My first vintage cookbook purchase after The Savannah Cook Book, was a replica of the very first American cookbook published in the United States, American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons. The author’s Preface is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a woman, who was also an orphan, in early Colonial days.
I grew up two miles from Mount Vernon, and my mom loved to drag my brother and I to all the historic locations throughout the area. I still have replicas of historic documents printed on old-timey parchment paper so I’ve seen these s‘s that look like f‘s somewhere back in the day. I had totally forgotten about them though as I thumbed through the cookbook. “To fluff a pig.” What? What the heck is fluffing a pig? I stopped thumbing and read the instructions. Then I remembered.
According to Wikipedia, “The long, medial, or descending s (ſ) is a form of the minuscule (lower-case) letter s, which was formerly used where s occurred in the middle or at the beginning of a word (e.g. ‘ſinfulneſs’ for ‘sinfulness’ and ‘ſucceſsful’ for ‘successful’).”
I still like fluffing a pig!
As I peruse recipes to figure out what I want to cook first out of this cookbook, I have a few observations:
- I have often had the impression that white women during Colonial times, especially in the North, were rather frail and delicate. Then I read recipes such as “To Dress a Calve’s Head,” which entails opening “the head, taking the brains, wash, pick and cleanse, salt and pepper and parsley them and put by in a cloth,” or “To Dress a Turtle,” which entails hanging “up your turtle by the hind fins, [cutting] off the head and [saving] the blood…” Ms. Simmons was definitely not some frail, fainting lily!
- The Author’s Note in The Savannah Cook Book made reference to Northern cooks using the word “recipe,” while Southern cooks preferred “receipt.” Amelia Simmons uses the word receipt which makes me wonder what the origin of each word and their usage are. Did it start out as receipt, and then like many other things, the North and the South developed their own language?
- Unlike The Savannah Cook Book which was written over 150 years later, American Cookery is very specific with temperatures (as much as one can describe how hot a fire in a hearth should be) and times. Amelia Simmons was truly trying to provide instructions for someone who did not know how to cook, which is not really what you get from The Savannah Cook Book. This comparison helps me understand the frustration expressed in The Savannah Cook Book’s Author’s Note when she writes, “but getting directions from colored cooks is rather like trying to write down the music to the spirituals which they sing–for all good old-timers (and new-timers, too, for that matter) cook ‘by ear…’”
- This cookbook is definitely old England techniques meeting New World ingredients and ways of living. It’s fascinating to see dishes like “Indian Slapjack,” “Election Cake,” and “Molasses Gingerbread.”
I can’t wait to dive in and explore these recipes! Until then…
Keep on rollin’!