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The First American Cookbook: A Facsimile of "American Cookery," 1796 Paperback – Facsimile, October 1, 1984

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

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.
Anyone who uses and collects cookbooks will want to have The First American Cookbook. Cultural historians, Americana buffs, and gourmets will find this rare edition filled with interesting recipes and rich in early American flavor.

About the Author

The only biographical information known about Amelia Simmons were from the cover and title pages of her cookbook that list her as "Amelia Simmons, An American Orphan"; nothing else is known about the author, so all else is by inference. American Cookery is the only known published work by her. She said in her preface: The candor of the American Ladies is solicitously entreated by the Authoress, as she is circumscribed in her knowledge, this being original work in this country. This phrase indicates that she probably lacked formal education. Based on other quotes from her preface, she was most likely a domestic laborer. She wrote of "those females who have parents, or brothers, or riches," and how female orphans may be "reduced to the necessity of going into families in the line of domestics." Culinary Historian Karen Hess says that because "...the first edition is from Hartford, historians have always assumed that she was a New Englander." However, many of the later editions were published from a cluster around the Hudson River Valley. Also, several Dutch words appeared in her work (for example, slaw and cookey), words that would have more likely come from that region, rather than New England. So a case can be made that Simmons more likely came from the Hudson Valley region. Karen Hess also referred to Miss. Simmons as a "good plain cook", noting the generous use and variety of herbs and the use of wine in her recipes. Simmons also showed the use of English "extraordinarily fine roasting techniques" in her recipes. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; Facsimile of 1796 ed edition (October 1, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486247104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486247106
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 5.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 136 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca of Amazon HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Anne L. Bower on August 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
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.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By David Ross VINE VOICE on April 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the first uniquely American Cookbook. Earlier colonial cookbooks were simply American publications of English cookbooks. Amelia Simmons described herself as an orphan and was apparently illiterate. She disowned some of the content of this cookbook in later editions as added by her unidentified scribe. The cookbook was widely plagiarized and pirated which serves as a further testimony to its importance. The scholarly introduction to this Dover edition, by Mary Tolford Wilson (written circa 1959) notes the importance of Simmon's work as the first publication of the American colonial invention of baking soda (pearl ash) and several uniquely American recipes such as those for Indian (corn) bread, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

The facsimile text is somewhat difficult to read due to the age of the original and the archaic use of f for s; In addition, modern readers will find it difficult to impossible to follow the recipes due to the archaic ingredients and(to us)vague oven setting descriptions. If one is interested in actually preparing some of Simmons recipes the following alternate edition will be more usefull: American Cookery 1796 (hard cover) This edition (also in paperback) has an easy to read modern text and added illustrations not present in the original.

For those interested in the history of cooking this is an historical gem, especially as a facsimile and with the Wilson essay as an introduction. Text and page images of this original edition (without the introduction) are also available at the Michigan State University Digital Library "Feeding America" site.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Pam - because someone has to be GOOD TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
This particular Dover edition of classic Americana is an exact copy (facsimile) of the 1st American cookbook by Amelia Simmons --"American Cookery", published in the Spring of 1796. Besides the 47 pages of the original cookbook, there is Amelia's errata sheet, a very useful Glossary of archaic cooking terminology, and a preface by Mary Tolford Wilson.

Mary T. Wilson struck me as someone who was full of information and somewhat vexed by the lack of room given her to talk. The preface succeeded in placing "American Cookery" in it's proper place, historically speaking, but not without a bit of wandering around and circumlocution. [She give us a very nice list of references at the end.]

As for the rest of the book, it contains Ms. Simmon's recipes for soups, roasting various meats, puddings and pie, cakes, cookies, jams and veggies. In addition, there are instructions on how to purchase the best ingredients. As it turns out though, these were not Amelia's words, but something a very naughty Publisher added on his own, for in the 2nd edition Amelia fairly screams that the villain mutilated her work, at once adding his own words, and secondly, by leaving out key instructions out of her receipts (as recipes were once called). (Historians conclude from this that she could not read her proofs, and had the Publisher, or someone else, write out the recipes for her.)

What this means to me is that if you want to own a copy of the very first American cookbook, that you should purchase this Dover edition. But that if you actually want to try some of the dishes, that you should track down the 2nd edition, which has many (most?) of the corrections included, and buy it.

This is a wonderful edition. Dover has done a nice job for the price.
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The First American Cookbook: A Facsimile of "American Cookery," 1796
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