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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

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

American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796

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.”

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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