The Compleat Housewife

“The Compleat Housewife” Williamsburg, by William Parks in 1742

Up until twenty years after the political upheaval of the American Revolution in 1776, the Thirteen Colonies had been using British cookbooks reprinted in America. The first such cookbook was printed in Williamsburg, by William Parks in 1742, titled “The Compleat Housewife.” The book was in fact, a London bestseller, published fifteen years earlier in 1727.

American CookeryAmerica’s first truly indigenous cookbook, Amelia Simmons’s “American Cookery,” was published in Hartford in 1796. The first edition was published by Hudson & Goodwin of Hartford, CT. The words “For the Author” on the title page suggest that Simmons paid the printing costs herself.  It was economically issued without hard covers, thus the title page also served as the front cover. The cookbook was the first to suggest serving cranberry with turkey and introduced the use of a chemical leavening agent, potash, which was precursor to modern baking powder.  Potash was a well-known staple in the colonial American household, and its use in baking to cause dough to rise, was a breakthrough in home cooking.

“The French Cook” by Louis Eustache UdeThe first French cookbook to be published in America, was appropriately called nothing less than, “The French Cook” by Louis Eustache Ude; an experienced chef, who worked for the Duke of York, (King George III’s second son, Prince Frederick Augustus), and formerly an apprentice sous-chef in Louis XVI’s kitchens maître d’hôtel of Napoleon’s mother, Ude.  At the time of the book’s release he was employed in London by William Crockford who run a private gambling house and exerted great influence on high society.  In 1828, fifteen years after the original London publication by Cox & Baylis, the book was published in Philadelphia, by Carey Lea & Carey and introduced American families to the delicacy of turtle soup.

El cocinero españolThe first Mexican-American cookbook was also the first cookbook written by a Hispanic in the United States and the first recording of Californio food. “El cocinero español” by Encarnación Pinedo was published in San Francisco in 1898. It offers a fascinating look of the cuisine of early California, which was largely forgotten in the wake of Anglo appropriation and subsequent waves of Mexican migration.  The book was written in Spanish, and featured mainly Mexican, Spanish, and Basque ingredients such as the fruit of the barrel cactus and recipes like the salsa picante de chile Colorado, which is precisely how it is still made from the Rio Grande to California.

Chinese-Japanese Cook BookDespite the fact that Chinese food stems from one of the world’s oldest and most sophisticated cuisines, and that it’s been in the U.S. for more than 160 years, it largely remained unpublished in America until the early 20th century.  Available in America after the Civil War, into the 1920’s, “Chinese-Japanese Cook Book”, by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watanna [pseud.], Chicago, Rand McNally [c1914], is one of the earliest half-dozen Chinese cookbooks published in the United States; and possibly the first Japanese one. Authentic Chinese dishes for Americans in that era, such as Bird’s-nest Soup, Seaweed Soup, Sweet and Cook at Home in ChineseSour Fish, Steamed Duck, Chop Suey, Chow Main, and Fried Rice are combined with a shorter section of Japanese dishes which include Satsuma Soup (using tofu and miso paste), Hare, Sweet and Sour, Usagi Amai-Sui,  and Peony Eggs. Americanized Chinese recipes were popularized by Henry Low, head chef at the Port Arthur Chinese Restaurant in New York City, and author of “Cook at Home in Chinese, New York by Macmillan [1938]. He is credited to have invented the Egg Roll “Tchun Guen;” the recipe is found in this book on page 213.

Jewish Cookery BookThe first Jewish cookbook published in America, was published by W.S. Turner in Philadelphia, in 1871. The “Jewish Cookery Book, on Principles of Economy, Adapted for Jewish Housekeepers, with the Addition of Many Useful Medicinal Recipes, and Other Valuable Information, Relative to Housekeeping and Domestic Management” by Esther Levy, carried extensive instructions on keeping a kosher household.  It also guided Jewish women of the period, to serve meals with panache and maintain elegant yet kosher homes. The large selection of recipes such as “To Make Stewed Fish Balls” and exotic “Calf’s Brain and Pigeon, Stewed with Green Peas,” are presented with basic laws associated with a kosher home including the soaking and salting of meat.

The Creole Cookery BookA landmark culinary work; the first cookbook of Creole cookery, and the first New Orleans recipe collection, “The Creole Cookery Book” by the Christian Woman’s Exchange of New Orleans, LA., was published by T.H. Thomason in 1885. Recipes were collected from housekeepers experienced in the science of cookery as practiced throughout the South, and more particularly as it is understood and applied by the Creoles of Louisiana. The classic New Orleans text includes recipes for Green Gumbo, Epicurean Oysters, and Jambalaya La Cuisine Creoleamong others. Together with another fine New Orleans cookbook: “La Cuisine Creole: A Collection of Culinary Recipes, From Leading Chefs and Noted Creole Housewives, Who Have Made New Orleans Famous for its Cuisine,” by Lafcadio Hearn, New Orleans: F.F. Hansell & Bro., Ltd.  [1885], offer the introduction to Creole cooking, one of America’s most unique cuisines.

Pellegrino Artusi was the first Italian cookbook author to be published in Italian in America. His book “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene”  (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well),  filled with amusing anecdotes as well as recipes, was  self-published in 1891, when Artusi was 71 years old. However, no one has ever done more to spread the gospel of pure Italian cookery in America than Maria Gentile. The Italian Cook Book bu Maria GentileShe compiled a cookbook by the name “The Italian Cook Book: The Art of Eating Well, Practical Recipes of the Italian Cuisine, Pastries, Sweets, Frozen Delicacies, And Syrups,” New York: Italian Cook Book Co., [1919]. The book was conceived to present Italian food, not pretentious but Casalinga [homemade]. The Preface begins with the statement that, “One of the beneficial results of the Great War [WWI] has been the teaching of thrift to the American housewife. For patriotic reasons and for reasons of economy, more attention has been bestowed upon the preparing and cooking of food that is to be at once palatable, nourishing and economical.” There are modern and sophisticated recipes for artichokes, zucchini, risotto, macaroni, polenta, eggplant, gelati, gnocchi and zabaione.

Swedish English CookbookImmigrants from the Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland had their original, European language cook books during their early American settlement.  A small number of first editions, which were bi-lingual such as the “Fullständigaste Svensk-Amerikansk Kokbok = Swedish English Cookbook,” Chicago: Engberg-Holmberg; 1897 made their appearance. The recipes are written side by side in Swedish and English – and they cover both cultures. From America we have, among others, Boston Brown Bread, Johnny Cakes, Rye and Indian Bread, California Cake, To Smoke Ham in the American Way, Boston Baked Beans, Potatoes Kentucky Style, and several different recipes for Corn Bread. From Sweden we find Pork Chops-Swedish Way, Goose with Horse Radish, Herring Pudding, Swedish Caviar, Pickled Salmon (Graflax), and two Cherry Soups, one made with fresh cherries and one with dried.

Noticeably absent from the late 19th early 20th century selection of Ethnic-American cookbooks, is Greece. Despite the popularity of Greek food in America today, it was not until 1942 that the first Greek cookbook: “And the Greeks: A Book of Hellenistic Recipes and Culinary Lore” by MacDougall, Allan Ross was published by the Near East Foundation (NEF) in New York.  The NEF was founded in 1915 by the U.S. government to act as a conduit for private American philanthropy assisting Armenian and other refugees during World War I. This first collection of ancient and modern Greek recipes had all profits from the sale used to feed hungry children in Greece during World War II.

And the Greeks: A Book of Hellenistic Recipes and Culinary Lore




Women author scarcity

by Liz on November 12, 2019

Women Authors

Women Authors by Chunga

The women’s liberation movement during the 1960’s propelled feminist intellectualism which brought us wonderful modern women writers, such as J.K. Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.  The boys’ club definitely was broken, and is even more apparent when looking back!  Critic Sarah Weinman, argues in an essay published by the Library of America that the rise in the 1950s, of the mass-market paperback, brought about a kind of publishing-industry segregation: “Male authors went to the paperbacks, the quick advance, and the gigantic print runs, which were marketed to a predominantly male audience who viewed books as disposable. With rare exception, female authors kept to hardcovers, their books geared to libraries and book-of-the-month clubs with smaller print runs.”

Historically, and may I add quite incorrectly, from Aristotle to Boccaccio, the prevailing misogyny message on the female condition was that “women are morally wicked and intellectually inferior”. Aristotle philosophized that the masculine element brought life to an inert, passive female element. Boccaccio’s disappointments in love caused a change in his writing style which resulted in the Italian literary work, Il Corbaccio, or The Crow. The protagonist tells the story of his unreturned love of a widow and his love to the spirit, who warns him against women who with their lust and “female wickedness” endanger men.

In Japan, prior to the Heian era, (794-1185), there was no native written tradition. The male educated elite wrote in Chinese, while women were forbidden to write in the Chinese language. Heian women developed Hiragana, a cursive syllabary with a distinct writing method that was uniquely Japanese, and thus gave written expression to the spoken word. Three late 10th and early 11th -century women presented their views of life and romance at the Heian court in the books: Kagerō Nikki, by the author “the mother of Fujiwara Michitsuna”, (Her true name is unknown), The Pillow Book, by Sei Shōnagon and The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu.

Persuasion, which was published in 1818, after Jane Austen’s death, revealed her true feelings about gender inequality, and articulates and criticizes late 18th century English views of courtship and marriage. The novel’s moral, seems to be, that young people should always marry according to their own inclinations and upon their own judgment. Central to Jane Austen’s book is a longing for civility in an age of coarseness, meanness and cruelty against women. The hardness of life for a woman was laid bare. The feelings and experiences of the novel’s central character, Anne Elliot, were understood and shared by the women of her time and beyond.

Patriarchy prompted the dissatisfaction which was common among young women in the early 19th century. In the fall of 1847, Emily Dickinson entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, which, under the guidance of Mary Lyon, the school was known for its religious predilection. Emily’s stay at Mount Holyoke was for a single year; a decision she attributed to her father, but said nothing further about his reasoning. Edward Dickinson’s reputation as a domineering individual in private and public affairs suggests that his decision may have stemmed from his desire to keep his daughter at home. When well-known writer of the time, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, invited Emily Dickinson to an event in Boston, she declined with a phrase that, (like many sentences in her letters), falls into the rhythm of her poetry: “I do not cross my Father’s ground for any House or town.”

Up until recent years, women authors geared towards the genre of romance and steered away from the sanguinary genre, comics and graphic novels, which skewed heavily toward young men, with emphasis on superheroes, fantasy and science fiction. Lately, women authors’ success in these predominately male audience genres, underscores how much the audience has broadened, and how very capable women are to excel in all genre!  Graphic-novel sales are outpacing the overall trade-book market, and their audience has expanded to include more women and younger readers. Women are too realistic to romanticize violent worlds in which they are, far more often than not, the victims. Small wonder that when authors such as Dolores Hitchens, Dorothy Hughes, Vera Caspary, Patricia Highsmith, Charlotte Armstrong, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, turned to writing crime novels and themes of violence, they focused instead on marrow-shriveling terror.

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which focuses on forced breeding programs and female enslavement, hit close to home on the struggles women have been confronting throughout history. The book’s theme centers on an alliance between radical feminists and religious fanatics who aim to control the women and the population in the fictional republic of Gilead.

The far fewer than men, successful women authors in existence, should be every rare book collector’s pursuit. The scarcity created due to some of the factors outlined here, are hopefully a thing of the past. Since its inception at the beginning of last century, the controversial Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to no more than 5 women, prior to the women’s liberation movement of the 1960 and 70’s. The number has more than tripled since then at an accelerated rate. Still, rare books by women authors are becoming scarcer.

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Jean-Michel Basquiat is “PYRO” hot

September 30, 2019
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Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction, which will take place in London on the 3rd of October 2019, will offer a Jean-Michel Basquiat acrylic, silkscreen ink and oil stick on canvas titled “PYRO”, signed and dated 1984 on the reverse. This is the highlight of the event and is estimated to sell for …….., “Estimate upon […]

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Photographing Paris

September 4, 2019

Two rare photography books portray two separate images of the beautiful city of Paris.  The books represent the improbable encounter of two Parisian worlds: the surrealistic vision of Brassaï, and the documentary view of Atget. Eugene Atget (1857-1927), documented much of the architecture and street scenes of Paris before their disappearance to modernization. Most of […]

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Where American History and Christian Religion Crossed

July 18, 2019
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In the month of August 1963, in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and with a crowd of over a quarter of a million people, Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.” In that same month, King’s first printing of a collection of his sermons titled, “Strength […]

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Extreme Femininity

May 1, 2019
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Times have changed and so have women, but not their innate ability to charm. Women possess the power to please or attract with their personality or beauty. Imagine living in another time, and, if it were to be the twentieth century, you would perhaps choose the hay-day of the 1920’s. It was a time for women […]

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The Jewels of Passover

April 17, 2019
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At the start of this year’s Holy Week a terrible blaze engulfed Notre-Dame. As I watched the spire of the cathedral fall, I wondered how destructive smoke and flames have often been to books throughout history. Vulnerable older editions from the 16th, 15th and even 13th centuries must have survived the misfortunes brought about by […]

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February 27, 2019

Issued in the aftermath of the Council of Trent (1545-63), the Index of Forbidden Books maintained by the Inquisition became an obstacle to the circulation of books and ideas in Europe and its colonies well into the 20th century – it is only in 1966 that the Catholic Church formally abolished it. Among the famous […]

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Messy Interconnections of Innovation

February 23, 2019

In 1986, the co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory’s, cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, (1927-2016), published The Society of Mind.  The book describes a theory which attempts to explain how what we call intelligence, could be a product of the interaction of non-intelligent parts. He proposed that each mind is made of many […]

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Sex: the single girl’s perspective

January 31, 2019
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Two titles written a decade apart:  the first, in the early sixties, at the onset of the sexual revolution, which brought us increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships; and, the other, in the early seventies, during the post-pill and pre-AIDS period. These authors’ writings on the topic of sex in the single girl’s […]

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