by Amelia Simmons
A great looking facsimile edition of Amelia Simmons's American Cookery from the volume in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Named by the Library of Congress as one of the 88 "Books That Shaped America," American Cookery was the first cookbook by an American author published in the United States. Until its publication, cookbooks printed and used by American colonists were British. As indicated in Amelia Simmons’s subtitle, the recipes in her book were “adapted to this country,” reflecting the fact that American cooks had learned to make do with what was available in North America. This cookbook reveals the rich variety of food colonial Americans used, their tastes, cooking and eating habits, and even their rich, down-to-earth language.
Bringing together English cooking methods with truly American products, American Cookery contains the first known printed recipes substituting American maize for English oats; and the recipe for Johnny Cake is apparently the first printed version using cornmeal. The book also contains the first known recipe for turkey. Possibly the most far-reaching innovation was Simmons’s use of pearlash—a staple in colonial households as a leavening agent in dough, which eventually led to the development of modern baking powders.
About the Author
There is no formal biography of Amelia Simmons available, except what is listed on the cover of her cookbook: “Amelia Simmons, an American orphan.” From the language of the book and its publishing history, culinary historians have deduced that she was most likely a domestic servant without formal education. (She describes enlisting a transcriber to write out the book for her.) Simmons probably came from the Hudson Valley region, and the basic content of the recipes indicates that she was a “good plain cook,” to substantiate the theory of her origins.