Today in 1796, American Cookery was published. It was the first cookbook published in America and written by an American, Amelia Simmons. Not much is known about her. She’s referred to as an “American Orphan” on the title page, which isn’t terribly helpful. The first edition was published in Hartford, Connecticut, so some speculate that Simmons may have been from the area. And it appears the very first edition may have been self-published. Feeding America explores many of the questions about Simmons, but has few answers.
It was printed and reprinted for 35 years, with several people stealing her work and putting their own name to it, with some adding additional material. If you read through her biography, it appears that was happening from the very beginning and over the course of its thirteen additions. It’s 220 years old today.
It’s divided into six sections. First, there’s a Preface, followed by “Directions for Catering, or the procuring the best Viands, Fish, &c.” The chapters that follow include “2. Roots and Vegetables — Beans — Fruits,” “3. Receipts — [Meats] — [Pies],” “4. Puddings — Custards — Tarts,” “5. Cake,” and “6. Preserves — [Boiling], with a short “Errata” at the end. It’s in the public domain and you can get a copy for your eReader at Project Gutenberg.
Near the very end of the book, in Chapter “6. Preserves,” there’s a short recipe for Spruce Beer.
And here it is reprinted in more modern English:
For brewing Spruce Beer.
Take four ounces of hops, let them boil half an hour in one gallon of water, strain the hop water then add sixteen gallons of warm water, two gallons of molasses, eight ounces of essence of spruce, dissolved in one quart of water, put it in a clean cask, then shake it well together, add half a pint of emptins, then let it stand and work one week, if very warm weather less time will do, when it is drawn off to bottle, add one spoonful of molasses to every bottle.
Also, the very first recipe under Chapter “5. Cake” calls for a quart of “new ale yeast.”
Mix one pound currants, one drachm nutmeg, mace and cinnamon each, a little salt, one pound of citron, orange peal candied, and almonds bleach’d, 6 pound of flour, (well dry’d) beat 21 eggs, and add with 1 quart new ale yeast, half pint of wine, 3 half pints of cream and raisins, q: s: