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Amelia Simmons: Author of American Cookery, the First American Cookbook


Very little is known of Amelia Simmons, believed to be the author of the first American cookbook by a European American, it’s considered to be another declaration of American Independence. On the first page of American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life, Simmons referenced to herself as an "American Orphan," followed by a discussion of the trials of orphanhood in the preface.

The first edition of American Cookery appeared in Hartford, Connecticut by Hudson & Goodwin, “For the Author” in the spring of 1796. The second edition was also published in 1796 by Charles R. and George Webster of Albany, NY.

Her book points out the best ways of judging the quality of meats poultry, fish, vegetables and presents the best methods of preparing and cooking them. In choosing fish, poultry and other meats, she advises, “their smell denotes their goodness.”

She was the first cookbook author to use the leavening agent pearl ash, derived from leaching large amounts of wood ash and was common in early America because of the proliferation of timber operations. It was also known as potash, or alkali.

In early 1796, American Cookery contained four recipes featuring pearl ash as a leavening agent—a forerunner to baking powder; two for cookies and two for gingerbread. 

Simmon’s American Cookery also contained recipes for pumpkin pudding, the basis for the classic American pumpkin pie, the book also featured the first known printed recipe for turkey with cranberries.

American Cookery included five recipes requiring the use of cornmeal; a staple of colonial life as a substitution for English oats in otherwise English recipes. It contained three recipes for Indian pudding, one for "Johnny Cake or Hoe Cake," and one for "Indian Slapjacks." The first known appearance of any of the three in a cookbook.

It included a recipe for brewing Spruce Beer, recommended by Scottish doctor James Lind in his Treatise of the Scurvy in 1755 to treat scurvy on long sailing voyages.

American Cookery was the first American cookbook to use two words borrowed from the Dutch; "cooky" and "slaw." The former is from "koekje," a referred to "cakes" or "little cakes" and eventually became “cookie.” "Slaw" comes from the word "sla" meaning salad.

Not only was American Cookery the first cookbook to incorporate popular and plentiful American foods into a traditional cookbook, but it was also affordable to many. Selling for two shillings and three pence, it contained just 47 pages printed on durable rag paper.

Many recipes were borrowed from British cookbooks of the period, such as Susannah Carter's The frugal housewife, or complete woman cook as was accepted as customary practice.

American Cookery contained traditional directions for making meat pies, trifles, syllabubs— an alcoholic cider which called for sugar, nutmeg, and then milking a cow directly into the liquor.

The originality of her work lies in recognizing that an American could not find in a British cookbook recipe for making dishes that she as an American had eaten all of her life.

American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life is considered by the Library of Congress to be one of the 88 books that shaped America alongside "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," "Tales" by Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson's "Poems," Sarah H. Bradford's “Harriet, the Moses of Her People,” W.E.B. Du Bois' “The Souls of Black Folk,” Irma Rombauer's “Joy of Cooking,” and Carl Sagan's “Cosmos.”

Connecticut District Court issued a copyright to Amelia Simmons on April 28, 1796, covering it under the first Federal copyright law of 1790.

All peas should be picked carefully from the vines as soon as dew is off shelled and cleaned without water and boiled immediately; they are thus the richest flavored.

Like this post? Stop by and read “Valentina Tereshkova (Sea Gull): The First Woman in Space,” quoted to have said “I make the kinds of things people like—borscht (beet soup), blini (pancakes), and pelmeni (dumplings)—and my strawberry jam is out of this world.” Then stop by the online store to shop for handcrafted beaded jewelry by beYOUteous.

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