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What Lies Between the Covers of the First American Cookbook

Updated on August 15, 2017
TraceyWalsh profile image

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

The American Cookbook

My Personal collection of cookbooks
My Personal collection of cookbooks

INTRO: Reasons the American Cookbook is a Reference Book

As a self taught home cook for many years now, I followed the recent trend of food television flunkies and nostalgia junkie, to satisfy my hunger for knowledge. My tastes stirred up visions of women over retro stoves and weilding wooden spoons through the air. I wanted a project that would solidify where the fondness for our American cookbook developed.

To begin, it is important that we understand the content included in this reference book. Obviously, we will find recipes. Where do recipes come from? Perhaps passed on from family, perhaps they are discovered purely by accident, or polished up through our trial and error attempts. Recipes are printed in magazines, performed by renowned personalities, or 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 this and a dash of that, in which case 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 a collection of procedures and directions on how to prepare, cook, and serve a dish to guide us when necessary.

When did someone recognize the need of a reference book for the kitchen? If indeed true, most cooks managed their recipes without measure and relied more on memory, then what role did the cookbook play? Over the years, bursts of culinary revolutions executed styles and preparations that perpetuated instructions to evolve. This is one reason relevance of the American cookbook is even more relevant these last few years.

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 comes from our roots and tradition, held near and dear as any other family treasure. Last but not least; food is the sustenance of life. As one of our basic needs, one would think that our diet should be straightforward in nature. Right? Not so much, the act of acquiring our provisions, pondering our preparations, and the 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 represents the realm of the elite and focuses on gourmet traditions. There are books for ameteurs, intermediettes, and professionals.

For the purpose of discovering why this style collection, "all purpose", makes Epicurious's distinction of being at the top we have to look back when the first American cookbook surfaced. 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.

To better understand what lies between the covers of the everyday cookbook, it is important to examine Amelia Simmons as an individual. 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 for an adult may add up to seven years but a child would be under contract til their age of maturity. After reaching age of consent, an apprentice most likely continued their employment with their former benefactor.

Since it seems Amelia's background begins and ends at the publishing of her cookbook, it leaves little to build on. Contrived from her breif history, we can assume 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. As an orphaned female, Amelia may have continued her current station with the added benefit of wages. A sense of her character traits become visible by her sheer survival. Survival during this time evades many, sickness and natives narrowing a person's odds. The average life span being 62 years of age. Amelia self educating herself and wanting to share that knowledge shows as caring. Taking everything she knows to paper is her way to contribute to society attempting to better life for someone else. Self discipline, compassion, independence, vision, and humility strengthen her commitment to complete her calling.

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, her desire, she wrote, " make young women useful members of society." From this account, we observe Amelia's accurate perception of public opinion pointing at domestics and or women. Servants seldom earn much credit among the entitled. They are outcasts. The author's personalityis what lies between the covers of america's first cookbook. Simmons is the quintessential essence of the American Dream. Looking between the covers of American Cookery gives insight into Hudson and Goodwin's decision to publish it. Until her copy, any cookbooks available were British in origin. Her American Cookery is the first American cookbook.

The Founding Fathers Family Dinner Table

© 2015 Tracey Walsh


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    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      2 years 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.

    • MayberryHomemaker profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 

      3 years 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!

    • NancySnyder profile image

      Nancy Snyder 

      3 years 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!

    • profile image


      3 years 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!

    • TraceyWalsh profile imageAUTHOR

      Tracey Walsh 

      3 years 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 :)


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