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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

"Connecticut Thanksgiving Chicken Pie," by Mrs. A. L. Webster, as prepared by Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald

Connecticut Thanksgiving Chicken Pie
Mrs. Webster's 1844 Connecticut Thanksgiving Chicken Pie. Here it is, ready for eating!

 

Clearly from the name she gave her recipe, Mrs. Webster thought Thanksgiving was a time for pies--and not only of the sweet variety. This savory one is as delightful an addition to the banquet today as it was in the 1840s when the recipe was first published. The tradition of adding savory pies to the meal was widespread in New England, in part because domesticated turkeys in the nineteenth century and earlier were generally smaller than ours today, weighing on average eight pounds or less. To feed hungrey dinner guests, the turkey was supplemented with roast meats and other dishes, such as this one. We think this is a Thanksgiving tradition well worth reviving. Read More 

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"Apple Pie," by Lydia Maria Child, as prepared by Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald

Apple Pie, a classic version from 1833 by abolitionist, novelist, and children's writer Lydia Maria Child

 

In our book Northern Hospitality, we include a selection of apple pies from early New England, including some that originated in England. We've got recipes for "An Apple Pudding," by E. Smith from 1739 (a delightful custard pie), "An Apple Pye," by Hannah Glasse from 1747 (made in a dish, with no bottom crust and an elegant puff pastry topping), and even a poisonous one, Elizabeth Raffald's "A Codling Pye"(1769), in which the recommended method for cooking the codlings in a brass pan with vine leaves produced toxic verdigris! But let's leave those English cooks and their recipes be for now, and make a real American apple pie. Our all-time favorite early American version is a straightforward rendition by a great nineteenth-century American woman, Lydia Maria Child. Read our book--or just look around online--if you want to know more of Child's fascinating life. And after you do, may we suggest that in honor of her service to humanity, her personal integrity, her creativity--or simply because she was a great cook--you make her luscious apple pie? Read More 

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"Pompkin" Pudding (Pie), by Amelia Simmons, as made by Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald

Amelia Simmons, author of the first published recipe for American pumpkin pie, made two versions, including this two-crust beauty!

 

We devote an entire section of a chapter on pies in Northern Hospitality to the pumpkin pie. Why so many pumpkin pie recipes? Because it turns out that the pumpkin pie as we know it is only one of many versions early New Englanders baked. Before there was the custardized pumpkin pie that Americans came to call their own, there was a somewhat odd pumpkin pie made in Britain and throughout the British colonies. Yup, folks liked it. It called for frying pumpkin strips in an herb-and-spice-laden pancake batter, known by its medieval name of froiz, then cutting up the pancakey pumpkin strips and layering them in the bottom of the pie with apple slices, currants, and lots of butter. Then, after the two-crust pie was baked . . . well, we'll leave the addition of the wine caudle to the warm pie for you to read about in Northern Hospitality (p, 301), or in a post about it elsewhere on this blog! Read More 

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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons: #17 and #18

Albany Edition of American Cookery, 1796


17
A few years after he published the second edition of American Cookery, the Albany printer Charles R. Webster received a letter from President John Adams thanking him for his patriotism. Webster was a captain in Albany’s Independent Artillery Company, and when it seemed that war with France was about to break out, he volunteered the Company’s services to the President.

18
In 1807 in a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, newspaper, five cookbooks were advertised, including American Cookery. In today’s money, the prices were $27.50, $20, $15, $12.50, and $5. Any idea which of the cookbooks was going for the way lowest price of $5?

These intimate details about life in the young republic—a printer’s social position and political allegiances, prices of books—paint a picture of early American society we don’t often see. How do such portraits of ordinary American life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out in our just released book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

 

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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the First American Cookbook: #15 and #16

Samuel Adams

15
In the eighteenth century, writings of all kinds—letters to the editor, articles, essays, books, pamphlets—were published with the author's identity concealed beneath a pseudonym. Literary critic Michael Warner notes that Samuel Adams used over twenty-five different pseudonyms in his revolutionary writings. Women authors also hid behind pseudonyms, such as "A Lady of Maine" and "an Aged School-Mistress, in the State of Massachusetts." The reasons writers used pseudonyms varied, but in general the public was not put off by these disguises.

16
Two novels written in the 1820s but set a few decades earlier, one by then-famous novelist Lydia Sigourney, the other by James Fenimore Cooper, mention a food item called a "nutcake." In the Sigourney novel, a family offers its guest "a plate of nut-cakes and cheese." In Cooper's work, one corner of a Christmas Eve banquet table features a plate of "certain curiously twisted and complicated figures, called 'nut-cakes.'" In other words, Cooper's nutcakes are what we would call crullers. As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, the most common meaning of nutcakes was doughnuts.

These intimate details about life in the young republic--the ways authors presented themselves, the names given to foods--paint a picture of early American society that we don't often see. How do such portraits of ordinary American life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

 



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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #13 and #14

Jedidiah Morse, by Samuel Finley Breese Morse, 1820-22 Yale University Art Gallery

13
In the first decades of American independence, it was widely believed that peddlers were "knavish, artful, and dishonest people,” according to Jedidiah Morse. A Connecticut native, Morse also had to acknowledge that his state was thought to be a particular nursery of such "sharpers." On the other hand, as historian William J. Gilmore has shown, peddlers were "essential to bookselling during the early republic." They made available to their rural customers "a greater variety of imprints than general stores.”

14
In eighteenth-century Britain, as more and more cookbooks began to be written for servants, they began to include information and instruction on other subjects. For example, Mary Johnson's The Young Woman’s Companion; or, The Servant-Maid’s Assistant (1753) contained sections on grammar, spelling, arithmetic, and the moral duties of a servant. To call attention to this broad scope, and to the idea that it would make a perfect present for one's servant, the book was reissued a year later with a new title: Madam Johnson’s Present; or, The Best Instructions for Young Women in Useful and Universal Knowledge.

These intimate details about British and American life more than two hundred years ago--how people on the margins, either geographically or socially, gained access to information and education--paint a picture of those times that we don't often see. How do such portraits of everyday life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

 


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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #11 and #12

American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796

11
According to historians of domestic interiors Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett and John E. Crowley, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, upper-class people coordinated their windows, mirrors, chandeliers, and candles so as to create an impression of "lustrous surfaces" wherever one looked. And according to clothing historian Aileen Ribeiro, this love of shininess was so comprehensive that the buttons on men's coats to be worn on formal occasions were "made of either diamond paste or marcasite (faceted crystalized iron pyrites)," so that they would "glitter in candlelight.”

12
Horticulture figured prominently in the efforts at agricultural improvement made by Boston gentlemen in the early years of American independence. But lingering Puritan attitudes meant that hothouses, ornamental flowers and trees, and even fruits and vegetables were viewed as potentially luxurious. Eventually, Boston gentlemen farmers concentrated on the apple. This was a fruit that, in the words of historian Tamara Plakins Thornton, “represented just the right combination of utility, still valued in a republican nation and a mercantile society, and beauty.”

These intimate details about life in the young republic--diverse forms of domestic refinement--paint a picture of early American society that we don't often see. How do such portraits of ordinary American life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

 

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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #9 & #10

George Washington's inaugural suit, made by the Hartford Woolen Manufactory

9
In 1794, the English cloth manufacturer Henry Wansey stayed at a Boston inn called the Bunch of Grapes, paying in today's money about $18 a day for a bed and all meals (including tea). Dinner, the main meal, was served at 2:00 p.m. Wansey noted the speed with which his fellow boarders dispatched their midday fare: “In half an hour after the cloth was removed every person had quitted table, to go to their several occupations and employments, . . . for the Americans know the value of time too well to waste it at the table.”

10
At the first American presidential inauguration in 1789, the cloth for the suits worn by President George Washington, Vice President John Adams, and the members of Congress from Connecticut was made at the Hartford Woolen Manufactory. Unfortunately, by 1795, this early U. S. industrial venture had failed. Henry Wansey, visiting Hartford after his sojourn in Boston, "found it much on the decay . . . I saw two carding engines, working by water, of a very inferior construction.”

These intimate details about life in the young republic--commercial dining, the beginnings of American industry--paint a picture of early American society that we don't often see. How do such portraits of ordinary American life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

 

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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #7 & #8

The Surrender at Yorktown, depicted on a British-made Wedgwood plate

7
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, printers were often also shopkeepers, selling not only books, newspapers, and stationery, but also minor luxuries such as chocolate, spices, and tobacco. The older among us witnessed the remnants of this tradition at our local newsstands, where chewing gum, breath mints, candy bars, and cigarettes nestled near the daily papers and monthly magazines. The Internet has pretty much killed off the newsstand, but the practice of combining the sale of newspapers and magazines with the vending of candy and mints persists at supermarket and pharmacy checkout counters.

8
In the early years of political independence, many inhabitants of the new nation wished to proclaim their fledgling identity as Americans by purchasing household goods inscribed with patriotic insignia. But ironically, as historian Kariann Akemi Yokota explains, only established British manufacturers such as Wedgwood were in a position to meet the demand of the American market for "jugs, plates, and mugs" on which were depicted “rousing scenes of the defeat of the mighty [British] empire” by the American rebels.

These intimate details about life in the young republic--how printers made ends meet, early forms of patriotism--paint a picture of early American society that we don't often see. How do such portraits of ordinary American life help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

 

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Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #5 & #6

Sampler, Mariette Thompson, East Haven, Conn., 1826, Yale University Art Gallery Gift of Archer M. Huntington, M.A. (Hon.) 1897, in memory of his mother, Arabella D. Huntington

5
In the eighteenth century, boys and girls were both taught to read, but boys were taught much more often than girls to write as well. Historian E. Jennifer Monaghan tells us that writing was “a male job-related skill, a tool for ministers and shipping clerks alike,” whereas girls were educated "not to hold jobs, but to be successful homemakers." Instead of writing, they learned sewing, becoming equipped to produce words with a needle on a sampler rather than with a pen on a piece of paper.

6
The word curious is now mostly used to mean a desire for knowledge. But curious can also mean something that's singular or odd. Historian Elizabeth Spiller explains that the second meaning is a relic of a medieval notion: knowledge was thought most valuable when “curious,” displaying exceptional “jewels” and “delightes" to inspire awe.

How do these glimpses (curious or not) of the past help us understand American Cookery by Amelia Simmons? Find out this November in our new book from University of Massachusetts Press, United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook.

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