The Queen of My Self

Women have long documented their domestic knowledge and experience by keeping written manuscripts of recipes for food, medicines, inks and cleaning supplies, in order to pass it down through the generations of their families.

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery is such a hand written manuscript cookbook, which was given to her in 1749 and used in her household for fifty years. The Washington manuscript describes cookery from the English Mother Land and includes cuisines of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. It also offerss recipes reflecting America’s produce and colonial history.

Janet Theophano stated in her book, Eat My Words, that cookbooks are celebrations of identity. Connections to people, places and the past are embedded in the recipes women kept and exchanged, transformed, and adapted to the changing world.

Anna Weckerin was the first woman to publish a cookbook. Ein Köstlich New Kochbuch (A Delicious New Cookbook), released in 1598 went through many editions up through the 17th century. Her recipes include a roast salmon with a sour sauce and an eel pie, as well as more familiar German dishes like Bratwurst and Lebkuchen.

In 1727 Eliza Smith authored The Compleat Housewife, She had worked for many years as a cook in upper-class houses where she acquired considerable expertise in preparing and serving fine food. Her writing reveals great self-assurance, for she attacked English attitudes toward food and women cooks. In her Preface, she chides the male culinary writers of her time, and stresses her years of experience as a woman in the kitchen, in order to establish her authority.

The English author Hannah Glasse published The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, which was a staple of American households during the Revolutionary War. Her emphasis on the use of plain language in her Preface was to retrieve cookery from the professional male chefs, who were accused of writing to male professionals with complex techniques. Glasse was a pioneer in giving recipes for ice cream, chocolate and vanilla, which appeared in the family recipes of the Washington, Jefferson and Franklin families.

Another outstanding English author, Isabella Beeton, wrote the Book of Household Management. It represented traditional fare and solid Victorian values. Although it contained a few extravagant recipes, the author devoted many pages to plain family fare. These pages were removed in later editions. Her recipes were the first to list ingredients before the method of preparation. She included information on the management of children, the doctor and legal memoranda. Nearly two million copies of her first book sold by 1868.

In 1796 Amelia Simmons published the first American written cookbook. She was the first to create an awareness of indigenous cookery in America. She printed the first corn, squash, and pumpkin recipes; and she was the first to recommend the use of potash, a forerunner of baking powder. An orphan and domestic worker, she wrote in her Preface, that the book is calculated for “the improvement of the rising generation of females in America, particularly for 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.” 

The Virginia House-Wife, published in 1824 by Mary Randolph was the most influential American cookbook of the nineteenth century. It documented the cookery of the early days of the republic and was the most cherished of kitchen manuals. Born into wealth, prominence and status, Mary Randolph introduced a sumptuous cuisine influenced by English, Indian, African and Creole flavors.

Another extremely popular American author of the early nineteenth century was Eliza Leslie. She was introduced anonymously in 1828 as “a lady of Philadelphia” writing Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats. Her second cookbook, Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches was published in 1837 and had fifty printings. She also authored the first book on French Cookery. Her writing made Eliza Leslie a Philadelphia celebrity. She had the reputation of being a brilliant woman with a sarcastic wit and heady opinions.

Fannie Farmer published her most well-known work, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, in 1896. She introduced the concept of using standardized measuring spoons and cups, as well as level measurement. This classic American cooking reference contains1,849 recipes, from milk toast to Zigaras à la Russe. She also included essays on housekeeping, cleaning, canning and drying fruits and vegetables, and nutritional information. The book was so popular in America that cooks would refer to later editions simply as the “Fannie Farmer Cookbook,” and it is still a top seller over 100 years later.

Farmer was first a student and then the principal of the Boston Cooking School and later created Mrs. Farmer’s School of Cookery. She began by teaching gentlewomen and housewives the rudiments of plain and fancy cooking, but her interests eventually led her to develop a complete work of diet and nutrition for the ill, titled Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent.

Clementine Paddleford was an American food writer active from the 1920s through the 1960s, writing for several publications, including the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Sun, The New York Telegram, Farm and Fireside, and This Week magazine. She was the first journalist in American history to take food as a serious subject to write about.

She was also a pilot, and flew a Piper Cub around the country to report on America’s many regional cuisines. She traveled more than 800,000 miles between 1948 and 1960 in the pursuit of great food. One of her assignments was to report on the cooking and food aboard a US Navy submarine, which took her aboard the USS Skipjack for a cruise. In 1960 Paddleford published her tome How America Eats, a collection of 12 years of her columns.

Julia Childs discovered a penchant for French cuisine when she moved to Paris at the age of 40 , after spending World War II as a spy. She attended the world-famous Cordon Bleu cooking school for six months and then, with two Fellow graduates, she founded the cooking school L’Ecole de Trois Gourmandes (The School of the Three Gourmands). With a goal of adapting sophisticated French cuisine for mainstream Americans, the trio collaborated on a two-volume cookbook titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Published in the U.S., the 800-page book was considered a groundbreaking work and has since become a standard guide for the culinary community.

When she later moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she promoted her book on the Boston public broadcasting station, and prepared an omelet on air exhibiting her delightful, straight-forward, casual demeanor and hearty humor. The response of the public was so immediate and overwhelmingly enthusiastic that she was invited back to tape her own series on cookery for the network.

The French Chef TV series premiered on WGBH in 1962 and succeeded in changing the way Americans related to food, Over the years, the wild and wonderful Julia Child inspired countless home cooks to expand their horizons and make cooking a joyful pleasure. The show was syndicated to 96 stations throughout America and won both a Peabody Award and an Emmy Award in 1966.

Alice Waters has carried the baton of innovative, influential cuisine into the present day where she has updated it to meet the current needs of people and the environment. Her world famous restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California is credited for developing California Cuisine, which emphasizes the use of organic, seasonal, locally grown food prepared simply. The quality of ingredients ensures great taste.

Like Fannie Farmer, Alice Waters believes in the health-giving properties of good food cooked with love. She teaches that the international shipment of mass-produced food is both harmful to the environment and unhealthy for the consumer. She has authored or co-written 41 books that promote her culinary philosophy, including the seminal Chez Panisse Cooking.

A pioneer of the popular Slow Food Movement, she expanded her influence on cooking and eating by creating the Edible Schoolyard program. This innovative curriculum has been introduced into the entire Berkeley school system, and with the current crisis in childhood obesity, has attracted the attention of the national media. Her educational example was the inspiration for Michelle Obama’s White House Garden, which she created with the children from a local school.

Each of these women have introduced an original concept, philosophy or standard to culinary herstory, each one offering more depth and nuance to the art of cookery. They were truly Queens of the kitchen who had their cakes and ate them, too.

Compliments to the chefs.


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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


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