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What Lies Between the Covers of Our Everyday American Cookbook

Updated on September 27, 2016
TraceyWalsh profile image

Mother, grandmother, and wife. Always aspiring for bringing the past to the present through my Writing, traditions, cooking, and hobbies.

Is Our Everyday American Cookbook Relevant in Today's Household?

Do you use a Cookbook at least once a year?

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The American Cookbook

My Personal collection of cookbooks
My Personal collection of cookbooks

INTRO: Reasons the American Cookbook is a Reference Book

As someone who is an experienced home cook for many years now, as a nobody food television flunky, and as a somebody nostalgia junkie, I made it a project of mine to follow where the fondness for our American cookbook developed. To begin, it is important that we understand what would be included in this reference book. Obviously, we will find recipes. Other places we may come across recipes are perhaps ones which pass on from family, perhaps they are discovered purely by accident, or polished up through our trial and error attempts. Recipes are found printed in magazines, performed by renowned personalities, or they can be perpetually available Online. Most of us, who do any cooking, probably make many of our mainstay meals by memory. Maybe we use a pinch of that and a dash of this, but more than likely we do not measure much. Per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary a recipe is a formula, a prescription, or a set of directions used to construct a certain outcome. A proper cookbook will possess the procedures and directions on how to prepare, cook, and serve a dish set in a collection to guide us when necessary.

So, it seems logical for us to look back at when someone first figures a reference book is needed and compare to the importance of the cookbook in our present day American kitchens. If indeed true, most cooks manage their recipes without measure and rely more on memory, then what role does the cookbook play? Maybe the relevance of the American cookbook is even more relevant these last few years, especially with the advent of convenience meals, fast food, and the Internet.

Sound Track from Julie and Julia song TIME AFTER TIME

Top Types of Cookbooks

Americans' relationship with cuisine is controversial at best. Food is held reverently. It is our friend or our foe for some. Food becomes a part of our roots and tradition, held near and dear as any other family treasure. Last but not least; food is the sustenance of our lifes. So as one of our basic needs, one would then think that our diet should be straightforward in nature. Right? However, the act of acquiring our provisions, pondering our preparations, and our compilation of our American cookbook is astonishing.

EPICURIOUS, a gourmet foodie website, put out a list of 10 Cookbooks that every cook should possess for 2015. Per Epicurious these books were chosen based on the everyday needs of the American household cook. The Joy of Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking/Julia Childs, the cook book titled Baking brings in the intrinsic basics of sweets, The Taste of Country Cooking takes us to southern simplicity and staples, Plenty: fresh take on vegetables, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking are explained by their titles and their contents speak for themselves, The Yankee Church Supper Cookbook rings in for another style called the community collaboration, the Momofuko manifests the expertise of the professional chef, the Zuni Café Cookbook examines technique, and Mexico One Plate at a time placates many of our American palates. The Joy of Cooking is top of the category for "the all-purpose type" of recipes.

You should note that each of these cookbooks represents a category of a cooking style. There are multitudes of cookbooks aimed at ethnic/immigrant recipes. Another type of reference area represents the realm of the elite and focuses on gourmet traditions. There are books for ameteurs, intermediettes, and professionals. For the purpose of the everyday american cookbook, we start our trip back when the first American cookbook came to be. We want to discover why this style collection, "all purpose", made Epicurious's distinction of being at the top. What lies between the covers of the everyday American cookbook?

Perspective of an Almshouse for the Poor

Example of a New England Almshouse
Example of a New England Almshouse

Who was Amelia Simmons, shadows of a life

Documented author Amelia Simmons created the first American cookbook. After reading several sources such as articles on the History Channel,, Wikipedia, and, only a slight background could be built around the first American Cookery and its' author. Unfortunately, there is not much substantiated history on Amelia Simmons, except she lived an orphan of the war/revolutionary war life. It is important to examine Amelia Simmons as an individual in order to better understand what lies between the covers of the everyday American cookbook. As an orphan she would have been a ward of the local government. In colonial days, there was no defined orphanage, only almshouses or poor houses. An almshouse placed out their tenants for apprenticeships or indentured servitude aiding in the cost of the indigents' care. Most likely, Amelia served in capacity of a domestic servant until her debt was paid., indentured service earned freedom from the debt after a number of years. An example may add up to seven years.

Since it seems Amelia's background begins and ends at the publishing of her cookbook, it leaves little to build on. So, we are assuming some character traits she may have possesed. Contrived from her breif history, we should think she became an orphan quite young. The Revolutionary War took place over several years, 1775 through 1783. Normally during this time period, single women typically took on projects within their church community or they were absorbed into the family business. But as orphaned female, Amelia left her servitude a single adult and homeless. The life span during the colonial period averaged age sixty two years old. Of course, life styles and financial standing added or deducted just as it does today. We can create a loose timeline allowing Amelia's servitude, estimating time she needed to write and for her to find a publisher. The documented date of American Cookery publishment is 1798.

Pretend to comprehend the triumph. The timely publishing of " American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, published in Hartford, Connecticut in 1796 by the Hudson and Goodwin Publishers combined personal celebration and civic pride. According to Amelia, she desired to, she wrote, " make young women useful members of society." From this account, we observe Amelia's perception of public opinion pointed at domestics and or women. Servants seldom earned much credit among the entitled. She felt as an outcast. It is also creditable to imagine Amelia someone who is self sufficient, independent, and with a strong disposition. After all, she survived a wartime environment, she succeeded to emerge from servitude, and she was all alone. In addition, we will can assume her self disciplined, self taught, and resourceful. Amelia learned how to read and write, at least rudimentary enough to scribble down her recipes to have them published. The author's personality lies between the covers of america's first cookbook. Simmons acquired the essence of the American Dream. Looking between the covers of American Cookery gives insight into Hudson and Goodwin's decision to published it. Until her copy, any cookbooks available were British in origin. Her American Cookery is the first American cookbook.

Amelia Simmons answers the American Dream

Some factors important in the course of Amelia's cookbook's printing, can be understood further through Hudson and Goodwin's standings at such time. As owners of the Hartford Currant newspaper, Hudson and Goodwin expanded into the publishing of fine books, due to a drop in circulation. The full price of freedom from King George cashed in through casualty of lives, conveniences once accustomed, and effects on colonial businesses. A way of life changed, even if it came by choice. Between the two endeavors, both a publisher of books and editors of a newspaper, Hudson and Goodwin establish "a conservative editorial voice that championed law and order and a strong federal government". Their Hartford Currant sends a chord amidst a newborn country as a formidable voice with printing the "Federalists paper".

Aside from Amelia Simmons' proclaimed purpose for providing an audience of first line young women a reliable foundation, the first American cookbook is relevant because it revolves around the new and unique ingredients and ingenuity found only in America. Up until then, contemporary British books began to incorporate certain American items. Ingredients such as turkey, potatoes, even chocolate, vanilla, and tomatoes infiltrated their pages by the end of the century. However, Amelia's recipes covered indigenous items like corn. Cornmeal, a derivative of Indian's corn became a big part of her repertoire. She has five recipes that demonstrate this ingredient. Three for Indian Pudding, one for Johnny or Hoe Cake and one for Indian Slapjacks contrived from cornmeal. Historians view Amelia's most pertinent contribution to early american culinary ingenuity, "Perhaps the most far-reaching innovation was the introduction of pearlash, a well-known staple in the colonial American household, as a chemical leavening in doughs. This practice eventually led to the compounding of modern baking powders."

Just as any author Amelia Simmons aims her contents toward those she writes. She portrays her peers' tastes, and addresses her "audience" needs. Her formula makes American Cookery popular enough to be reprinted for thirty years. She accomplishes this by instructing the use of American ingredients for American young women and incorporating traditional English dishes like "Shrewsbury Cake," "Marlborough Pudding," and "Royal Paste". That is what lies between the covers of america's first cookbook.

Shrewsbury Cakes

Finished Product
Finished Product | Source

The Founding Fathers Family Dinner Table

Another Layer Lies Between the Covers of America's Everyday Cookbook

After Amelia Simmons' recording of colonial food trends, America continued to change. Various writings at,,Wikipedia, and show food trends throughout the decades solidify each other into a mutual scenario. The 19th century food and cultural trends culminate throughout the Civil war adding layers between the covers of the everyday American cookbook.

The industrial revolution rings in the Victorian age. Thousands of people move from the farms to cities chasing the promise of work and prosperity. It is an era represented by materialism. Houses are very large with many small rooms. the exteriors of houses were often brightly colored and decorated with gingerbread trims. Opulence didn't stop outside the house, the American Victorian architecture acts as advertisement, stating station just as much as it's food. Prominent Houses showcase success in the front of the house used for guests, while the more utilitarian aspects keep to the private side of the house. Commonly, they would have grand dinners with dancing, piano recitals, and plenty of gastric delights but daily dinners kept simple and basic.

Publishing for Prominence

Again, a closer examination of the people and practices involved allow insight toward a Successful American cookbook. Social class is a predominant factor forged into the 19th century life style. The poverty stricken, the working poor, the middle class, and of course, high society (old money) each subject to culinary differentials. These differences create a wider crevice between circles determined by residence within urban or city limits compared to those that live in the suburbs or farms.

"New Money" wealth, which developed with the "Industrial Revolution" extended America's wealthy to a new height. Culturally, these new rich were very different. They often grew up and then became self made wealthy. "The new rich" had an unique taste pallette accustomed to simpler and traditional American food rather than the old rich's French cuisine. A culmination of both old and new lied between the covers of the everyday American cookbook. "French culinary signifiers like creaming, breading and deep-frying, patty shells, mayonnaise, meringue toppings, and many others are rampant in late-Victorian American cookbooks, especially in those of the influential Fannie Farmer".

Cookbooks published in this era are varied as are the people. There is Fannie Farmer's, The Boston Cooking School for the higher class population, Good Housekeeping for middle, and the Settlement Cookbook focused on the Russian/Jewish community immigrants. Like Amelia, another woman author carved out a piece of the American dream. She came up with the Settlement Cookbook. Her name is Kander.

"Cities expand rapidly under the onslaught of immigrants from 1880-1900. New York City grew from 1.9 million to 3.4 million." After escaping tyrannic countries and troubling trials of famine many of them still find themselves stuck in poor paying jobs and impoverished living conditions after their arrival. Kander lived within these new circles of Americans.

A volunteer within the Jewish Women's Community, Kander spent time at a settlement house. As adminstrator, she considered options open to the funding predicament faced by the charity. Working with immigrants and their families, Kander educated them to American ways of life. She taught cooking classes to help "Americanize the family and educate immigrants on nutrition." It became clear her answer lied within the immigrants themselves. Answering the necessary instruction on Americanized living, she adopted favorites and traditions of "the old country" to fit present circumstances. Kander added flavor between the covers of the everyday American cookbook. She published the 174-page collection of recipes, household tips and advise by selling sponsorship.

Different Times Different Trends in a Cookbook

What is in a cookbook
What is in a cookbook | Source

The Rewritten Recipe

The turn of the new century clashes with change. Culinary comforts of the Victorian age and The Roaring 20's are put on the back burner. The Twentieth century grapples with The First World War, followed by the Great Depression, healed only by the harkening to World War II. These factors force Americans to practice practicality and rations. Our everyday household cookbooks adjusting accordingly. They underwent efforts to fit in with the days' needs answering questions for all purposes. Some disappear along with the past, while some remain as relied on favorites even today. Editions of The Joy of Cooking, continues to be at the top of these collections. One characteristic carried on from Amelia Simmons' American Cookery is the call to continue instructing and serving as a point of reference for the American kitchen. It is what lies between the covers of our every day American cookbook.

Realizing guidance and advise on Stretching meals, saving money, and eliminating wastefulness struck the chords for most American families became crucial. Aside from shortages of cash and supplies, the war and hard times set many new precedence never before seen. For example, women entered the working world in positions before were held by men. Dinner now needed to be quick, flavorful, and fulfilling. Soups, meatloaf, casseroles, and other ways to make small quantities of protein fill a family meal filled cookbook pages.

A new dimension entered as Food companies and Women's magazines became the backbone in the Retro period cookbooks. Companies like Campbell's, Nabisco, Kraft, Jello, and others came out with recipes to spur purchases of their products such as soups, Spam, and Ritz Crackers while simultaneously introducing convenience foods and rations. Striking a service as suppliers and advisors offered a profitable sum for the industry notables. It started a whole new category lying between the covers of our every day American cookbook.

Passing on Thanksgiving Traditions

Conclusion: Formula for the Future

Our travels back to the present shows us the ties we have to our past. The American cookbooks still are points of reference for our households. Many of the needs of families in the past are very similar to those of our current families. For most of us, we are part of double income families, living in urban communities, with limited time, trying to stretch out the American dollar as far as possible. Our cookbooks are sources to find answers on how to succeed at this, they show us the arts of our ancestors, and carry on our American traditions. The recipe for relevance of cookbooks in the American Household is that it needs to remain constant, be consistent, understand the current audience, and convey a sense of community.

Community Cookbooks

Community style Cookbook from my own collection... Recipe for "Widow Cake" by Pearl Hatfield is my Grandmother
Community style Cookbook from my own collection... Recipe for "Widow Cake" by Pearl Hatfield is my Grandmother | Source

© 2015 Tracey Walsh


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    • TraceyWalsh profile image

      Tracey Walsh 17 months ago from WINDSOR LOCKS, CT

      Thank you for participating in the poll question. It definitely helps support my article. The Everyday American cookbook is still relevant in today's households :)

    • profile image

      Shannon 17 months ago

      I love this article! There is so many facts & so much truth behind all this. Mom you did an amazing job! Hope to read more written by you! I love you and how passionate you are!

    • NancySnyder profile image

      Nancy Snyder 16 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Hello Tracey, I enjoyed your article. You obviously spent a lot of time and research on this piece. As a foodie and history geek I greatly appreciate your effort. Nice job!

    • MayberryHomemaker profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 15 months ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      As a marketer of community cookbooks, I really enjoyed your article. I look forward to following you here on HubPages. Great job!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 12 months ago

      I use the internet for most of my recipes but I do have a few favorite books with wonderful recipes I will always keep in my cupboard. Your article is so interesting and brings back memories of how much a cookbook was part of my childhood.

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