History Dinner Peeks Into Narragansett’s Colonial Past

The Coast Guard House is offering a colonial Narragansett history dinner, the first in a series, that features seafood specialties from the past with a modern twist.

The reservations-only dinner, set for 7 p.m. Friday, April 5, will start with a talk by Jim Crothers, executive director of the South County Museum, and will proceed with five courses. Dinner starts with “fully loaded” Johnnycakes then proceeds to biscuits and gravy, then fritters, chowder and local oysters, onto the main course of baked haddock and ending with a citrus dessert called a Slice of ‘Gansett. Check out the full menu.

Johnnycakes were made in the Colonial Era by shaping a mixture of cornmeal, hot water and salt into disks and frying them on an iron griddle. Not much has changed, but the Coast Guard House is including English stilton cheese, lardon, a slow-cooked egg and frissee.

Naturally, colonial Rhode Islanders looked to the sea for their food. Quahogs were made into chowder, and industrious Rhode Islanders started their own oyster beds in colonial times. Fishing and farming were closely connected, and Narragansett’s fishing industry was begun by so-called dirt farmers who divided their work between the land and the sea. Potatoes were a popular crop and eventually enough were produced for export. Narragansett Pier was built at the center of the village in 1781, where the Towers and the Coast Guard House stand today.

This history led to the choice of baked haddock for the fourth course, which will be served with pan-fried potatoes and grilled lettuce in a tomato beurre blanc. The final course is dessert of course, but the selection of citrus was not likely to be found in Rhode Island at the time of the colonists.

No matter. Rhode Island is known for its rebels. The colony was founded by Roger Williams, the Massachusetts dissident who found the Puritans too strict. Rhode Island was one of the first to join the American Revolution, but the last colony to join the union. Free spirits one and all.

Crothers will give diners a feel for Rhode Island’s quirky early history and everyday colonial life at the dinner, which is $49 per person, not including tax or tip. To make a reservation for this dinner or future Narragansett History dinners, call the Coast Guard House at 401.789.7000.