A just-released list from the Library of Congress salutes 88 books that shaped America, all by American authors. It starts with Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and continues alphabetically on through "Beloved" by Toni Morrison, "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine, ending with "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum and "The words of Cesar Chavez" by Cesar Chavez. It's meant to start a conversation. And it did when we came upon the cookbooks on the list, each a reflection of their times.
There's "American Cookery," by Amelia Simmons (1796). It should be noted, that according to the Project Gutenberg, the complete title was: "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, from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake, Adapted to this Country, and All Grades of Life, " By Amelia Simmons, an American Orphan.
Also on the list: "The American Woman's Home," by Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. If Harriet’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” changed the tone of the slavery debate before the Civil War, the Beecher sisters’ “American Woman’s Home” did much the same afterwards on the home front after being published in 1869. Not a traditional cookbook, it is more a sweeping compendium of domestic science squarely aimed at reshaping life at home. The subtitle says it all: “Being a guide to the formation and maintenance of economical, healthful, beautiful and Christian homes.”
Beecher and Stowe were active in advancing the cause of women’s rights and they dedicated the book ‘to the women of America, in whose hands rest the real destinies of the the Republic, as moulded by the early training and preserved amid the maturer influences of home.” Formidably smart ( “do gooders,” some sniffed) the sisters had an impact on 19th century American life that would probably only be equaled were Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey rolled into one.
Culinary topics include: How to set up a proper kitchen, healthful foods and drinks, a quasi-scientific tract on nutrition and digestion and a piece on cooking that, among various do’s and don’ts, warns of the evils of hot bread.
And yes, we were heartened to find "Joy of Cooking" by Irma Rombauer (1931) there. The precise and voluminous book has guided many generations through the joys and trials of cooking.