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Vintage cookbooks reveal secrets of America’s past

At Thanksgiving and all year, historians and cooks are finding new inspiration in records of yesterday’s kitchens.

In 1796, a self-described orphan named Amelia Simmons published a slim cookbook “calculated for the improvement of the rising generation of Females in America.” Now considered the first American cookbook, “American Cookery” took British cooking methods and applied them to the ingredients of the New World, including cornmeal and squash.

But the book is striking for another reason, too: Simmons’s pumpkin pudding baked in a crust is the ancestor of the classic Thanksgiving pie. And her recipe for roast turkey—a North American bird—suggested stuffing the bird with bread and herbs, and then serving it with cranberry sauce. It was the first time the combination, now so central to this holiday, had been suggested in print.

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