Michigan State University

Introduction to the Feeding America Project

This essay, written in 2002 by Jan Longone as an introduction to the original Feeding America grant project, discusses the history of cookbooks in America as well as examining possible uses for the Feeding America collection.

Table of Contents

Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project

By Jan Longone, Curator of American Culinary History, Clements Library, University of Michigan

Seventy-five books to represent American culinary history may seem an arbitrary number. And, indeed, it is. However, the careful and informed selection of these 76 volumes [1] from the comprehensive holdings of the MSU Libraries' Special Collections will enable a researcher to investigate any number of the varied and interdisciplinary aspects of that history. It is important to note here that these 76 volumes represent but a small fraction of some 7,000 volumes on the culinary arts in the MSU Library. Those interested should consult MSU Libraries' Cookery and Food Collection page to see what additional holdings are available.

To place the selected books in the proper context, we begin with a brief history of cookbook publishing in the United States. This is followed by a chronological listing of the 75 books in the Feeding America project. Next we offer suggestions for methods of using this collection. We then conclude with a select reading list on American cookbook history.


1. Note from the site curators: the collection contains 75 books but 76 volumes. Two volumes, "The Complete Confectioner" and "The Complete Cook," were originally bound together in a single book, but are presented in this site as two separate works.

A Brief History of American Cookbooks

The history of cookbook publishing in the United States exemplifies the abundance and diversity that have for so long characterized American society. Today, each year, thousands of cookbooks of every size, shape and variety pour forth from American publishing houses but this was not true during the early years of our country. America came late to cookbook publishing. Although we have records that settlers carried cookbooks with them to the New World and imported cookbooks, especially from England, and kept manuscript receipt books, Amerindians had been living and cooking on this continent for thousands of years, and Europeans for more than a century before the first cookbook was published in America.

Cookbook Publishing in Eighteenth Century America

This occurred in 1742 when William Parks, the printer at Williamsburg, Virginia, published Eliza Smith's The Compleat Housewife: Or Accomplished Gentlewomen's Companion. This was first issued in London in 1727 and was very popular in England throughout the eighteenth century.

During the following half century, this book and several other English works were reprinted in Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Among the most notable were two editions of Susannah Carter's The Frugal Housewife, the first of which (Boston, 1772) had plates on carving engraved by Paul Revere; and Richard Briggs' The New Art of Cookery (Philadelphia, 1792), an encyclopedic volume of 557 pages.

When Parks printed The Compleat Housewife in 1742, he made some half-hearted attempt to fashion this English cookbook to American tastes and circumstances by deleting certain recipes, "the ingredients or materials for which are not to be had in this country." However, no cookbook seriously attempted to reach an American audience for more than another fifty years.

Then, in the spring of 1796, in Hartford, Connecticut, a small volume appeared which is believed to be the first cookbook written by an American and published in the United States. This was Amelia Simmons' American Cookery, or The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes....Adapted to this Country and All Grades of Life. Little is known of its author, Amelia Simmons, except for her own avowal that she was "an American Orphan." Simmons borrowed many recipes from British cookery authors of the period, especially from Susannah Carter, but the revolutionary and original aspects of her work lie in its recognition and use of truly American produce. There are five recipes using corn meal (corn is indigenous to America): three for Indian Pudding, one for Johnny or Hoe Cake and one for Indian Slapjacks. These are considered the earliest appearance of any of these recipes in any printed cookbook. Other American innovations were the use of corncobs in the smoking of bacon and the suggestion of cranberry sauce to accompany roast turkey (both cranberries and turkey are also indigenous to the New World). Perhaps the most far-reaching innovation was the introduction of pearlash, a well-known staple in the colonial American household, as a chemical leavening in doughs. This practice eventually led to the compounding of modern baking powders.

Thus, twenty years after the political upheaval of the American Revolution of 1776, a second revolution - a culinary revolution - occurred with the publication of a cookbook by an American for Americans.

American Cookbooks in the Early Nineteenth Century

During the sixty years following the publication of American Cookery, two conflicting trends were evident. English works, including the major contemporary classics by Mrs. Raffald, Mrs. Rundell, Hannah Glasse, W.A. Henderson, Frederick Nutt, Dr. William Kitchiner, Alexis Soyer and Eliza Acton, were still being reprinted but now, often with special sections or adaptations for the American audience. But increasingly cookbooks written by Americans, for Americans, were capturing the market.

For example, by 1830 about a dozen reprints and pirated editions of Amelia Simmons' book had appeared. No important new American cookbook appeared, however, until 1824 when Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife was published in Washington, D.C. As Simmons' book reflected both an old English and a New England tradition, Mrs. Randolph's work had a slight French touch and introduced regional Southern dishes: Catfish, Apoquinimic Cakes (a form of beaten biscuits), Ochra, Gumbo, Barbecue Shote ("the name given in southern states to a fat young hog ..."). The Virginia Housewife was extremely popular and went through 19 printings before the Civil War.

The first cookbook by a black American appeared in 1827, in Boston: The House Servant's Directory, by Robert Roberts. Roberts was employed in the household of Christopher Gore, Governor and Senator from Massachusetts. This book is not a black cookbook, however; it is a model of how to run a wealthy upper-class New England household. Although only two other editions of Roberts' book appeared, some historians regard the work as seminal "in producing men of singular ability as caterers, and managers - rather than servants - of large households in three major Northern cities - Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

Pre Civil War Trends

An increasingly large number of cookbooks began to appear in the 1820s, including some that were to become American classics. In 1828 the first of the many and influential cookbooks by Eliza Leslie, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats was published in Boston. That same year the first cookbook in the United States in English devoted totally to French cooking appeared in Philadelphia, The French Cook by Louis Eustache Ude. Then, a year later in 1829, Lydia Maria Child's The Frugal Housewife was published in Boston and superseded Amelia Simmons' American Cookery as the most influential cookbook of its day.

During the 1830s, cookbooks by the English and American authors previously mentioned were printed and reprinted in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Hartford, Baltimore, New Haven, Cincinnati, Newark, Concord (N. H.), Woodstock (Vt.), Hamilton (Ohio) and several upstate New York cities including Watertown, Cortland and Bath. The works of Mrs. Child, Miss Leslie and Mrs. Randolph clearly dominated this decade, although new authors appeared, including "A Boston Housekeeper" [Mrs. N. K. M. Lee], whose The Cook's Own Book (Boston, 1832) was the first alphabetically arranged culinary encyclopedia to appear in the United States. The last year of the decade saw the publication of the first work of another major nineteenth century culinary authority, The Good Housekeeper (Boston, 1839) by Sarah Josepha Hale.

By the 1840s, new names began to dominate the culinary scene: Catharine Beecher, Mrs. Cornelius, Mrs. Crowen, Mrs. A. L. Webster and Mrs. Howland, although earlier authors continued to be popular, especially Miss Leslie, Mrs. Child and Mrs. Hale. Cookbooks began to be published in new cities, including New Orleans, Camden (S. C.), Cleveland, Dayton and a number of others, as well as in the cities already mentioned.

Several major themes of American cookery appeared in the 1830s and 1840s that are still with us today: economy and frugality, management and organization, a preoccupation with baking, sweets and desserts, vegetarianism, diet and health, and temperance.

Many of these themes continued in the cookbooks of the 1850s, as did the domination by the writers already mentioned (Beecher, Leslie, Hale, Cornelius, Crowen, Randolph and Howland). In addition, several new authors emerged, all of them American women, such as Mrs. Abell, Mrs. Bliss and Mrs. Chadwick.

Beginning with the 1830s and continuing until the Civil War, regional American cookbooks were being written in increasing numbers: Mrs. Lettice Bryan's The Kentucky Housewife (Cincinnati, 1839); Thornton's The Southern Gardener and Receipt Book (Camden, S.C. 1840); Philomelia Hardin's Everybody's Cook and Receipt Book: But More Particularly Designed for Buckeyes, Hoosiers, Wolverines, Corncrackers, Suckers, and All Epicures Who Wish to Live with the Present Times (Cleveland, 1842); Mrs. Howland's The New England Economical Housekeeper (Worcester, 1844); The Carolina Housewife, By a Lady of Charleston (Charleston, S.C., 1847) and Mrs. Collins' Table Receipts: Adapted to Western Housewifery (New Albany, Indiana, 1861).

By the mid-nineteenth century, women were writing the majority of American cookbooks; works by male professional chefs and male medical doctors were the exception. This trend has more or less continued until the present time, although the last quarter century has seen increasing numbers of male cookbook authors.

Cookbook Developments After the Civil War

By 1860 more and more cookbooks were being printed, and American cookbooks had become an integral part of the publishing business. The upheaval of the Civil War caused a decline in the publication of all books, including cookbooks. Then, in the 1870s, three major cookbooks explosions occurred, the effects of which are still with us. The first was a Civil War legacy: cookbooks compiled by women's charitable organizations to raise funds to aid victims of the War - orphans, widows, wounded, veterans. When the Civil War ended, these organizations turned their charitable attentions to other causes. The trickle of these early books published in the 1860s and 1870s has become a flood today, as hundreds, perhaps thousands, of charitable cookbooks to benefit every conceivable cause are published in the United States each year. The second major historical development was promotional literature, hundreds of thousands of pamphlets issued by the growing number of national food and home equipment companies. The third important development was the growth of the cooking school movement. It began with the cooking schools started in New York City by Pierre Blot and Juliet Corson and intensified with the great cooking schools and their teachers - Mrs. Rorer in Philadelphia and Mrs. Lincoln and Fannie Farmer in Boston. These schools dominated American cookbook publishing for the remainder of the nineteenth century and early into the twentieth.

Important Nineteenth Century Culinary Authorities

In summary, the nineteenth century American cookbook scene was dominated by a talented, influential and remarkable group of women: Lydia Maria Child, Sarah Josepha Hale, Eliza Leslie, Catherine Beecher, Juliet Corson, Marion Harland, Mary J. Lincoln, Fannie Farmer, Maria Parloa and Sarah T. Rorer. They span the century. Their books went through hundreds of editions, and they reached millions of households with their classes, articles and books. Not only were they recognized culinary authorities, but they were also reformers active in all the major social and cultural events of their day: abolition, child welfare, women's rights, education, suffrage, social welfare, prison reform, poverty alleviation, immigration, consumer issues, nutrition, medical reforms, labor issues, and contemporary religious and moral questions. They shared a major concern for the role of women, for their duties and responsibilities, as well as their rights, and for ways that their workload could be lightened and "improved." They were writers, poets, philosophers, educators, editors and business women.The major writings of these women are well represented in our selection.

Women's Magazines and Almanacs

In addition to cookbooks and pamphlets offering household advice and recipes to the American housewife, national magazines and almanacs became even more popular in the later nineteenth century. Long a part of American life, these publications, general in nature at first, turned increasingly to specialized subjects that included women's topics and cookery. The earliest women's magazines, such as Godey's Lady's Book (founded 1830), Peterson's Ladies National Magazine (1842) and Harper's Bazaar (1866), at first devoted most of their pages to fashions, but after the Civil War, when the kitchen was being revolutionized, the emphasis changed. Godey's regularly featured recipes and pages on household management and domestic economy. The Women's Home Companion (1873), Ladies' Home Journal (1883) and Good Housekeeping (1885) all carried articles on cooking, entertaining, and household advice. Almanacs advertising specific cooking utensils and products, as well as the ubiquitous patent medicine health almanacs, were published in the millions by the late nineteenth century.

The Twentieth Century

The large waves of immigration that began late in the nineteenth century and continued into the early twentieth have also produced a special cookery literature. Books in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Greek and Polish, as well as many in German, soon became available. Some were bilingual Some contained American recipes to help the new immigrant learn how to cook American style; others had recipes from the old country, with or without altered ingredients to suit the new homeland. In addition to foreign language cookbooks published to fill the needs of immigrants, foreign and international cookbooks began to be written for the American housewife. Many cookbooks on the cuisines of other cultures were published in the United States prior to 1920. The reader could choose from Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, Bohemian, Austro-Hungarian, Polish, French, German, Central American, South American, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Greek, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Dutch, Belgian, Czech, or Middle Eastern.

World War I, Prohibition, the Depression and World War II all played major roles in shaping the tastes and dining habits of Americans in the first half of the twentieth century. We will not address these years in this project, but many books on this period are available in the MSU collection.

Ways to Browse the Feeding America Collection

Chronological List of Books

The books of the Feeding America projects were selected to represent all of these trends and historical currents. Browse a list of titles in chronological order, from 1798 to 1922.

Books by Culinary History Topic

Each book was selected because it is important in its own right and it also represents one or more genres of culinary history topics one might want to study. Browse a list of books matching culinary history interest topics.

The list of interest topics is meant only as a suggestion for further research. Almost all the books have information on more than one topic. Most have some material on manners, etiquette, table service, equipment, entertaining, menus, canning and preserving, foods from different cultures, etc. Most cookbooks have baking and confectionery sections as well as cooking recipes; many have special chapters for invalids and the sick; some have beverage information. Many volumes include home remedies and household hints. The wealth of material in these 76 volumes can and should be explored in myriad ways.

Select Reading List on American Cookbook History

  • American Heritage. The American Heritage Cookbook and Illustrated History of American Eating and Drinking. New York, 1964.
  • Aresty, Esther B. The Delectable Past. New York, 1964.
  • Beard, James. James Beard's American Cookery.Boston, 1972.
  • Belden, Louise Conway. The Festive Tradition: Table Decorations and Desserts in America, 1650-1900. New York, 1983.
  • Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cookbook. Iowa, 1975.
  • Bitting, Katherine Golden. Gastronomic Bibliography. San Francisco, 1939.
  • Booth, Sally Smith. Hung, Strung and Potted. A History of Eating Habits in Colonial America. New York, 1971.
  • Bower, Anne L., Editor. Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks. Amherst, MA, 1997.
  • Braunstein, Susan L. and Jenna Weissman Joselit, Editors.Getting Comfortable in New York: The American Jewish Home, 1880-1950. New York, 1990.
  • Brown, Eleanor and Bob Brown. Culinary Americana...from 1860 through 1960. New York, 1961
  • Cagle, William R. and Lisa Killion Stafford. American Books on Food and Drink: A Bibliographic Catalogue. New Castle, DE, 1998.
  • Carson, Gerald. Corn Flake Crusade. New York, 1957.
  • Cook, Margaret. America's Charitable Cooks: A Bibliography of Fund-Raising Cookbooks Published in the United States (1861-1915). Kent, OH, 1971.
  • Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technologies.New York, 1983.
  • Cummings, Richard Osborn. The American and his Food: A History of Food Habits in the United States. Chicago, 1940.
  • Dover Press Facsimiles of Classic Early American Cookbooks
    • Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery, 1796. (1984) Introduction by Mary Tolford Wilson.

    The following Dover Press Facilimes have an introduction by Jan Longone:

    • Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife, 1869. (1993)
    • Lincoln, Mary. Boston Cook Book, 1884. (1996)
    • Hale, Sarah. The Good Housekeeper, 1841. (1997)
    • Farmer, Fannie. Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, 1896. (1997)
    • Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery, 1851. (1999)
    • Child, Lydia. The American Frugal Housewife, 1844. (1999)
    • Beecher, Catharine. Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book, 1858. (2001)
  • Dudden, Faye E. Serving Women: Household Service in Nineteenth Century America. New York, 1983.
  • DuSablon, Mary Anne. America's Collectible Cookbooks. Athens, OH, 1994.
  • Egerton, John. Southern Food At Home, on the Road, in History. Chapel Hill, NC, 1993.
  • Fowler, Damon Lee. Classical Southern Cooking. New York, 1995.
  • Fussell, Betty. I Hear America Cooking. New York, 1986.
  • Grover, Kathryn, Editor. Dining in America 1850-1900. Rochester, NY, 1987.
  • Hess, John L. and Karen Hess. The Taste of America. New York, 1977.
  • Hess, Karen. The Carolina Rice Kitchen. Columbia, SC, 1992.
  • Hess, Karen, Editor. Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery. New York, 1981.
  • Hess, Karen, Editor. The Virginia House-Wife, by Mary Randolph. Columbia, SC, 1984.
  • Hines, Mary Anne, Gordon Marshall, and William Woys Weaver. The Larder Invaded...Three Centuries of Philadelphia Food and Drink. Philadelphia, 1987.
  • Hooker, Richard J. Food and Drink in America: A History. Indianapolis, 1981.
  • Jones, Evans. American Food: The Gastronomic Story. New York, 1975.
  • Kasson, John F. Rudeness & Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America. New York, 1990.
  • Krondl, Michael. Around the American Table. New York, 1995.
  • Levenstein, Harvey. Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America. New York, 1993.
  • Levenstein, Harvey. Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet. New York, 1988.
  • Lifshey, Earl. The Housewares Story. Chicago, 1973.
  • Longone, Jan. American Cookery: The Bicentennial, 1796-1996. Ann Arbor, MI, 1996.
  • Longone, Janice B. and Daniel T. Longone. American Cookbooks and Wine Books. 1797-1950. Ann Arbor, MI, 1984.
  • Lovgren, Sylvia. Fashionable Foods. Seven Decades of Food Fads. New York, 1995.
  • Lowenstein, Eleanor. Bibliography of American Cookery Books, 1741-1860. Worcester, MA and New York, 1972.
  • Mendelson, Anne. Stand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking. New York, 1996.
  • Plante, Ellen M. The American Kitchen. 1700 to the Present. New York, 1995.
  • Root, Waverly and Richard de Rochemnot. Eating in America. A History. New York, 1976.
  • Schlesinger, Arthur M. Learning How to Behave: A Historical Study of American Etiquette Books. New York, 1968.
  • Schwartz, Hillel. Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies and Fat. New York, 1986.
  • Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad. Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century.New York, 1986.
  • Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery.New York, 1958. Facsimile of first edition with an Essay by Mary Tolford Wilson.
  • Strasser, Susan. Never Done. New York, 1982.
  • Theophano, Janet. Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote. New York, 2002.
  • Theophano, Janet. Household Words: Women Write from and for the Kitchen. Philadelphia, 1996.
  • Thomas, Gertrude. Food of Our Forefathers. Philadelphia, 1941.
  • Weaver, William Woys. America Eats. Forms of Edible Folk Art. New York, 1989.
  • Weaver, William Woys. A Quaker Woman's Cookbook. Philadelphia, 1982.
  • Weaver, William Woys. Sauerkraut Yankees. Philadelphia, 1983.
  • Weigley, Emma Seifrit. Sarah Tyson Rorer. Philadelphia, 1977.
  • Willan, Anne. Great Cooks and Their Recipes. New York, 1977. Rev. edition, Boston, 1992.
  • Williams, Susan. Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America. New York, 1985.
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