Cooking By the Book

Feb 13, 2013

Did you know that the first cookbook ever written in America was published in Hartford?  The book, American Cookery, is assumed to have been self-published because the words “For the Author” appear on the title page.  It was printed by Hudson and Goodwin Company of Hartford, Conn. in 1796, only twenty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Before this time, all of the cookbooks that were printed in America were copied from English texts. 

Not much is known about Amelia Simmons herself. All that is known is what can be surmised from her cookbook. The cover and titles pages list her as “Amelia Simmons, an American Orphan.” She was probably a domestic laborer since her preface states that female orphans may be “reduced to the necessity of going into families in the line of domestics.” Because the first edition was printed in Hartford, Connecticut, historians have assumed that Simmons was a New Englander. The book features New England specialties such as Indian pudding and johnny cakes. However her use of some Dutch vocabulary has led to speculation that she may have come from the Hudson Valley region.

The book is historically important not just for being a “first,” but because of the recipes that it includes. American Cookery was the first cookbook to combine English recipes with American products. More specifically, it contains the first known printed recipes which substitute American maize, or cornmeal, for English oats. It also contains the first known printed recipe for turkey with cranberries. Turkeys are found only in North and Central America. The introduction of these new ingredients marked the beginning of a truly American cuisine that mixed old traditions and ingredients mixed with new ones.          

American Cookery became so popular that thirteen known editions were been printed, but only four copies left of the first edition are known to survive. You can see one of those rare first editions in the Connecticut Historical Society’s exhibit “Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart.” The exhibit, created by students from Central Connecticut University and the University of Hartford, uses cookbooks and artifacts from the museum’s collection to explore the changing culture and values demonstrated by cooking throughout history. The Connecticut Historical Society is located on One Elizabeth Street, Hartford, CT. The exhibition is open through April 4th, Tuesday through Friday 12:00-5:00pm and Saturday 9:00am-5:00pm.

For more information on related events and to contribute to an online cookbook, please visit www.chs.org. Two CCSU students, Timothy Adams and Sebastian Holquist collaborated on this article as part of their class project.