Resource

American Cookery

Excerpts from the first American cookbook show the early development of an American cuisine.

American cookery

Amelia Simmons, American cookery (Albany, NY: Charles R. and George Webster, 1796). New-York Historical Society Library.

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Indian Slapjack
One quart of milk, 1 pint of indian meal, 4 eggs, 4 spoons of flour, little salt, beat together, baked on griddles, or fry in a dry pan, or baked in a pan which has been rubbed with suet, lard, or butter.

Cookies
One pound of sugar boiled slowly in half pint water, scum well and cool, add two teaspoons pearl ash dissolved in milk, then two and a half pounds flour, rub in 4 ounces butter, and two large spoons of finely powdered coriander seed, wet with above; make rolls half an inch thick and cut to the shape you please; bake fifteen or twenty minutes in a slack oven- good three weeks.

Amelia Simmons, American cookery (Albany, NY: Charles R. and George Webster, 1796). New-York Historical Society Library.

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Background

American women were expected to focus on caring for their homes and families in the Federal period. Because cooking was a major part of their responsibilities, women led the way in inventing and defining American cuisine.

A cuisine is a style of cooking that is unique to a country or region. Inventing cuisine that was different from the colonial period was an important part of creating a new American identity.

About the Resources

The cookbook American Cookery was first published in 1796, 20 years after the colonies declared their independence. It was published as part of a larger movement to form an American identity. It was a bestseller for about 30 years.

American Cookery was written by Amelia Simmons, an orphan who found work as a domestic servant. She spent many years learning how to cook and manage a kitchen. She wrote the cookbook to share her knowledge. The book includes not only recipes but also helpful advice on selecting the best meat and produce. American Cookery was unique at the time because it included fancy British recipes alongside recipes made with ingredients and techniques unique to the Americas.

American Cookery made some important contributions to American cuisine and culture. For example, the book included the first usage of the word cookie instead of the traditional British word biscuit. It was also the first cookbook to include recipes for American classics like pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and slapjacks. American Cookery offers a unique mix of old-world customs and new-world creativity. This combination would become a hallmark of American cuisine for decades to come.

Vocabulary

  • cuisine: A style of cooking that is unique to a country, culture, or region.
  • domestic servant: A person who does household work like laundry, cooking, and cleaning.
  • slapjack: A pancake.

Discussion Questions

  • What do the ingredients listed teach us about American society in the Federal period?
  • Why was American cuisine invented and developed by women?
  • Why are cookbooks a valuable primary source for historians?
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Suggested Activities

  • American Cookery is available in full here. Ask your students to choose a recipe, investigate the history of the ingredients and techniques in that recipe, and write a paragraph explaining what they learned about early American identity from the recipe.
  • Ask students to read the preface of American Cookery and reflect on the story the author is using to frame her cookbook. What does this preface teach us about the realities of American womanhood in the Federal period? Who is this cookbook for, and what advice does the author have for her readers?
  • Teach this resource together with Novel for a New Era, Life Story: Dolley Madison, and Diary of a Midwife for a larger lesson about the contributions of women in the formation of American identity and culture.

Themes

AMERICAN CULTURE

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