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Book: First American Cookbook

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“The First American Cookbook: A Facsimile of ‘American Cookery:’ 1796” by Amelia Simmons. In honor of our holiday exhibit at the Arlington Historical Museum “Stirring Up Memories: Arlington Cookbooks” AHS is offering classic American colonial cookbooks for sale.  It is likely that some of the recipes found in the Arlington cookbooks, most loaned to the museum and on public display for the first time were based on recipes handed down through the generations.

This facsimile of the first American-written cookbook published in the United States is not only a first in cookbook literature, but a historic document. It reveals the rich variety of food Colonial Americans enjoyed, their tastes, cooking and eating habits, even their colorful language.

Author Amelia Simmons worked as a domestic in Colonial America and gathered her cookery expertise from firsthand experience. Her book points out the best ways of judging the quality of meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, etc., and presents the best methods of preparing and cooking them. In choosing fish, poultry, and other meats, the author wisely advises, “their smell denotes their goodness.” Her sound suggestions for choosing the freshest and most tender onions, potatoes, parsnips, carrots, asparagus, lettuce, cabbage, beans, and other vegetables are as timely today as they were nearly 200 years ago.

Here are the first uniquely American recipes using corn meal — Indian pudding, “Johnny cake,” and Indian slapjacks — as well as the first recipes for pumpkin pudding, winter squash pudding, and for brewing spruce beer. The words “cookie” and “slaw” made their first published appearance in this book. You’ll also find the first recommended use of pearlash (the forerunner of baking powder) to lighten dough, as well as recommendations for seasoning stuffing and roasting beef, mutton, veal, and lamb — even how to dress a turtle.
Along with authentic recipes for colonial favorites, a Glossary includes definitions of antiquated cooking terms: pannikin, wallop, frumenty, emptins, and more. And Mary Tolford Wilson’s informative Introductory Essay provides the culinary historical background needed to appreciate this important book fully.

Any cultural historians, Americana buffs or any who use and collect cookbooks can’t buy the more the 30 Arlington cookbooks we have on exhibit, but you can by this one: The First American Cookbook.

  • Softcover: 80 pgs including introductory essay and glossary
  • Publisher: Dover publications, 2021, the original: 1796

Every book you buy here on this website helps support the AHS mission to strengthen our community by improving the understanding of local history.

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