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