Originally published in 1824, The Virgina Housewife is often considered the first American cookbook. And if not that -- because some would argue Amelia Simmons's American Cookery (1796) claims that title -- it's certainly the first regional cookbook. In it, you'll find recipes for Southern-style specialties like gumbo, catfish soup, and biscuits, as well as information about home management, basic cooking technique, and proper table manners.
The book, along with classics such as La Cuisine Créole (1881) and What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking (1885) have entered the public domain now that their copyrights have expired. This means we can read them online, in their entirety, for free.
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Here are links to five of the most important Southern cookbooks in American history:
- The Virigina Housewife Mary Randolph, 1924
- Housekeeping in Old Virginia Marion Cabell Tyree, 1878
- What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking Abby Fisher, 1881
- La Cuisine Créole Lafcadio Hearn, 1885
- The Unrivalled Cook-Book and Housekeeper's Guide "Mrs. Washington", 1885
For more free historical cookbooks, peruse the digital archives of Cooking America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. Published by the Michigan State University Library, the digital collection includes influential American cookbooks from the late 18th to early 20th century, searchable full-text transcriptions, and a glossary of cooking terms.