Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

Let’f fee. What foundf tafty for our big Thankfgiving feaft? Roaft beef, perhapf? Pigeonf? Or maybe fifh—like falmon, fhad or eelf. Oh, decifionf, decifionf, decifionf!

Oops, pardon me; I didn’t realize you were looking over my shoulder.

I’ve been reading a book about cooking in colonial days and have fallen into the habit of using “f” for “s.” You know, like the type face appeared in print way back when.

This delightful publication is called “The First American Cookbook.” I bought a copy not long ago when my wife and I were touring historic Philadelphia, Pa.

The title may be plain, but it’s most appropriate because this is considered to be the very first cookbook of American authorship ever published within the United States. It was written by Amelia Simmons and came out in 1796.

While the founding fathers were scribbling “whereafef” (aka “whereases”) on parchment paper, Miss Amelia was busy in the kitchen. Apparently she was as skilled at gathering ingredients as she was preparing meals.

Consider these instructions for selecting veal—verbatim in spelling and punctuation, except with “s” instead of that goofball “f” for easier reading: “It is soon soft—great care therefore is necessary in purchasing. Veal bro’t to market in panniers, or in carriages, is to be preferred to that bro’t in bags, and flouncing on a sweaty horse.”

Miss Amelia also was quite fond of shad. And not necessarily fresh: “I have tasted shad thirty or forty miles from the place where caught, and really conceived that they had a richness of flavor, which did not appertain to those taken fresh and cooked immediately.”

Can’t forget the butter: “Tight, waxy, yellow butter is better than white or crumbly, which soon becomes rancid and snowy.”

Ooooo-kay ...

Now let’s get down to cooking the main course for our Thanksgiving Day feast. Here’s Miss Amelia’s secret for a hearty “Sea Pie,” again verbatim.

“Four pound of flour, one and half pound of butter rolled into paste, wet with cold water, line the pot therewith, lay in split pigeons, turkey pies, veal, mutton or birds, with slices of pork, salt, pepper, and dust on flour, doing this till the pot is full or your ingredients expended, add three pints water, cover tight with paste, and stew moderately two and half hours.”

For dessert, here’s her “Plumb Cake,” straight off the page.

“Mix one pound currants, one drachm nutmeg, mace and cinnamon each, a little salt, one pound of citron, orange peel candied, and almonds bleach’d, 6 pound of flour (well-dry’d), beat 21 eggs, and add with 1 quart new ale yeast, half pint of wine, three half pints of cream.”

Yuck. That sounds absolutely gross. I’ve got a bad case of acid reflux just from reading her recipe.

Anybody got a roll of Tumf they could fpare?


Sam Venable is an author, stand-up comedian, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel.
Email comments to
.