pilgrims faced serious food shortages their first winter. They lacked fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, milk and bread. Many survived on meager rations. Fortunately, the native Wampanoag tribe helped the Pilgrims adapt and survive by teaching them how to fish, hunt and grow local crops.

By their second year in the New World, the Pilgrims harvested enough barley, corn, beans and squash to store for winter. They raised livestock like goats, pigs, chickens and turkeys. With hunting and fishing, there was a greater variety of food available. Pilgrim women churned butter and cheese. They gathered wild fruits like blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries and plums to make pies, tarts and preserves. Maple trees provided sap for syrup and sugar. Eggs became more plentiful as chickens multiplied. The Pilgrim diet gradually improved, allowing them to expand their breakfast choices.

What did the Pilgrims eat for breakfast?

A typical breakfast for the Pilgrims included foods they could prepare quickly and eat before starting their chores. Some common Pilgrim breakfast foods were:

  • Porridge – Porridge was a simple, hot cereal made from ground corn, barley or cracked wheat boiled with water or milk. It was occasionally sweetened with maple syrup or honey.
  • Johnny cakes – Johnny cakes were a pancake-like cornmeal flatbread. Cornmeal was mixed with boiling water, molded into small cakes and fried in bacon fat or baked on a griddle.
  • Fish – Salted herring or alewife (a river fish similar to herring) left over from the evening meal could be fried or heated for breakfast.
  • Meat – Leftover meat like ham, bacon, sausage or poultry might be sliced and sautéed with onions or heated with eggs.
  • Eggs – Eggs became more available as the Pilgrims acquired chickens. They were usually fried, scrambled or poached.
  • Fruit – Apples, berries and plums when in season were eaten fresh or stewed.
  • Cheese – Small amounts of goat or cow milk cheese were available to eat with other breakfast foods.
  • Bread – Brown bread made from rye or cornmeal was baked in the coals of the hearth. Leftover hoe cakes from previous meals were sometimes served.
  • Beer or cider – Home-brewed beer or hard apple cider were typical breakfast beverages. The lower alcohol content of these Pilgrim drinks made them safer than water which could carry disease.

Breakfast was a quick, simple meal that relied heavily on foods already on hand. Leftover meat, cheese, bread and porridge were convenient choices requiring little work to prepare. Food preservation techniques like salting, smoking and pickling allowed the Pilgrims to store fish and meat to extend supplies. Common fruits and vegetables were limited until gardens, orchards and farms were established.

What did Pilgrim children eat for breakfast?

Pilgrim children generally ate smaller portions of the same breakfast foods as adults. Some common choices for children were:

  • Porridge – Corn or wheat porridge was softened with milk for younger children.
  • Johnny cakes – Pieces of the cornmeal flatbread were served with syrup or honey.
  • Eggs – Scrambled or hard boiled eggs were an easy protein source.
  • Cheese – Slices of mild cheese or cottage cheese.
  • Fruit – Stewed prunes, raisins or chopped apples.
  • Bread and butter – Pieces of brown bread or hoe cakes with butter.
  • Milk – Fresh cow or goat milk to drink.

The Pilgrim diet was generally bland with little sugar or spices. Children also missed sweeter foods like cake, cookies and chocolate they enjoyed back in England. Nonetheless, the simple breakfast foods helped growing children get the nutrition they needed.

What did the Pilgrims drink for breakfast?

The Pilgrims had limited beverage choices for breakfast. Common drinks included:

  • Water – Clean water was scarce. Most water came from springs, wells or collected rainwater that could contain disease.
  • Beer – Weak beer provided a safer drink than plain water. Home-brewed beer contained low alcohol levels.
  • Cider – Pressed apples made sweet or hard cider. Cider was often fermented into an alcoholic beverage.
  • Tea – Dried herbs like mint, sage, thyme and nettle were steeped in boiling water to make herbal teas.
  • Milk – Fresh milk from cows or goats was served to children and the elderly.
  • Coffee and juice were not available to the Pilgrims.

Beer and cider were commonly served, even for breakfast. The Pilgrims believed these drinks were safer alternatives to drinking plain water which could spread illness. Children and pregnant women drank more milk and herbal teas.

How did the Pilgrims cook breakfast?

The Pilgrims cooked breakfast over the open hearth fire. Common breakfast foods required basic cooking methods like:

  • Boiling – Porridge and Johnny cakes were boiled in pots hung over the hearth fire.
  • Frying – Meat, fish, and eggs were fried in iron skillets on the hearth.
  • Baking – Breads and Johnny cakes were baked directly on the ashes and embers of the fire.
  • Toasting – Leftover bread could be toasted by the fire on a forked stick.
  • Roasting – Meat on a spit was roasted over the open fire.

Preparing breakfast was one of many chores for Pilgrim women and girls. They woke early to start the fire and prepare the morning meal. Cooking took time and effort, but provided a warm meal before a long day of hard work.

Typical Pilgrim Breakfast Menu

Using the common breakfast foods available, here is an example of a basic Pilgrim breakfast menu:

Food Item Ingredients/Preparation
Porridge Cornmeal or oatmeal boiled with milk or water. Sweetened with maple syrup or honey.
Johnny Cakes Fried cornmeal flatbread.
Meat Leftover ham, smoked turkey or fish fried with onions.
Eggs Scrambled or fried eggs.
Bread Leftover brown bread or hoe cakes.
Cheese Sliced cheddar cheese.
Fruit Stewed prunes or raisins.
Drink Beer, cider, coffee, tea or milk.

This simple meal provided a hearty start to the day. Fatty meat and fried bread gave energy to fuel hours of farming, building, and other manual tasks. Porridge offered whole grains while eggs and cheese provided protein. With scarce fresh foods, preserved meats, dried fruit and fermented beverages lengthened limited supplies.

Breakfasts for Special Occasions

Special events and holidays offered a rare chance to enjoy something different for breakfast. Here are some special morning meals enjoyed for a change of pace:

Thanksgiving Breakfast

To celebrate their first harvest in 1621, the Pilgrims organized a three-day feast with the Wampanoag tribe. The event included special morning meals like:

  • Venison roast
  • Fowl birds like goose or duck
  • Meats weren’t rationed or saved for later
  • Stewed fruits like plums and grapes
  • Corn pudding
  • Wheat breads
  • Sweet pies and tarts

It was a thankful relief to enjoy freshly hunted meats, breads made from wheat, and desserts sweetened with honey or maple sugar.

Christmas Morning

Christmas breakfast was a rare chance for indulgence. Special treats included:

  • Scrambled eggs with cream
  • Thick cuts of bacon
  • Raisin bread
  • Spiced cake or pie
  • Sweet cider
  • Coffee – Made by roasting acorns

Eggs, cream, coffee and sweets made Christmas morning feel celebratory and festive.

Wedding Breakfast

Weddings were milestone events in the colony. The celebration began with a hearty breakfast for the bridal party like:

  • Roast chicken or duck
  • Venison stew
  • Vegetable hash
  • Cornmeal dumplings
  • Fried eggs
  • Fresh berries and cream
  • Sweet wine

Newlywed couples started married life with a filling, festive breakfast surrounded by family and friends before the ceremony.

Breakfast Food Shortages

In times of poor harvests or dwindling food supplies, Pilgrim breakfasts were extremely simple and meager. During the first harsh winter in Plymouth, breakfast was often just:

  • Corn porridge
  • Biscuits or bread crumbs
  • Brewed herbs for tea

Without fresh meat and eggs, breakfast offered little protein or fat. Many Pilgrims became ill or died from malnutrition and disease during the scarcity of that first winter.

Daily Life and Breakfast Routines

Breakfast was just the first task in a long day filled with chores for Pilgrim families. The daily breakfast routine helped organize responsibilities and work.


Preparing breakfast was women’s work. A typical morning for a Pilgrim wife and mother included:

  • Wake early to start the fire
  • Prepare breakfast and pack lunches for men in the fields
  • Round up children to wash faces and hands
  • Serve breakfast to family and boarders
  • Clean dishes and kitchen
  • Churn butter
  • Bake bread
  • Tend chickens, cows, goats and fetch eggs and milk

After serving breakfast, women rushed to complete other chores before starting dinner preparations.


Pilgrim husbands and fathers depended on their morning meal for energy to work. Their day started with breakfast then off to fields and workshops. Men’s morning routine included:

  • Wash face and hands
  • Say morning prayers
  • Eat breakfast with family
  • Gather tools, rifles, ammunition
  • Check fields and crops
  • Hunt, fish, cut wood or work on construction projects

Men worked straight through until the noon dinner break and return to evening supper. Hearty breakfasts kept them energized for laborious jobs.


Pilgrim children had a strict morning routine including:

  • Rise at dawn
  • Wash faces and hands
  • Breakfast with family
  • Say morning prayers
  • Do assigned chores like feeding animals, fetching eggs and water before lessons

After breakfast, older children studied reading, writing and Biblical lessons. Younger children played quietly or did chores until the noon meal.

Breakfast Evolution

Over time, Pilgrim breakfasts gradually changed and improved as settlements grew. Advancements included:

  • Livestock increased with more milk, eggs, bacon, etc.
  • Fishing boats enabled more catch of cod, eels, shellfish.
  • More orchards and fruit trees provided apples, peaches, cherries.
  • Grain harvesting grew with more wheat flour for breads.
  • Trade increased spices, sugar, tea, coffee.
  • Hearth baking to large brick ovens.
  • Wooden bowls to ceramic plates and utensils.

Daily life settled into more community routines. Inns and taverns opened offering travelers a place for rooms, meals and drinks. By the early 1700s, breakfast became less about survival and more an enjoyment of a new day with a good morning meal.


The Pilgrim breakfast evolved from a scant necessity to hearty fare over their first generations in the New World. Harsh conditions and challenges required adaptation and growth. But the important role of breakfast as preparation and sustenance for the day’s demands remained constant. The Pilgrim’s spirit of community, hard work and thankfulness carried them through times of shortage and scarcity. Their perseverance and success was fueled beginning each day with a simple but substantial breakfast.