“AMERICA’S COLLECTIBLE COOKBOOKS” BY MARY ANNA DU SABLON

“America’s Collectible Cookbooks” subtitled “The History, the Politics, the Recipes” by Mary Anna Du Sablon was published in 1994 by Ohio University Press. In the Preface, the author tells us “Compiling this first cohesive study of North American cookbooks was a heartbreaking task in one way, but only one way—that is, deciding what not to include…”

“Limited time and finances” she explains, “provide some excuse when one fails in the pursuit of comprehensiveness, but instead of concentrating on exacting the publishing history of old cookbooks, addressing trendy cookbook critiques, or inventing my own reviews, my aim was to encourage collectors and help librarians decide which cookbooks were keepers…”

More importantly, Du Sablon wanted to write a compelling but concise true-life drama about the evolution of the American basic cookbook and honor its rightful place in history. She writes, “I wanted to breathe new life into the women and men who excelled at their craft and had the extra talent to express their expertise to inspire others. I wanted to bring them together…not just as recipe peddlers but as shapers of the American life-style…”

Du Sablon also wanted this to be an entertaining and practical everyday cookbook so she selected culinary rather than home-maintenance recipes to illustrate what the text can only hint at, always with a bias towards the constantly changing and improving national palate.

Du Sablon handled thousands of books as her interest transmigrated from casual pastime to intense study during the past thirty years. She writes, “Judging which books, authors, and publishers would be called upon to furnish the dialog and set the scene for this performance finally boiled down to one word: significant…”

To verify the significance of the books then chosen, she says, she consulted cookbook collectors, “that body of specialists whose often-ridiculed efforts have results in the existence of a history in the first place, librarians who cherish these artifacts, and booksellers…”

Finally she considered her own personal preferences, noting “however risky this decision may have been”

“Locating these treasures was another matter altogether” Du Sablon writes. “A massive correspondence was initiated, and soon my rural mailbox was welcoming envelopes containing beautiful letterheads from our country’s most prestigious libraries and historical societies…”

Guided by the bibliographies at the end of this book and Lee Ash’s “Subject Collections”, Mary Anna and her husband drove to the repositories suggested and became as adept at thumb-and-index fingering their way through a card file drawer as their town librarian. They hand-wrote hundreds of recipes because machine copying was out of the question for fragile old volumes.

“Because some readers” she notes “may yearn for more information on the complete works of specific authors,” she compiled a selected list of collections and bibliographies that she thought would be of great benefit.

Du Sablon says she hopes this history will stimulate local cookbook lovers to be aggressive in protecting and promoting regional treasures in private collections as well as in libraries, because this anthology is only representative of the heritage that remains to be discovered. “All too often” she says, “books turned up missing in our search, and in one Chicago North Shore library hundreds of recipes had been slashed from the pages of several cookbooks..” (I know that many cookbook collectors reading this are feeling the same kind of shock I experienced.

Additionally, she notes, “In conjunction with the back-to-earth movement of the 1960s and in preparation for the celebration of the National Bicentennial, many old cookbooks were reproduced during the 1970s, particularly by Dover Publications (on acid free paper) and Arno Press.

Unfortunately, many are out of print and can only be obtained at used bookstores where the good ones disappear quickly*…”

*This may explain how I managed to obtain so many of Louis De Gouy’s books recently, published by Dover Publications, through Amazon.com and Alibris.com.

Du Sablon continues, “University presses* got on the bandwagon in the 1980s by reissuing local favorites, usually including historical data—and in the case of ‘The Carolina Housewife’ (South) with memoirs by a descendant of the author. These books are currently available in most cases…”

*Sandy’s note: I have been applauding University Press books for several decades. Some of my favorite books have been found by ordering them from University presses. Most recently are the books I’ve found by or about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings through the University Press of Florida.

“Finally,” writes Du Sablon, “some recipes have been edited, punctuation changed, or otherwise rearranged to make them easier to follow—but only minimally and where I thought it absolutely necessary to compile a modern cookery book…”

She also says that cooks must call upon their own expertise to adjust the old recipes to fit modern culinary life-styles and nutritional needs, but felt it wouldn’t take too much effort. “Besides,” she says, “most good cooks don’t follow a recipe to the letter anyway*”

*Sandy’s cooknote: I was delighted to read this last line of Mary Anna Du Sablon’s – because I rarely follow a recipe to the letter—even my own creations are constantly undergoing changes. And when I DO follow a recipe—not one of my own –to the letter, and am disappointed with the results, I can usually pinpoint what I could do to make the recipe better next time.

Chapter 1 of America’s Collectible Cookbooks is titled “A genuine American Cookbook” and delves deep into what is known about Amelia Simmons, acknowledged author of the first AMERICAN cookbook. Notes Du Sablon, “It was welcomed by other American cooks and homemakers and enjoyed eleven reprints by various publishers—and at least two plagiarisms—throughout New England during the next 40 years. A third edition,” she notes, “was auctioned in 1991 for $22,000 and some facsimiles are scarce and variously valuable…”

Taking recipes from various editions of “American Cookery” Du Sablon presents a Thanksgiving menu noting that these recipes present a series of firsts – it was the first use of pearl ash for leavening and the first recipes for pumpkin pie, Indian pudding and cookies. It was the first time in print that turkey was served with ‘cranberry sauce’.

With regard to “cookies”, Du Sablon also notes that the word cookie is a uniquely American borrowing of the Dutch koekje and first appears in print in Amelia Simmon’s “American Cookery”.

Chapter 2 is devoted to Manuscript Cookbooks and is a topic near and dear to my heart. When I began collecting cookbooks in 1965, I thought it was an impossible dream to ever hope to find any manuscript cookbooks. Then, a manuscript cookbook I called “Helen’s Cookbook” fell into my hands and for a most reasonable price. Since then, a penpal in England has helped me identify Helen, and sent me another manuscript cookbook that she had obtained. Over the years, perhaps fifteen or twenty manuscript cookbooks have found their way into my hands. I can’t imagine ever obtaining any that are really old or valuable.

Says Du Sablon, in the introduction to Chapter 2, “…Proud and enterprising women were already developing and refining their own favorite ‘receipts’ and writing them out, one by one, in blank-page handbooks destined in most cases to be hand down from mother to daughter.

America, during the Colonial Period, was a strange mixture of European sophistication and primitive backwoods survival, and the manuscript cookbooks that have survived were almost exclusively the products of upper-class English families…before marriage a daughter would copy from her mother’s manual, adding or deleting at her own discretion cherished bits of information that enabled her to supervise the preparation of delicious meals, preserve foods and libations, keep a sanitary domicile, ease pain and perhaps even save a life…”

The Supper Menu that Du Sablon provides was taken from manuscript cookbooks from 1700-1800 and two recipes are from the family of William Penn. She notes that the cooking recipes occupy 61 pages transcribed by a family friend in 1702.

The reason for compiling the copy was the younger Penn’s scheduled departure for America for the 40,000 square miles that King Charles II had granted his father in payment for a debt.

The Penn Family Recipes was published in York, Pennsylvania, by George Shumway in 1966 and I think this is the copy with which I am most familiar; the dust jacket of my “Penn Family Recipes” credits “William Penn’s first wife, Gulielma, with having kept a hand-written book of family recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother and states that in 1702 a manuscript copy of them was made and brought to America for us in the Penn household”

Du Sablon notes, in Chapter 2, the hand-titled, by William Penn, “My mother’s Recaipts (sic) for Cookerys Presarving and Chyrurgery [surgery]—William Penn” from the manuscript pages held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. It was the YOUNGER William Penn who came to America, and the copy of the recipes were those of his mother and grandmother. From the Penn family recipes, Du Sablon offers a recipe for Stewed Oysters and how to make French Bread.

Another recipe presented by Du Sablon was from a large leather-covered paperbound manual written in England and brought to America by its author, Elizabeth Mead in 1697 and contains 51 entries. An additional 13 recipes were written in two more hands. It is followed by a recipe for Pickled Mushrooms.

Next is a paragraph about the origin of the “Martha Washington” cookbook in which Du Sablon writes, “although the origin of the ‘Martha Washington’ cookbook is in question, there are two undisputed facts concerning this beguiling document: Martha Washington used it while she was First Lady (1789-97) and her family brought the cookbook from England to America. It is a small volume bound in brown leather and divided in two parts: ‘A Booke of Cookery’ with 205 recipes and “A booke (sic) of Sweetmeats’ containing 326 recipes…” Du Sablon says the handwritten pages have been studied by many but never so assiduously until historian Karen Hess commenced her research…”

Well, this came as a surprise to me; I am familiar with the name Karen Hess from her co-written book “The Taste of America” by John and Karen Hess, and “Carolina Rice Kitchen” which I read and used for reference when writing “Our African Heritage” for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange years ago. (I was unaware that Ms. Hess has 17 other titles under her belt). It was also a shock to read that Karen Hess had passed away in 2007.

Du Sablon provides Martha Washington’s recipe for fritters.

A dessert recipe for Carrot Pudding comes from the receipt book of Harriott Pinckney Horry, used in her home in Charleston and on the Hampton Plantation in South Carolina where she and her first cousin, Sarah Rutledge, who wrote ‘The Carolina Housewife’ grew up. The manuscript is owned by the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston. Du Sablon notes that an excellent transcript, with history, was published in 1984 by the University of South Carolina Press under the title ‘A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriot Pinckney Horry, 1770 by Richard J. Hooker. The Hampton Plantation State Park is 40 miles north of Charleston and the mansion is still there.

Chapter 3 is dedicated to “Early New England Classics” while Chapter 4 is titled “The Great Western Expansion” in which Du Sablon offers extensive details about the Beecher family, in particularly Catharine Beecher, who would go on to compile “A Treatise on Domestic Economy”—what I didn’t know is that in time, this book would be sold in every state in the Union, and Ralph Waldo Emerson endorsed it, using it as a text in his private school in Boston. Du Sablon wrote a lengthy tribute to Catharine Beecher’s life and I would like to write more about Catharine another time.

Du Sablon includes, in Chapter 4, recipes for Yankee Pork and Beans, directions for Roasting a Sparerib of Pork, Beef Tournedos and others.

Chapter 5 is titled “Teaching the American Tradition” and addresses, at length, the cooking schools that began to flourish after the Civil War. Du Sablon notes that there were, in 1900 cooking schools in every major city in America.

Chapter 6 is titled “Little Cookbooks with Motives: Ulterior and Avowed” and focuses on the hundreds (thousands?) of little cookbooklets published by manufacturers back in the day. Yes, there are some still being published but nothing like they were in the early 1900s. It was how I first began collecting cookbooklets in 1949 or thereabouts. You could find an ad on the box or tin of almost any things in your mother’s pantry – from Baking Soda to Hershey’s cocoa…and the booklets were FREE. I would get 10 penny post cards from the post office and send for ten free booklets.

Chapter 7 is titled “The Joy and the Myth” and is about, of course, Irma Rombauer’s “Joy of Cooking” but also featured in this chapter is Betty Crocker (“the myth”).

Chapter 8 is titled “Imported Influences: Great Chefs” – one of those featured is Henri Chapentier, who I have written about before on my blog. (See “Remembering Henri Chapentier, January, 2011) but there are other chefs I’m not familiar with. Du Sablon also provides some background information n Fanny Lemira Gillette and Hugo Ziemann, steward at the White House, who paired to compile the first White House Cookbook. I was unsuccessful in ever learning what happened to Ms. Gillette after she and Ziemann published the White House Cookbook; Du Sablon provides this clue in a single sentence: in 1899 the author published “Mrs. Gillette’s Cook Book: 50 years of Practical Cooking”.

Chapter 9 is titled “How to Compile a Best-Selling Homemade Cookbook” and is packed with valuable tips and information for anyone contemplating traveling down this road.

Chapter 10 is dedicated to “Celebrity Cooks” while Chapter 11 is titled “The Big, Beautiful Cookbook” in which Du Sablon dwells at length on the Time Life Series published in 1966 (has it REALLY been that long ago?) – and I imagine almost anyone who collects cookbooks has this series. What I DIDN’T know, and appreciate so much that Du Sablon included this in her book – it’s a page long list of the many contemporary authors who participated in writing for the Time Life Series. (i.e., M.F.K. Fisher wrote something for The Cooking of Provincial France, while Waverly Root wrote about The Cooking of Italy).

Chapter 12 is titled “Guru versus Gourmet: a Media Battleground” and is a presentation of some of the most notable contemporary chefs—James Beard, for one, Adelle Davis for another.

“By 1962,” Du Sablon writes, “an estimated 850 cookbooks were in print in the United States. By 1984, the estimate was closer to six thousand with an average of two cookbooks a day being published. (Du Sablon’s book was published in 1994. I would speculate that those 1984 totals would have more than doubled by 1994, and perhaps tripled by 2004. Take, for example, the numerous cookbooks being published constantly by the Food Network culinary stars alone. I myself have two shelves-full of Sandra Lee (no relation) and Rachel Ray cookbooks

Nor do these statistics take into consideration the hundreds and thousands of community cookbooks being published every year. In an article published in the website “Beneath the Covers” by Andrew Grabois, he writes, “According to the Simba information annual report…the cooking category generated $519 million dollars in 2006 place it sixth among the nineteen categories being tracked…”

In another website, lifeintheusa.com, it was noted, “Sales or production records are not available for community or organization cookbooks (since these are rarely sold in bookstores), but the market is vast…”

I think even Mary Anna Du Sablon would have been impressed how much the cookbook market has increased just since her death in 2005. She left us much too soon. Thank goodness we have “America’s Collectible Cookbooks” – she made a lasting impression on the world of cookbooks and its cookbook collectors.

“America’s Collectible Cookbooks” can be purchased new from Amazon.com for $19.95. They also have 24 pre-owned copies, starting a $5.14.

Alibris.com has new copies starting at $21.49 and pre-owned copies starting a $5.59.

Happy cooking & Happy cookbook collecting!
–Sandy

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2 responses to ““AMERICA’S COLLECTIBLE COOKBOOKS” BY MARY ANNA DU SABLON

  1. ..A leading folklorist and author of Eat My Words stated that reading a cookbook is to open a window into the lives of women of distinct classes cultures and historical periods who would otherwise be unknown to us . 1 For example cookbooks offer opportunities to peer over the shoulder of an eighteenth century cook who is milking her cow into the bowl used for a frothy syllabub or learn the use of native American foods in the Amelia Simmons cookbook. 2 Through this review of a few cookbook authors and their books an attempt is made to understand the women and the purpose of their books…Barile summarized the history of cookbooks from ancient Rome to Colonial America. 3 These manuscript documents have been overlooked as primary documents that women wrote about their own lives and work.

    • I have “Eat My Words” and I agree with that philosophy – one of the reasons why I love to read coookbooks. Thanks for writing – Sandy

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