United Tastes CoverUNITED TASTES: The Making of the First
American Cookbook

with Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald

Saturday, February 3, 1-3pm

Hartford History Center
Hartford Public Library, 3rd floor
500 Main Street, Hartford

The “first American cookbook,” American Cookery, by Amelia Simmons, was published initially in Hartford in 1796, then in a revised edition a few months later in Albany. In recent years, it has received a great deal of attention. The Library of Congress has designated it one of the eighty-eight “Books That Shaped America,” and writers about food, both journalists and historians, talk frequently and enthusiastically about it.

Yet in all of this current discussion, there has been no attempt to reconstruct the social circumstances and culinary traditions that shaped this book that helped shape America. United Tastes fills this gap, showing how American Cookery—an inexpensive collection of mainly British recipes, interspersed with a few American favorites—was part of an effort to promote a particular version of American national identity, the one favored by the leading citizens of the place it was first published, Connecticut. In making this argument, United Tastes describes in compelling detail the social structure, the homes, the farms, and the foods of Early National Connecticut and the Connecticut River Valley.

A second reason for the interest in American Cookery is the tantalizing mystery of the book’s authorship. Amelia Simmons is intriguingly identified on the title page as “An American Orphan.” But nobody has ever been able to discover anything else about her. United Tastes presents solutions to both parts of this puzzle: it describes a real life person who may well have written American Cookery, and it shows how the author’s orphan status would have resonated with the book’s first readers.