We like to keep things light in August. It’s hot. It’s humid. And we’d all prefer to be sitting with our feet up, enjoying an adult beverage and some tasty snacks. To that end, our blog post last August explored a book from our collection that extolled the virtues of drunkards. This year, we turn our attention to the culinary arts: in particular, our 1797 edition of The Accomplished Housekeeper and Universal Cook, written by T. Williams and “the principal cooks at the London and Crown and Anchor Taverns.”
First, a word on cookbooks more generally. The earliest cooking volumes found in America were, unsurprisingly, imports from England. Historians generally agree that Amelia Simmons’ 1796 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 was the first cookbook native to the United States. Salisbury House’s own Accomplished Housekeeper fits into the former category of 18th-century British cookbooks published in London.
Prior to Carl Weeks, who first owned this volume? The inside cover provides a bit of information. First, this cookbook belonged to a gentleman named Samuel Coleby who likely purchased it in 1804. The inscription below also, upon first glance, seems to indicate that Samuel live in Charleston, but closer inspection leaves your correspondent not entirely certain of his location. At any rate, it is clear that Carl Weeks purchased the book in September 1928, perhaps for $12.50 (around $135 in today’s dollars). It also appears that Samuel did not often use the cookbook, as it remains in relatively fine condition today.
The Accomplished Housekeeper makes for some entertaining reading. Its author rightly puts food safety first, advising the novice cook that, “Before we enter on the practical part of the Cook’s business, it may not be improper to make a few general observations, which are as necessary to be attended to as any part of the culinary profession. The first and most important of all these is cleanliness, not only in their own persons, but also in every article used in the kitchen.”
Well said, T. Williams. Well said.
With the fundamentals of good kitchen hygiene in place (who knew that copper vessels and utensils were 18th-century deathtraps?!), the author turned to practical matters of food preparation. We’ve selected a few recipes to highlight below that seem appropriate for late summer cookery.
August offers an abundance of fresh, in-season foods, a phenomena not lost on T. Williams et al. To preempt any seasonal confusion, however, the authors kindly included a list of which foods were generally available during each month of the year.
The authors also encouraged readers to take advantage of these “articles in season,” and included several pages of recommendations for how best to preserve the fruits (and vegetables) of summer. “To pickle cucumbers” is still a common pursuit, though the late eighteenth-century methodology differs a bit from today’s general practices.
Are you harboring a secret desire to craft small-batch wines? These recipes are for you.
Do your culinary plans include carving venison, hare, partridge, pig, or pheasant? If so, be sure to Pin this handy-dandy cheat sheet.
If you are adventurous in the kitchen, try out one of these recipes! Let us know if you try your hand at elder wine or pickled nasturtium buds, and we’ll update this post with your photos and comments. Happy cooking!
Note: The Salisbury House Library Collection is now housed at Grinnell College, where it is being digitized and studied. To learn more about the collection check out the Special Collections Website.