NOTE: This post is an edited version of a 2010 post
This July 4th, celebrate by including America’s “first food,” grits.
For 400+ years, Americans have been eating corn. It stands to reason that grits came into the culinary repertoire soon after that.
Thomas Jefferson served grits, according to Craig Claiborne, one of culinary America’s Founding Fathers and long-time food editor for The New York Times. So, serving grits on July 4th is really, well, the patriotic thing to do.
But soon after Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, a cultural event occurred that probably sealed grits’ becoming America’s First Food. Twenty years after the American Revolution, in 1796, a young orphan lady named Amelia Simmons published a cookbook, America’s first one. Until then no cookbook dealt with the indigenous food ingredients available in America. Even one by a man.
AMERICAN COOKERY or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards, and Preserves, and all Kinds of Cakes from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake Adapted to the Country and All Grades of Life – the first cookbook aimed democratically at the masses and slanted towards women; it is the first cookbook to show corn meal as a primary ingredient. It includes the first recipes for Indian Slapjacks and Johnny Cake, as well as “A Nice Indian Pudding,” all of which became staples in the following centuries.
This was the first cookbook aimed democratically at the masses and slanted towards women; it is the first book to show corn meal as a primary ingredient. It includes the first recipes for Indian Slapjacks and Johnny Cake, as well as “A Nice Indian Pudding,” all of which became staples in the following centuries. Text and page images of this original edition are available at the Michigan State University Digital Library “Feeding America” site.
In the preface, Miss Amelia says:
As this treatise is calculated for the improvement of the rising generation of Females in America, the Lady of fashion and fortune will not be displeased, if many hints are suggested for the more general and universal knowledge of those females in this country, who by the loss of their parents, or other unfortunate circumstances, are reduced to the necessity of going into families in the line of domestics, or taking refuge with their friends or relations, and doing those things which are really essential to the perfecting them as good wives, and useful members of society.
So this 4th of July, serve grits.
In honor of the birthday, here are Miss Amelia’s three recipes for A Nice Indian Pudding, found in the facsimile on page 26:
No. 1. 3 pints scalded milk, 7 spoons fine Indian meal, stir well together while hot, let stand till cooled; add 7 eggs, half pound raisins, 4 ounces butter, spice and sugar, bake one and half hour.
No. 3. Salt a pint meal, wet with one quart milk, sweeten and put into a strong cloth, brass or bell metal vessel, stone or earthen pot, secure from wet and boil 12 hours.
Hope your July 4, 2014 is fun and safe.