Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

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

June 23, 2017

Tags: pseudonyms, Samuel Adams, nutcakes, Lydia Sigourney, James Fenimore Cooper, crullers, doughnuts

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
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.


Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

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

June 15, 2017

Tags: peddlers, Jedidiah Morse, book distribution, cookbooks, servants, Madam Johnson's Present

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
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.


Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

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

June 7, 2017

Tags: windows, mirrors, chandeliers, candles, buttons, surfaces, shine, agriculture, horticulture, Boston, apples

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
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.


Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

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

May 30, 2017

Tags: Inns, Boston, Bunch of Grapes, dinner, price, table customs, Henry Wansey, George Washington, John Adams, Hartford Woolen Manufactory

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
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.


Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

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

May 22, 2017

Tags: printers, stationers, newsstands, sundries, Wedgwood, patriotic symbols

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
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.


Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

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

May 12, 2017

Tags: reading, writing, gender, sewing, curiosity, knowledge

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
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.


Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

50 Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #3 & #4

May 4, 2017

Tags: Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, Jedidiah Morse, Albany, Wethersfield

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
3
Jedidiah Morse, father of the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel F. B. Morse, complained in his American Geography (1789) that in Albany, New York, all the houses were constructed with projecting "watergutters or spouts," a custom that made it "almost dangerous to walk the streets in a rainy day."

4
In the 1740s in Wethersfield, Connecticut, a town near Hartford, women were employed to prepare onions for sale by tying them in bunches. Historian Gloria L. Main writes that these women workers were paid not in cash but rather in "store merchandise, mostly luxury imports." One woman's payment took the form of "a copy of Homer's Iliad."

These intimate details about life in the young republic--variations in house design, the specifics of a barter economy--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.


Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

50 Things to Know about American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, the first American Cookbook: #1 & #2

April 25, 2017

Tags: Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, William Emerson, Timothy Dwight, George Washington

Coming November, 2017, from University of Massachusetts Press!
1
In the first decade of the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson's father, William Emerson, was the pastor of the prestigious First Church of Boston. "Every Sunday evening," writes historian Phyllis Cole, "the deacons and other friends enjoyed wine and spirits, arrayed in gleaming decanters on the sideboard" in the dining room of the Emerson residence.

2
According to then-president of Yale Timothy Dwight, in his Travels in New England and New York, sometime in the early years of American independence, a justice of the U. S. Supreme Court told a governor of Connecticut that "when General Washington took the oath of office in the balcony of the assembly house in Philadelphia, the chief justice, who administered it, could scarcely be heard at a distance of ten feet on account of the noise and tumult of the yard below."

These intimate details about life in the young republic--cocktail hour at the parsonage, an unruly audience for Washington's swearing in--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.


Map drawn by Kate Blackmer, Blackmer Maps

Of Citrons and Amelia Simmons (with an Aside about Emily Dickinson)

January 26, 2017

Tags: Citron, Amelia Simmons, Emily Dickinson, Catharine Beecher, Hannah Glasse, black cake, fruitcake

How Are These Two Alike? Find Out Below

Black Cake
In working on our next book, due out from University of Massachusetts Press this fall, we had some correspondence with the staff of Harvard's Houghton Library on the subject of citron, a fruit that, in candied form, is included in many fruitcakes. Some of the Houghton staff had gotten together and baked a "black cake,"


from a recipe used by (more…)

An Election Baking Selection

October 24, 2016

Tags: cake, election

Elect to Celebrate Elections

With this bitter election campaign dragging along to its conclusion, we thought we would try to sweeten the experience of the final couple of weeks before November 8th by reminding our readers of an earlier post of ours: Election Cake. We're moved to do this partly because of a recent post about Election Cake on the NPR website, brought to our attention by Tony Stavely: A History of Election Cake.

This NPR "history" of the famous cake is unfortunately (more…)