In this charming cookbook, the living history re-enactors at Sturbridge Village took recipes
from some of the earliest American cookbooks and recreated them, first using the original methods
then converting them to more modern recipes. They included the original recipe as written, followed
by both their modern method and hearth cooking versions, making this a multi-level
resource—historical reference, basic cookbook (some of the hearth recipes would also be
useful for campers), and tool to help you create your own living history experience.
The short introduction discusses early American cooking and eating, and how they were part of a
very different way of life. It’s interesting, with insights beyond the obvious, and well worth taking
the time to read. For example, the need for American cookbooks when British ones were already available
was not just because of differences in available ingredients, it was also because they "assumed that
meals would be prepared and brought to the table by servants..." something not so common in America
even then, and also something that never would have occurred to me.
The recipes are clearly written and fairly basic, leaving them well within the range of any level
home cook. I think the biggest surprise for me was how modern some of them seem. You’d expect to find
such things as Meat Pie or Hasty Pudding... but Flavored Vinegars? Cole slaw (admittedly made with
butter and vinegar rather than mayonnaise)? Or a recipe I haven’t tried yet named A Most Delicious
Salad Sauce which, if you include the optional anchovy sauce, reads like a kind of creamy Caesar salad
dressing served up decades before Caesar Cardini created his eponymous specialty.
I haven’t tried a lot of the recipes yet because so many are more suited to cooler weather, but the
ones I have tried have been easy and surprisingly flavorful—I’d wrongly assumed they’d be
fairly bland. They’re also largely based on pantry standard ingredients, so you can pick one to try
on a whim. I’m going to have a lot of fun cooking my way through the rest.
Highly recommended, both as a cookbook and an interesting historical read.