Meet Mrs. Hannah Glasse. By day, she is a plain English housewife, struggling to scrape by in the mid-1700s. By night, however, she works on her revolutionary new idea: a cookbook designed for the masses of untrained servants working in fine English homes.
By 1746, when Glasse began to write The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, a growing middle class was settling into the cities of England. Hoping to set themselves up comfortably, they hired servants, but very few of those servants actually knew how to cook. Glasse aimed to fill that void with her cookbook, offering a collection of original recipes and those rewritten from other sources. She was clear about her motives: “I do not pretend to teach professed Cooks, my design being to instruct the ignorant and unlearned…and that in so full and plain a manner, that the most ignorant Person, who can but read, will know how to do Cookery well,” she stated in her introduction.
And instruct she did. According to food historian Karen Hess, Glasse’s book sold well in England and her colonies in North America following its publication in 1747. Many noted Americans owned copies (including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington), despite their growing discontent with Mother England. In the mid-18th century, many Americans still relied on English foods, as they still saw themselves as British subjects. Yet ingredients found only in North America crept into their English recipes, as Glasse’s special “American Mode of Cooking” section proves.
And we see “American” ingredients and recipes in this book because I’m using the 1805 edition. By this point, foods in America began to take on a more distinctly “American” flavor, just as the newly-minted nation began to form its unique identity. This edition comes at a major turning point in American history, and the recipes and ingredients reflect that, harking back to the colonists’ European origins while looking ahead to New World foods.
I’ll try to highlight that cross-section with the recipes I choose from Glasse’s book, but of course you can expect some recipes just for fun, too. How could I have resisted those stewed pears?