- Megan Bingham
Amelia Simmons, protagonist of Independence Cake, was what might be called "an American orphan." In 1796, she wrote America's first cookbook, American Cookery. Although not much is known about Amelia, notable children's author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrator Giselle Potter have created a fictional tale about the young cook and her culinary journey.
It is believed that Amelia worked as a cook during the latter part of the 18th century. Orphaned at a very early age, Hopkinson writes a story involving Mrs. Bean, the single mother of six boys, who is desperate for help from someone like Amelia. Amelia, as "strong and young as the new nation itself," learns to clean and scrub pots; spin, knit, and sew clothing; and hoe the garden. When Amelia asks Mrs. Bean if she could also learn "good, plain American cookery" and share the recipes she creates with the citizens of the town, Mrs. Bean is beside herself! Amelia's request is the icing on the cake.
First, Amelia learns to cook English dishes such as rice puddings and marvelous marmalade, as well as how to preserve peaches and cucumbers. Once Amelia masters these favorites, she comes up with new recipes using more American ingredients, such as winter squash pudding and flapjacks with cornmeal. She invents a new way of using potash, or "pearl ash," (known today as baking powder) to help her delicious delicacies rise. She even coins a new terms, such as "cookies" which came from the Dutch word "koekje."
When Mrs. Bean and the other citizens of town ask if she could make a cake for George Washington's inauguration in New York City, Amelia gets to work making Independence Cakes! Amelia's Independence Cake recipe is similar to recipes for Election Day Cakes, which were baked both in America and England for those festive occasions. But Amelia wants to make more than one cake. That's right; she comes up with 13, one for each of the brand new 13 colonies! At the inauguration, Amelia offers George Washington a slice of her Independence Cake and . . . does he like it?
Read about Amelia's story in Independence Cake, and you'll find out!