Category Archives: Books

Amelia Simmons: Here’s to the Women Who Wrote Cookbooks

Amelia Simmons broke new ground with her cookbook–American through and through. Although the 1796 book is brief–the title is not.  American Cookery, or the art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables, and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves, and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plum to plain cake: Adapted to this country, and all grades of life.

Amelia Simmons

American Cooker, 1796, by Amelia Simmons.

 Amelia Simmons’ cookbook contains recipes unique to America. And sometimes just—unique.

To Make a Fine Syllabub From the Cow

Sweeten a quart of cider with double refined sugar.  Grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow into your liquid. When you have added the right quantity of milk, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it.

Milking

Winslow Homer, Milking 1875

Two things struck me about Amelia Simmons cookbook the first time I looked at it.  One was the incredible effort that our great-great-great grandmothers had to put into cooking.  So many ingredients and tools that we take for granted were not available to them.  The second thing that struck me was the delightful first section on purchasing foods, including meat.

Getting a Rise Out of Flour

I won’t try to catalog all the various difficulties that our XX-great grandmothers went through ( we have discussed the problem of cooking in a wood fired oven before, for instance).  Let’s just focus on leavening. She could not buy baking soda or packaged yeast in the store, and baking powder hit the store shelves nearly one hundred years after the Revolutionary War, baking light cakes or high-rising bread caused much extra work.

Eggs and Air

In Martha Washington’s time, for instance, you had to find mechanical means to incorporate air into products and use LOTS of eggs.  Amelia advises that you beat sugar and butter together for half an hour, and the recipes in her cookbook assume you own a lot of productive laying hens.

Saleratus

However, the pioneer and colonial housewives experimented with other means of getting the fine cakes and breads they wanted.  They made ale, and knew that the leavings from that process contained yeast that could also be used in bread.  And they used saleratus, a crude substitute for baking soda.

The process for making saleratus was complex and the effort resulted in a powder whose strength could not be exactly calculated and was easily contaminated. Since acid needed to balance the saleratus, you will see a lot of use of buttermilk. That explains why Amelia Simmons adds wine to practically everything she cooks and bakes. Unlike her predecessor English cookbooks she doesn’t specify the type of wine, because she is not using wine for flavoring. She is using it for leavening.

Pearlash

The use of pearlash seemed somewhat simpler, since our great-grandmothers were already making soap and using pearlash for that.  This article explains the making of pearlash.  Amelia Simmons uses pearlash in many of the recipes in her cookbook for leavening. (I could make those recipes by substituting 2 teaspoons of baking soda for one teaspoon of pearlash.)

When you understand this ingredient being used, you can understand the striking use of quantities of caraway seed in so many recipes.  Pearlash, being ash, had a smoky taste.  Caraway seed helped cover that taste.

Emptins

Amelia Simmons also used “emptins” in her recipes.  The word is a colloquial version of “emptyings,” the dregs of the wine or cider or beer barrels that is used by housewives for yeast, and she includes a recipe for emptins, which, like sourdough, requires some already fermented emptins to get it started. (I was unable to find a surefire way to substitute for this liquid yeast.)

The Intrusive Shopping Section

As much as I enjoy the shopping section, I sympathize with Amelia, who having little education, put herself in the hands of someone else to assemble and manage the printing of the book. In the second printing, she included an insert railing at the changes made by the unknown editor of the first printing, including omitting flour for thickening puddings and doubling the amount of “emptins” needed for a cake.

For some details, read this excellent article. A revelation about the section on purchasing and other changes in issue one from Atlantic Magazine.

Today, the synopses of the book that you find generally do not recognize the adulteration of her original edition, and I was unable to find the second printing available in reprint. American Heritage Magazine article, apparently unaware of the fact that Simmons was not the author of the “shopping” section, contains other interesting insights.  So the errors carry on, and give us cause to be wary when trying her recipes.

Nevertheless, the shopping section is a delight to read. Sorry, Amelia.

A Recipe from Amelia Simmon’s Cookbook

Carrot pudding

Carrot pudding, baked, top view

Not having any emptins lying around, and not having a cow to milk into my syllabub, I found some limitations as to what I could cook from this book. Fortunately, the puddings are simple. (Provided they aren’t spoiled by the above mentioned omission of flour.) So I chose Carrot Pudding.  Here is her recipe in its entirety.

Carrot Pudding

A coffee cup full of boiled and strained carrots, 5 eggs, 2 ounces sugar and butter each, cinnamon and rosewater to your taste.  Bake in a deep dish without paste.

Without paste means it is not a pie filling–no pastry. (Although I don’t see why you could not put this into a crust. Now THAT would be something new on your table–Carrot Pie. And here is my adaptation.

Carrot Pudding from Amelia Simmons

Serves 4
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 45 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 5 minutes
Allergy Egg
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Dessert
Misc Child Friendly, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold, Serve Hot
From book American Cookery by Amelia Simmons
America's first cookbook by Amelia Simmons presents this simple pudding recipe, a good way to get veggies into the non-veggie eaters in your family.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups Cooked carrots (mashed smooth)
  • 5 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons butter (softened)
  • 4 heaped tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1 Tablespoon rosewater)

Directions

1. Boil two large carrots, cut in chunks, until they are very soft.
2. Mash carrots or rub through grater or run in food processor until smooth.
3. Mix sugar and softened butter. Beat in 5 eggs one at a time.
4. Add flavorings and stir thoroughly.
5. Pour into buttered one to one and a half quart Pyrex dish, sprinkle nutmeg or mace on top and bake at 350 degrees until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. About 45 minutes.

Note

I used a 1 and 1/2 quart pyrex bowl. The bowl is 7 1/2 " in diameter and the pudding was about two inches deep in the center. It turns out that I could have used a smaller bowl. I imagine if the pudding is deeper, it might need to bake slightly longer.

Although Amelia did not suggest a water bath for baking, I am used to placing a pudding bowl (rice pudding or pumpkin pudding) into a larger shallow pan with hot water, so I did that here. I wasn't concerned with the water coming up the sides of the bowl, just adding enough water to create a moist environment in the oven.

The pudding is very liquid when you mix it, but don't worry, all those eggs will solidify it.

You can also see from the picture that this pudding is a good deal more grainy than silky.

 

 

Last week, I started this series of tributes to women who wrote cookbooks because I believe they were hugely influential in the lives of our ancestors. If you want to see the first tribute and the list of outstanding cookbook authors, here’s the link.

And for THE REST of the story on leavening, you can always delve into a whole book on Baking Powder Wars: The Cutthroat Food Fight that Revolutionized Cooking by Linda Civitello. (Available in ebook form at Google Books for $9.99).

Or watch the series of videos about leavening at https://youtu.be/w_ozzlKJivA, the wonderful Townsend web and You Tube sites that tell all about Colonial cooking.

Hannah Glasse cookbook

Hannah Glasse: Here’s to the Women Who Wrote Cookbooks

For Women’s History Month I will introduce you to some women who were deeply influential in our country, starting with my friend* Hannah Glasse.  Not politicians, not scientists (well applied science, maybe), but definitely a unique variety of artists.  I am talking about early women cookbook authors.

Boswell wrote that Samuel Johnson said, “Although women can spin very well, they cannot make a good book of cookery.”

Forget Samuel Johnson. Each week this month, I will give you a little information about how one of these women helped her sisters in eighteenth and nineteenth century America.

For the family historian, these women cookbook authors provide an invaluable guide to how your ancestors in aprons lived and cooked. For the foodie, the books gives us clues to why we eat the way we do.

The Women and Their Books

  • 1774 – Hannah Glasse. The earliest cookbooks and household management books distributed in the colonies came from England. Men were the authors of many of these cookbooks. However, a woman wrote the most influential early cookbook in the colonies , The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse.
  • 1796 – Amelia Simmons. Simmons assembled the first known cookbook written by an American for an American audience, American Cookery.
  • 1824 – Mary Randolph. A pattern of including household management and efficiency along with “receipts” started with The Virginia House-Wife or Methodical Cook by Mary Randolph.
  • 1830 – Annie Frost.  I have referred frequently here at Ancestors in Aprons to Godey’s Lady’s Book (Magazine) that included recipes and household hints. Frost wrote the cooking sections and the cookbook Godey’s Lady’s Book of receipts published in 1870. Founded by Louis A. Godey in 1830 and edited by Sarah Josepha Hale until 1877, Godey’s Lady’s Book won a huge following for all those years. After Hale left and the magazine was sold, it expired just before the start of the new century.
  • 1861 – Isabella Beeton, whose book The Book of Household Management Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort (pause to take a breath) was published in England.  Beeton could be called the Martha Stewart of her day.
  • 1866 – Miss Malinda Russell. It has taken a couple of centuries for historians to realize the important influence of African-American kitchen slaves on what we think of as American cooking. But the first cookbook by a former slave makes it clear.  Domestic Cook Book: Containing a Selection of Useful Precepts, self-published by Miss Malinda Russell, explains that the book “follows the plan of The Virginia Housewife.” I suspect if Mary Randolph had been totally honest, she would have acknowledged that while the plan of her book belonged to her, most of the recipes came from slave cooks.

Hannah Glasse

Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) writes for the edification of British Victoria-era servants rather than the wives of American frontier farmers. Nevertheless, her practical advice contains wisdom for the ages. Her book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy first appeared in 1747. Her husband, John Glasse, whom she had married in 1724, died the year her book was published. The same year, she started her seamstress business.

Apparently the business did not do well, because by 1754, sources believe she declared herself bankrupt . She auctioned off the rights to her popular book, and was declared out of bankruptcy in 1755. However, in 1757 she again was broke and serving time in debtors prison. Apparently she put her time in prison to good use, because when she got out, she published The Servants Directory. While The Art of Cookery continued to make money for others, her new book did not catch on. Her third book, The Complete Confectioner focusing on preserved fruit, wine and desserts appeared in 1760. Several editions appeared, but the final book never achieved the popularity The Art of Cookery. (Some sources say this was her first book rather than her third.)

During their twenty-three years of marriage,John and Hannah, who worked as servants, had 10   children, five of whom survived childhood.

*I think of Hannah Glasse as a close friend. Although she was born a mere 231 years before me, her writing style and general approach to life make her seem like a next door neighbor I might swap recipes with.

Hannah Glasse’s Cooking

If nothing else, I will always have a warm spot in my heart for her because of this one phrase:

“Most people spoil garden things by over boiling them. All things green should have a little crispness, for if they are overboil’d they neither have sweetness or beauty.”

Hannah Glasse had a rough life including a stint in debtor’s prison which resulted in her having to sell the rights to The Art of Cookery. In an age of Upstairs-Downstairs, Hannah Glasse was solidly downstairs. Not an educated upper class person like some of the successful women authors, Hannah had worked for years as a servant, and later started a dressmaking shop of her own. She says in her introduction (which seems to be written more for the lady of the house who might buy the book for her servants) that she makes things simple so the information can be understood by the “lower sort.”  For instance, she says, the reader might not understand if she said to use lardoons, so she says bacon.

Economy and efficiency guide her recipes and other household advice.  What’s the point in using an expensive ingredient if a cheaper one will do the job?

“I have known of a cook who used 6 pounds of butter to fry 12 eggs, when everybody knows who understands cooking, that half a pound is enough.”
Hannah Glasse cookbook

Hannah Glasse 1770 edition frontspiece

“As marketing must be the first branch of cookery, I shall begin with that table first.”

You must have a strong stomach to follow her instructions on checking whether meat is fresh.  Thank goodness for refrigeration!  Nowadays we feel virtuous if we buy food in season. However our great-great grandmothers were restricted not only in season for vegetables and fruits, but in buying poultry (for instance).

I mentioned earlier Glasse’s recipe for curried chicken–an early use of the Indian style of cooking.

While some of the recipes may sound arcane, her sauces for boiled turkey sound delicious. For instance–oyster sauce and celery sauce.

Oyster Sauce

Take a pint of oysters and set them off, strain the liquor from them, put them in cold water, and wash and beard them, put them into your liquor in a stew pan with a blade of mace, and some butter rolled in flour and a quarter of a lemon; boil them up, then put in half a pint of cream, & boil it together gently, take the lemon and mace out, squeeze the juice of the lemon in the sauce, then serve it in your boat or basin.

Celery Sauce

Take the white part of celery, cut it about one inch long; boil it in some water til it is tender, then take a half pint of veal broth, a blade of mace, and thicken it with a little flour and butter, put in half a pint of cream, boil them up gently together, put in your celery and boil it up, then pour it in your  boat.

On the other hand, what might have seemed simple to the Victorian era cook–a servant preparing a meal for entertaining a dozen or more people–definitely does not sound simple to us.  “Beat for two hours together”??  Check out this post with a recipe for Seed Cake.

Your Own Copy of The Art of Cookery

There are many ways you can acquire Hannah Glasse’s delightful cookbook and most of them are totally free.  Be aware that the various version will be different, depending on who was editing (and amending) the original.  If you want a real  1747 version just go to ABE Books (and be thankful no one can send you to debtor’s prison).

YouTube Find an audio version of the 1748 version, with editor’s notes laying out the somewhat arrogant sounding corrections and additions made by the editor.

Google Books — Just a few of the many editions available in digital form. All of these come after Hannah Glasse sold her rights to the book.

1765 edition

1780 edition

1791, 20th edition

1805 edition  First edition published in America

1830 edition

Print and Digital Editions

If you prefer not to shell out thousands for that original first edition, you can find print (reproduction)  copies and various editions for your digital reader at Amazon.com

The American Edition 1805

The Hannah Glasse book continued racking up sales in many, many editions, both during her lifetime and after her death.  Editions popped up in countries around the world for nearly one hundred years after the original publication in 1747. The American printed version that I have, published in 1805, contains a few recipes native to America–Indian pudding, pumpkin pie, cranberry tarts and maple syrup.

If your ancestors owned Cookery, they likely would own the 1805 edition printed in America. Although I have read that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and Ben Franklin all owned editions much earlier.

I’m happy to have introduced you to Hannah Glasse, who I am convinced influenced many of my female ancestors, even though very few of them hired servants.

Book Review:Restaurants in American Food History


Recommended reading for food and genealogy buffs: Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman

Restaurants and History

Today we take restaurants for granted. We ask “where do you want to go?” when celebrating birthdays, anniversarys and holidays.  Families have a multitude of choices for a quick meal. More upscale restaurants provide baby chairs and booster seats to accomodate the kids, assuming they will serve families. We expect five minute service, food that is predictably the same in any region of the country and refillable drink cups in fast food restaurants.  In finer dining establishments we take for granted they will offer a wide range of foods, many sourced from outside our country. Or they will offer seasonal, locally sourced food. The decor will be individual: calm, exciting, or exotic depending on the restaurant.

We can easily forget how recently restaurants as we know them today arrived on the scene.

Early Restaurants were Taverns

Old etching of Red Horse Tavern/ Wayside Inn, used with permission of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn archives.

The taverns that welcomed stagecoach riders came first in this country. My Howe ancestors ran Howe’s Tavern in Sudbury Massachusetts, and I have written about that tavern, and stayed at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, the descendent of Howe Tavern, now the oldest operating inn in the United States. And the header photograph on this page shows the family restaurant operated by my grandmother and grandfather in the 1930’s in Killbuck, Ohio.

The Restaurants That Changed America

A new book, Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freedman traces the path by which we traveled from taverns to, for instance McDonalds or Chez Panisse. I highly recommend the book to family historians who want to know more about how the every day lives of their ancestors.

Clearly, this is not about the ten best Restaurants in America–a subject that could be argued vociferously at your next dinner party.  Instead, it is an analysis of what trends developed in our eating habits, and who started those trends. Freedman digs deep to find out what lies behind trends in dining out. The book is enlivened with insider information about incidents and people and the reader can visualize choosing what to eat from the historic menus that illustrate the book.

What restaurants would you put on a list of the innovators?  When I asked friends, they had a little trouble getting past the idea that I was not asking for best– I was asking for innovations that influenced the development of the way we eat today.

Where Did Your Ancestors and Family Dine Out?

Of course you can also play the game of “how many of these have you eaten at?”  Although some expired before you were born.  So a better game is, “do you have ancestors who might have eaten at these restaurants?

Delmonico’s

Delmonico's Restaurant

Supper after the Opera at Delmonico’s, New York, 1898, engraving by Albert Sterner, public domain

I think particularly of Delmonico’s in New York City, the place to be seen in turn of the century America, when emphasis was on elegant and lush surroundings and meals consisting of a bewildering number of courses and amounts of food.  My great uncle, William Morgan Stout and his wife Jean lived in Manhattan and were in the social class that could afford Delmonico’s.  I can imagine them dining there, and now have a better idea of what they might have ordered.  I knew oysters were popular in that period, but was not aware how people would choose wild game and duck, something I learned from the text and  the menu illustrations. Also, lush paintings of people give me clues about hair styles and clothing of the period.

Schrafft’s and Antoine’s

The section on Schrafft‘s in New York made me focus on how differently women were treated, even in the early twentieth century.  Antoine’s in New Orleans brings forward the dominance of French cooking in the United States and a “destination restaurant”.

Mamma Leone’s

When in college, I traveled with a friend from Ohio to New York City in 1959 and we dined at Mamma Leone’s. (While this qualifieds as current history for me, for my younger readers, it might be the experience of grandmother.)

At the time, I had no idea the restaurant  was setting new expectations for an ethnic restaurant. I just knew that Mamma Leone’s fame had spread all the way to Ohio. There Italian food, while not completely unknown, did not feature on many restaurant menus. I remember Mama Leone’s restaurant served a huge numer of people (4,000 a night according to Freedman). Dining here was an experience– huge portions food comfortably Americanized Italian. Noise and excitement characterized the atmosphere.

Freedman says:

Mama Leone’s combined many of these images {love of music, amorous appreciation, spontaneity, and volatile personality} refining them into an early example of a “theme” restaurant, a place where the staged ambience is as important as the food.

In its forty-year heyday, 1930-1970, it provided staggering portions in a setting that offered huge capacity, strolling musicians and distracting surroundings.

The authors points out that Italian food as transformed from its early small family-run places appealing to the “artsy” crowd, to mass dining for the middle class to the point where Italian food is now “the preferred cuisine of the upper class.”

HoJo’s Restaurant

Howard Johnson's Restaurants

Howard Johnson’s Restaurant, U.S. Alternate Route 1 (on the by-pass), Fredericksburg, Va. 1930-1945, Boston Public Library

My family has always loved road trips–going back to my grandfather and grandmother’s car camping and my mother’s summer trips with fellow teachers. Perhaps we should count great-great-grandfather Jesse Morgan and his insatiable wander lust in that group. But those road trips had something in common. The miserable food, either cooked over a campfire or poorly prepared stuff in a rooming house.

Road trips had changed by the sixties. My husband and I and our three sons set off for Washington D.C. and to Cape Cod. The New England portion of the trip included my husband’s parents and sister. Any trip with my father-in-law inevitably included stops at Howard Johnson‘s.  Paul Badertscher took a conservative approach to life and liked the predictability of Howard Johnson’s restaurants. You could count on the food from place to place. You could count on the cleanliness. And there was a comfortable hominess in eating in the familiar turquoise and orange collored surroundings. Besides, an Ohioan indulged in adventurous eating by ordering fried clams. Wayne County, Ohio menus did not include clams.

Freedman sees Howard Johnson’s restaurants known by the nickname HoJo’s, as pioneers.  Without Howard Johnson’s we might not have the roadside fast food places we have today like McDonald’s and Denny’s.  Johnson pioneered central food production sites that shipped food to individual restaurants. The operation included detailed instructions on preparation that guaranteed every site would be serving identical plates of food. In addition, the decor and architecture would be designed to be identical. The restaurants with their brightly colored, angled roofs could be found along major highways. The architecture attracted travelers because of their brightly colored, angled roofs even before you were close enough to read the sign.

Other Restaurants That Changed the Way We Eat

I have mentioned only a few of the ten restaurants Freedman talks about. The others, in roughly chronological order are:

The Mandarin, San Francisco, that took Chinese food upscale.

Sylvia‘s, Harlem, brought Southern black “soul food” to a white clientele.

Le Pavillion, New York, the New French cooking in mid-century.

The Four Seasons, New York, combining a modern aesthetic with the concept of seasonal foods.

Chez Panisse in Oakland, starting the strongest trend in today’s dining–locally sourced foods.

I hope you will leave a note and tell me if any of the restaurants in this list strike a note with you. Realizing that the restaurants are almost all in New York, your ancestors may not have eaten in that particular one. But in their time period, do the innovations shed light on how you family might have eaten?

Note:  I am not under the illusion that many people sit breathlessly waiting for a post from Ancestors in Aprons. However, for those who might wonder about my absence in the last few weeks, I would like to reassure you that all is well. And thanks for sticking around. I have pulled back from writing regularly in order to go deeper in some research.  I do have one more letter related to Jesse Morgan to share with you before I move away from his fascinating life. If you have not read about the wandering Jesse, please type his name in the search bar and decide whether he was a scoundrel or something less damning.