Amelia Simmons’ cookbook “American Cookery” gives a great detail of what was available around her. We know she was American, however there is little about the woman on where she specifically lived. Researchers have discussed by the terms she used in the book that it could be from the Hudson Valley region in New York, but many assumed she was a New Englander.
Where ever she lived, the list of ingredients, much like the previous entry on “How to Choose Flesh” mentions the food materials that she would have access to. These lists are important in documenting the history of ingredients. Some are no brainers in usage, as in certain foodstuffs like Milk or eggs have been used for centuries around the world. However, some items are a little more unique to the US, especially to a very young group of Colonists.
To put this in perspective, the end of the American Revolution was in October 1781 and the Treaty of Paris was 1783, so America was a shiny baby country when this book was written.
Amelia’s Simmon’s list:
_Butter_–Tight, waxy, yellow Butter is better than white or crumbly, which soon becomes rancid and frowy. Go into the centre of balls or rolls to prove and judge it; if in ferkin, the middle is to be preferred, as the sides are frequently distasted by the wood of the firkin–altho’ oak and used for years. New pine tubs are ruinous to the butter. To have sweet butter in dog days, and thro’ the vegetable seasons, send stone pots to honest, neat, and trusty dairy people, and procure it pack’d down in May, and let them be brought in in the night, or cool rainy morning, covered with a clean cloth wet in cold water, and partake of no heat from the horse, and set the pots in the coldest part of your cellar, or in the ice house.–Some say that May butter thus preserved, will go into the winter use, better than fall made butter.
_Cheese_–The red smooth moist coated, and tight pressed, square edged Cheese, are better than white coat, hard rinded, or bilged; the inside should be yellow, and flavored to your taste. Old shelves which have only been wiped down for years, are preferable to scoured and washed shelves. Deceits are used by salt-petering the out side, or colouring with hemlock, cocumberries, or safron, infused into the milk; the taste of either supercedes every possible evasion.
_Eggs_–Clear, thin shell’d, longest oval and sharp ends are best; to ascertain whether new or stale–hold to the light, if the white is
clear, the yolk regularly in the centre, they are good–but if
otherwise, they are stale. The best possible method of ascertaining, is to put them into water, if they lye on their bilge, they are _good_ and _fresh_–if they bob up an end they are stale, and if they rise they are addled, proved, and of no use.
We proceed to ROOTS and VEGETABLES–_and the best cook cannot alter the first quality, they must be good, or the cook will be disappointed_.
_Potatoes_, take rank for universal use, profit and easy acquirement. The smooth skin, known by the name of How’s Potato, is the most mealy and richest flavor’d; the yellow rusticoat next best; the red, and red rusticoat are tolerable; and the yellow Spanish have their value–those cultivated from imported seed on sandy or dry loomy lands, are best for table use; tho’ the red or either will produce more in rich, loomy, highly manured garden grounds; new lands and a sandy soil, afford the richest flavor’d; and most mealy Potato much depends on the ground on which they grow–more on the species of Potatoes planted–and still more from foreign seeds–and each may be
known by attention to connoisseurs; for a good potato comes up in many branches of cookery, as herein after prescribed.–All potatoes should be dug before the rainy seasons in the fall, well dryed in the sun, kept from frost and dampness during the winter, in the spring removed from the cellar to a dry loft, and spread thin, and frequently stirred and dryed, or they will grow and be thereby injured for cookery.
A roast Potato is brought on with roast Beef, a Steake, a Chop, or
Fricassee; good boiled with a boiled dish; make an excellent stuffing for a turkey, water or wild fowl; make a good pie, and a good starch for many uses. All potatoes run out, or depreciate in America; a fresh importation of the Spanish might restore them to table use. It would swell this treatise too much to say every thing that is useful, to prepare a good table, but I may be pardoned by observing, that the Irish have preserved a genuine mealy rich Potato, for a century, which takes rank of any known in any other kingdom; and I have heard that they renew their seed by planting and cultivating the _Seed Ball_, which grows on the tine. The manner of their managing it to keep up the excellency of that root, would better suit a treatise on agriculture and gardening than this–and be inserted in a book which would be read by the farmer, instead of his amiable daughter. If no one treats on the subject, it may appear in the next edition.
_Onions_–The Madeira white is best in market, esteemed softer
flavored, and not so fiery, but the high red, round hard onions are
the best; if you consult cheapness, the largest are best; if you
consult taste and softness, the very smallest are the most delicate, and used at the first tables. Onions grow in the richest, highest cultivated ground, and better and better year after year, on, the same ground.
_Beets_, grow on any ground, but best on loom, or light gravel
grounds; the _red_ is the richest and best approved; the _white_ has a sickish sweetness, which is disliked by many.
_Parsnips_, are a valuable root, cultivated best in rich old grounds,
and doubly deep plowed, _late sown_, they grow thrifty, and are not so prongy; they may be kept any where and any how, so that they do not grow with heat, or are nipped with frost; if frosted, let them thaw in earth; they are richer flavored when plowed out of the ground in April, having stood out during the winter, tho’ they will not last long after, and commonly more sticky and hard in the centre.
_Carrots_, are managed as it respects plowing and rich ground,
similarly to Parsnips. The yellow are better than the orange or red;
middling fiz’d, that is, a foot long and two inches thick at the top
end, are better than over grown ones; they are cultivated best with onions, sowed very thin, and mixed with other seeds, while young or six weeks after sown, especially if with onions on true onion ground. They are good with veal cookery, rich in soups, excellent with hash, in May and June.
_Garlicks_, tho’ used by the French, are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.
_Asparagus_–The mode of cultivation belongs to gardening; your
business is only to cut and dress, the largest is best, the growth of a day sufficient, six inches long, and cut just above the ground; many cut below the surface, under an idea of getting tender shoots, and preserving the bed; but it enfeebles the root: dig round it and it will be wet with the juices–but if cut above ground, and just as the dew is going off, the sun will either reduce the juice, or send it back to nourish the root–its an excellent vegetable.
_Parsley_, of the three kinds, the thickest and branchiest is the
best, is sown among onions, or in a bed by itself, may be dryed for
winter use; tho’ a method which I have experienced, is much better–In September I dig my roots, procure an old thin stave dry cask, bore holes an inch diameter in every stave, 6 inches asunder round the cask, and up to the top–take first a half bushel of rich garden mold and put into the cask, then run the roots through the staves, leaving the branches outside, press the earth tight about the root within, and thus continue on thro’ the respective stories, till the cask is full; it being filled, run an iron bar thro’ the center of the dirt in the cask and fill with water, let stand on the south and east side of a building till frosty night, then remove it, (by slinging a rope round the cask) into the cellar; where, during the winter, I clip with my scissars the fresh parsley, which my neighbors or myself have occasion for; and in the spring transplant the roots in the bed in the garden, or in any unused corner–or let stand upon the wharf, or the wash shed. Its an useful mode of cultivation, and a pleasurably tasted herb, and much used in garnishing viands.
_Raddish_, _Salmon_ coloured is the best, _purple_ next
best–_white_–_turnip_–each are produced from southern seeds,
annually. They grow thriftiest sown among onions. The turnip Raddish will last well through the winter.
_Artichokes_–The Jerusalem is best, are cultivated like potatoes,
(tho’ their stocks grow 7 feet high) and may be preserved like the
turnip raddish, or pickled—they like.
_Horse Raddish_, once in the garden, can scarcely ever be totally
eradicated; plowing or digging them up with that view, seems at times rather to increase and spread them.
_Cucumbers_, are of many kinds; the prickly is best for pickles, but
generally bitter; the white is difficult to raise and tender; choose
the bright green, smooth and proper sized.
_Melons_–The Water Melons is cultivated on sandy soils only, above latitude 41 1/2, if a stratum of land be dug from a well, it will bring the first year good Water Melons; the red cored are highest flavored; a hard rine proves them ripe.
_Muskmelons_, are various, the rough skinned is best to eat; the
short, round, fair skinn’d, is best for Mangoes.
_Lettuce_, is of various kinds; the purple spotted leaf is generally
the tenderest, and free from bitter–Your taste must guide your
_Cabbage_, requires a page, they are so multifarious. Note, all
Cabbages have a higher relish that grow on _new unmatured grounds_; if grown in an old town and on old gardens, they have a rankness, which at times, may be perceived by a fresh air traveller. This observation has been experienced for years–that Cabbages require new ground, more than Turnips.
_The Low Dutch_, only will do in old gardens.
The _Early Yorkshire_, must have rich soils, they will not answer for winter, they are easily cultivated, and frequently bro’t to market in the fall, but will not last the winter.
The _Green Savoy_, with the richest crinkles, is fine and tender; and altho’ they do not head like the Dutch or Yorkshire, yet the
tenderness of the out leaves is a counterpoise, it will last thro’ the
winter, and are high flavored.
_The Yellow Savoy_, takes next rank, but will not last so long; all
Cabbages will mix, and participate of other species, like Indian Corn; they are culled, best in plants; and a true gardener will, in the plant describe those which will head, and which will not. This is new, but a fact.
The gradations in the Savoy Cabbage are discerned by the leaf; the richest and most scollup’d, and crinkled, and thickest Green Savoy, falls little short of a _Colliflour_.
The red and redest small tight heads, are best for _slaw_, it will not boil well, comes out black or blue, and tinges, other things with which it is boiled.
What was Available in Post Colonial America will continue in part II….