The first cookbooks introduced into America came over from Europe with the new settlers. These settlers had to adapt to the absence of ingredients and benefited from learning new methods from the indigenous Native American Tribes.
One of the most significant pieces in the Historical Culinary collection is The Williamsburg Art of Cookery or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion: Being a Collection of Upwards of Five Hundred of the Most Ancient & Approv’d Recipes in Virginia Cookery. This copy, printed in Williamsburg in 1938, is the 8th printing and gives reference to its earlier edition printed in London 1727, and noted to be the first cookbook to be printed in early America; Williamsburg in 1742. In fact, there were multiple renditions of this book, some of which originate as early as 1600 in London as guides to being a house wife and provide a humble history of our etiquette, sanitation and eating trends.
[Note the publishing and language trend of replacing the letter “s” with the letter “f”. The letter “f” was a common publishing and manuscript replacement to note a long “s”. The replacement fell out of use in the middle of the 19th century due to the complicated rules of usage.]
The Chapter, Of Bread, [right] gives the reader a lesson of how the first Colonial settlers adapting to bread made of corn, then called pone, provided to them from the Native Americans.
The earliest printed cook book in the Kendall Library's Historical Culinary Collection is titled as a guide to being a housewife. Common Sense in The Household : a Manual of Practical Housewifery, printed in New York in 1875.
This book is as much as a house companion manual as it is a cookbook, covering subjects as wide as cleaning knives with a soft flannel and bath brick, to making chicken jelly in the section on “The Sick Room”. It was very common to have a household manual for husbands as well as wives, a tradition that went away with the revolution of machinery and changing careers in the early 1900’s.
A digital PDF of this book has been made available by MSU’s Feeding America Digital Cookbook Project.