Widely accepted as the first cookbook written by an American, Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery was published by Hudson & Goodwin of Hartford in 1796. Prior to its publication, the cookbooks early Americans used were printed in Europe and reflected European tastes and ingredients. American Cookery was the first of its kind to offer New Englanders and others “receipts,” or recipes, with uniquely native ingredients—and Americanized names. For example, Simmons used cornmeal and squash, used the term molasses, and introduced the use of pearl ash, a precursor to baking powder.
Simmons most likely worked as a domestic servant in colonial America, although all we formally know about her is that she called herself an “American Orphan” who learned to cook from experience. Since American Cookery was first published in Hartford, it is also widely believed that Simmons was a New Englander; however, her use of Dutch terms such as “cookey” and “slaw” may place her domicile in the Hudson River Valley. Regardless of the author’s locale, Simmons’s cookbook is an historical artifact that allows us a closer look at the ways early Americans gathered, prepared, and consumed food. Some of the book’s recipes are similar to what we eat today; others are archaic and often amusing. This popular book was reprinted 13 times, and only four copies of the first edition printed in Hartford are known to exist today.