RIDGEWOOD, N.J. -- The Schoolhouse Museum, in Ridgewood, has a new exhibit, "Farm and Home," featuring artifacts and information about food preparation and cooking in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As of April 28th, it will have been 220 years ago that Amelia Simmons published "American Cookery," the first cookbook written by an American. Prior to that, colonists used British cookbooks -- which lacked information on how to use foods, spices and other ingredients found in America.
As historian Greg Mangan states, what made Simmons' work unique "was its recognition of the deficiencies of existing British cookbooks when it came to understanding American culture," and that it provides valuable insights into the methods and foods that helped colonists forge a uniquely American culinary identity.
A skillful cook, historian Karen Hess points out that Simmons recipes had a variety of herbs, as well as wine, and "extraordinarily fine roasting techniques." She incorporated common early American foods -- cornmeal, pumpkins and molasses -- into her recipes, and was the first cookbook author to mention "pearl ash," a wood ash, which was the forerunner of baking powder to lighten or leaven dough.
American Cookery also shows the influence of Dutch words in the area at that time, words like slaw, meaning salad; and cookey, from koekje, meaning cookie.
The impact of American Cookery on local Ridgewood residents at that time can be seen in an 1823 book of hand-written recipes by Ridgewood native Jeanette Pells. Two of her recipes, ginger bread and sugar cake, call for one or two teaspoons of pearl ash.
The museum is located at 650 E. Glen Ave., in Ridgewood. Visiting hours are Thursdays and Saturdays, 1-3 p.m., and Sundays, 2-4 p.m. Contact the museum at 201-447 3242 or firstname.lastname@example.org.