History of American Cooking

History of American Cooking

History of American Cooking

History of American Cooking


This book examines the history and practice of cooking in what is now the United States from approximately the 15th century to the present day, covering everything from the hot-stone cooking techniques of the Nootka people of the Pacific Northwest to the influence of Crisco- a shortening product intended as a substitute for lard- upon American cooking in the 20th century. Learning how American cooking has evolved throughout the centuries provides valuable insights into life in the past and offers hints to our future.

The author describes cooking methods used throughout American history, spotlighting why particular methods were used and how they were used to produce particular dishes. The historical presentation of information will be particularly useful to high school students studying U.S. history and learning about how wartime and new technology affects life across society. General readers will enjoy learning about the topics mentioned above, as well as the in-depth discussions of such dishes as fried chicken, donuts, and Thanksgiving turkey. Numerous sample recipes are also included.


Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or
not at all.

—Harriet Van Horne, “Not for Jiffy Cooks,” Vogue (1956)

Archaeological evidence indicates that humans were cooking in North America at least 12,000 years ago, perhaps earlier. Because they left no written records, we do not know if they enjoyed cooking or if there were any among them who were particularly skilled cooks. In these hunter-gatherer societies, most likely women did the cooking. We know that 11,500 years ago seminomadic people set up a temporary camp in Alaska, where they caught, cooked, and ate salmon and squirrels. We do not know the fine points of their cooking methods or what they thought as they cooked their meals. Undoubtedly they were content and probably grateful to have food to feed their children, kinspeople, and friends.


Although we do not know exactly when humans first cooked, or how or where it happened, most people agree that cooked food tastes good. Humans can taste sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (often described as a rich and satisfying mouthfeel), and over thousands of years, we have learned to catch, grow, produce, and combine ingredients and textures in different ways to make a wide-ranging, perhaps infinite variety of foods. When food is cooked, chemical reactions take . . .

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