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Up until the 18th century cookbooks were used by the wealthy only. Their servants were not supposed to know how to read a cookbook, so the mistress of the household would read the directions as the servant prepared the mixture. Later, cookbooks were written with the middle class in mind and they began turning up in more homes.
For the chef today, the problem many times is not how to make an unfamiliar dish but which cookbook or recipe to use to make it. The cookbook itself is a recent addition to the culinary scene.
A woman who called herself an American orphan, Amelia Simmons, published the first actual American cookbook in 1796 in Hartford, Connecticut. It was reprinted and revised over the next thirty-five years and was written for the primary cooking source at the time, the fireplace. The book was an American original and the first listed ingredient was cornmeal. It also gave an American recipe for gingerbread (which contrasted with the European recipe which was generally used at that time). By the 1820s other cookbooks followed, "Virginia Housewife" among them, but these cookbooks were different from what we chefs know today. They gave no mention of the size of the dishes used in baking, the number of portions the recipe made, the temperature at which to cook the dish, or even about the addition of flour. It was recognized by all cooks at that time that one added as much flour as needed until the "feel" was correct.
It was not until the 1850s that cookbooks were designed for cook stoves, and even then, no temperatures were given since the stoves of that time had no thermometers. With the advent of gas ranges, cookbook recipes took on a more definite form when the first all-electric kitchen was unveiled at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago. The cookbook became more precise.
Changes in cooking followed rapidly. In the early 1920s, more cooks were allowed more accuracy with the precise measuring of cups and spoons advocated by Fannie Farmer, a name most of think of as being more fictional than factual. The ongoing changes in the kitchen included the invention of the electric refrigerator in 1916, and from there the freezer. These, of course, helped prevent spoilage having to do with climate-related menus.
But, as in the cave, first there had to be fire and a manner to control it. Then someone in a white hat had to codify, teach, and refine the recipes to make them user-friendly. We hope that our award winning recipe software will help you manage your recipes and keep this long history of cookbooks alive.