on June 4, 2002
In 1796, a young lady named Amelia Simmons published her cookbook. While other cookbooks had been printed, they were just reprints of European works. All had been written by men for men. At the time, no cookbook dealt so well with the unique food ingredients available in America.
So, this was the first cookbook slanted towards female cooks and is the first book to show corn meal as a primary ingredient. Here you will find the first recipes for "Indian Slapjacks: or "Johnny Cake" which became staples during the following centuries.
Amelia also presented the first recipe for pumpkin pie, Indian pudding, rice pudding and gingerbread. Here you can find the words "cookie" and "slaw" which come from the Dutch in America. Many of the recipes show you how to cook classic recipes for dumplins, biscuits and fruit pies.
The most recent printing of this cookbook seems to be by Tresco Publishers and it was reprinted in 2001. This Ohio publisher obtained special permission to reprint a limited facsimile copy (all forty-seven octavo pages) of this American Classic.
The book I found has a facsimile copy of American Cookery from 1796 that is definately showing it was used often, complete with grease stains. Then, there is a translation into a modern printing font that is much easier to read. In the facsimile copy with Early American print fonts in which the letter "s" appeared as "f"... this makes the original harder to read. For example:
"By having an opinion and determination, I would not be underftood to mean an obftinate perfeverance in trifles, which borders on obftinacy - by no means, but only an adherence to thofe rules and mazims which have ftood the teft of ages, and will forever eftablifh the female character, a virtuous character -altho' they conform to the ruling tafte of the age in cookery, drefs, language, manners, &c." ~Preface
The dated language is amusing to read and you can glimpse a picture of America through Amelias eyes. The "spellings" of many words were of course different so they are not typographical errors. There is a glossary that explains terms like bullace (small plum), gallipot (earthen pot) and pannikin (small metal vessel).
This book therefore "contains" the first cookbook published in America by an American author and the translation of the work into modern English. It is a first in cookbook literature and therefore is an historic document you will want to collect if you are a cookbook collector.
Only two First Edition copies are known to exist. One is in the Bitting Collection of the Library of Congress, the other in the Whitney Collection of the New York Public Library. The book I have contains the dog-eared and stained copy from the Bitting Collection and includes a forward by Mary Tolford Wilson.
By reading her cookbook, you can imagine a young colonial woman cooking over a hot cook fire, taking care of her children and using this cookbook to prepare her evening meal. It almost evokes a sense of nostalgia for when things were simpler, or were they?
One pound sugar, 9 eggs, beat for an hour. Add to 14 ounces flour, spoonful rose water, one spoonful cinnamon or coriander. Bake quick.
An hour? Who would have the time these days. It is amazing! And I thought kneading bread was work.
You will also find recipes for:
My heart did beat a little faster just because it is so overwhelming how far cookbooks has come since this first American cookbook written by a woman and I was delighted to finally own a copy. This is not really a cookbook you would use as the recipes are not exactly easy to follow and don't always contain exact quantities of ingredients. It is more to amuse!
This cookbook will produce in you a similar excitement that you might feel if you had happened upon this book in a musty library or in an attic.
But then again, I read cookbooks in bed! ;)
on August 28, 2000
Amelia Simmons created the first cookbook printed in America, by an American, using truly American ingredients. Up until her publication there were no printed recipes telling cooks how to prepare pumpkin, cranberries, turkey, sweet potatoes, etc. People adapted the recipes in their English (or other) cookbooks, but I'm sure were delighted to have this guide to newer culinary items. The Oxford University Press reprint edition has a very useful introduction by Mary Tolford Wilson, presenting historical and cookery contexts for a better appreciation of Simmons' text. An added glossary is helpful too. I recommend this book for all scholars of foodways and culinary history. Lastly, let me say that it is a fun read. The conversational, although often brief recipes, which assume all readers know a great deal already about cooking, tell us a lot about eighteenth century assumptions about women and their domestic work.