The American Antiquarian Society has a spectacular collection of approximately 1,200 of the earliest American cookbooks. In addition to traditional collections of recipes found in cookbooks, AAS has books on the subject of domestic management theory, kitchens and their furnishings, the history of American eating habits, manuals of brewing, baking, and confectionery. Biographies of such nineteenth-century cultural icons as Catharine Beecher, Sarah Hale, and Lydia Child can prove useful to scholars studying foodways. Almanacs and household manuals often contained recipes (or “receipts” as they were called then) for food and household products. Together, these sources provide historical and sociological background that goes far beyond the realm of cookbooks, narrowly defined.
It was not until 1742 that a cookbook was published in America, when William Parks, a Williamsburg printer, gave the public The Compleat Housewife. This was a reprint of a London bestseller published fifteen years earlier. The Society's copy of this scarce book is in excellent condition. Another half-century was to elapse before the appearance of what is generally considered to be America's first truly indigenous cookbook, Amelia Simmons's American Cookery, published in Hartford in 1796. A copy of this work is also in the Society's library, as are several later editions, all rare.
These highlights are just a few of the more than 800 cookbooks given to the Society by Waldo Lincoln in 1929 that form the basis of the Society’s current holdings. The Society continues to actively collect in this field whenever opportunities arise.
The collection is fully cataloged online in the General Catalog.
A General Catalog search for "cooking" as a subject keyword will bring up a wider variety of works about all types of food preparation, including preparation of those foods that do not necessarily need to be heated.
"Food," "beverages," and "home economics" are also useful subject keywords to search in the General Catalog.
Unique handwritten recipe books from the manuscript collections are freely available online thanks to a grant from the Pine Tree Foundation. From this list of the catalog records, open an individual record to access links to the scanned images in the upper right corner.
Big Business: Food Production, Processing & Distribution in the North, 1850-1900, an AAS online exhibition
Waldo Lincoln, "Bibliography of American Cookery Books, 1742-1860,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 39 (April 1929).
Eleanor Lowenstein, Bibliography of American Cookery Books 1742-1860. (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1972).
The Past-is-Present blog contains a number of cooking historic recipes
William Woys Weaver, "Additions and Corrections to Lowenstein's "Bibliography of American Cookery Books, 1742-1860," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 92, 2 (1983).