American Cookery

File:American Cookery (1st Ed, 1796, cover).jpg

I had some mending to do today. Actually, it was quite pathetic. I’ve been putting it off and putting it off, and the pile on my dresser has just kept growing. I had some spare time today, as you could call this a day off. So, I decided to conquer that pile of holey garments. To keep me company, I plugged in my earbuds and tuned in to Amelia Simmons’ cookbook, American Cookery, as read by the folks at Librivox.

Apparently, this was the first Euro-American cookbook truly native to our lovely country. It was published in 1796 by a woman with no education and no fortune. She was orphaned and forced into “domestic engineering” (aka: being a hired cook). She may not have had much, but, have mercy, the woman could cook! She knew how to do everything from picking out the freshest fish at market (don’t let those fishmongers fool you! Sometimes they painted the fish gills to make them look fresher than they were) to baking umpteen different kinds of pastry shells.

There’s only six parts to the book. It took a few hours to get through the whole thing. As I sewed up holes, I listened to how to cook a turtle (don’t throw the blood away! You’ll need it later), how to bake a diet cake (the vast amount of calories from the sugar will be burned off before you even eat one piece…you have to beat the eggs that go into this cake for 1 hour), how to prepare a calf’s head (those brains will make a nice addition to the meal), and other fascinations that made me examine the strength that homemakers of the 18th century had. I mean, think about it. No refrigerators. No grocery stores. No instant pudding or pasteurized milk. Gardens were the norm.You ate what was readily available in your area. And a good dose of common sense was to be served with every meal. This was one woman who firmly believed in the power of work, who lived the old adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Miss Simmons mentioned something about the boys of the day being a nuisance in apple orchards and suggested only allowing boys into the orchard who had actually planted and tended for an apple tree. She noted that in combining this practice with every family’s contribution of planting an apple tree in a spare spot around their homes, the US could pay off its national deficit. (That made me smile. Can you imagine? Being able to pay off our national debt today just by raising one apple tree per family! How I wish!)


American Cookery was a sweet reminder of the grit it took to fuel this country’s development. I’ve always considered women in the 1700’s to be somewhat dainty and delicate, dressed in yards of elegant material with hair in long, tight curls. Somehow, I doubt Amelia Simmons was able to keep up an image like that while beating eggs for one hour or hoeing out her vegetable garden. Napoleon once said, “An army marches on its stomach.” I think women like Miss Simmons realized that a nation also marches on its stomach. It’s women like her – those with that old-fashioned Protestant work ethic and a “waste not, want not” mentality – who truly helped to make our country great.


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