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Early Chinese Food in the U.S.
Chinese Food in the United States
Winter Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(4) pages: 31 to 32
On an early computerized hunt for early Chinese
English-language recipes published in the US, we
did turn up an article in The Universal Receipt
Book dated 1814, but never the actual article. Years
later, actually found a hard copy for sale in someone’s
collection. Did get to peruse it but it did not have a
single Chinese recipe. One recipe was titled Ginger
Drops, but even that was not a Chinese candy. Another
was for orange peel, sugar, and ginger powder saying
“take some for a ‘cold stomach.” Is that why the index
thought it Chinese?
The next earliest Chinese
recipe listed is in a 1830 Boston
book titled The Practice of
Cookery. It was written by
Mrs. Dalgairns and includes a
recipe for ‘China Chilo’ in a
chapter about mutton. Though
the recipe title says ‘China’ and
its ingredients tilt Asian, it is
not for a Chinese dish. We felt
it an Indian food. It words
were: “chop the meat finely.....
also part of the fat of a loin
of mutton......season it with a
large spoonful of salt and a teaspoonful
of ground pepper, two
large onions shredded, half a
pint of green peas, one lettuce
cut small..... and a quarter
pound of clarified butter.” It
went on saying “serve it in the
middle of a pound of rice boiled
dry.” The clarified butter is
not part of any Chinese food
we are familiar with.
An 1832 recipes also has Asian
Indian notions even though its
title is ‘Couchon, A China Dish.’
And ‘Couchon” is more Indian
than Chinese. Its instructions
say to “cut into small bits, veal
or the meat of fowl, and pickled pork, and with slices
of onion, fasten them alternately upon small skewers,
three or four inches long.....pound a couple of onions, a
small apple, a head of garlic, and a large tablespoonful
of currie powder, with some gravy; press it though a
sieve.....fry in butter a finely minced onion; dust.....
with turmeric.....add the strained liquor, with two bay
leaves, a little salt and pepper.....stew till the liquor be
neatly wasted, and the flavour be very rich.....before
serving, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, and take
out the bay leaves.”
An 1814 book turned up in that same search in Miss. A.S.
Provost of New York’s volume titled Choice Collection
of Family. That search is for Beer Powder and in an
1815 volume by Philomelia Hardin of Cleveland, Ohio.
In a book titled: Everybody’s Cook and Receipt Book.
The problem is that its recipe is titled ‘Ginger Nuts’ and
maybe Asian, but not Chinese. Maybe the word ‘ginger’
triggered the computer search to pick it out.
A New York 1846 book titled
Manual of Homeopathic
Cooking does have an
interesting sentence, but not
a Chinese recipe. It says: “No
people in the world eat so
little meat and so much fish
and vegetables as the Chinese.”
Clearly the last word could be
why the search brought it to our
On the shelf next to it, we spot
an 1845 item by John R. Peters
whose cover says the ‘Chinese
Museum in the Marlboro Chapel
in Massachusetts....’ Within it
is Case 41 with ‘a description
of melon seeds used by a
Chinese.....of lien-fan water lily
from Fokien.....(a) root sliced
and eaten as fruit....white and
black sesamum cultivated.....
for .oil.....sometimes boiled and
eat(en) like rice “ Here again,
no Chinese recipe, but at least
words about actual Chinese
foods. See its cover to the left.
We also found a book titled:
Midshipman in China: A
Recollection of the Chinese. This was published
in London by the ‘Religious Tract Society and also in
Philadelphia by their American Sunday-School Union.
In it are thirteen chapters, a few sentences in this
book about ‘bird’s nests,’ ‘tea,’ ‘catching chickens and
fish,’ and one sentence about ‘Chinese people’s lack of
religion.’ It, too, has no Chinese recipes.
We are amazed at what the above computer searches
turned up including a New York book titled: Breakfast,
Dinner, and Tea. Its three hundred pages have‘receipts’
in a five-page section titled ‘Chinese Dishes.’ These
recipes have no amounts and not every one lists all
ingredients mentioned in its text. One for soup says
the “the natives call it chou-chou. It is a composition
of pork, fowls, yams, sweet potatoes, ducks, fish,
onions, garlic, mint, pepper, salt, and cloves; and bird’s
nests all with no amounts. Another lists boiled rice,
mango pickles, and balichung; no amount for any of
those three items, either. There were some paragraphs
about sea slugs, live crabs, rat soup, rice wine, seaweed,
fish maw, sea cucumbers, shark’s fins, antelope leg,
preserved fruits and vegetables, seeds, dried fruits,
bamboo, and water lilies; and none of these ingredients
has an amount for any of them.
An 1886 book by Mrs. S. M. Scott called Everyday
Cookery for Every Family, includes sentences about
making tea, boiling rice, and making ginger-brandy.
Some have amounts, but not all of them. In 1870 and
thereafter, many books tell how to cook rice, purchase
tea, and cook foods one might recognize as Chinese
today. One page of an 1871 volume of The Household
Treasure we found reprinted as The Young Housewife’s
Companion that was published in Philadelphia by J.
Thomas Huey & Co. does advertise Chinese ingredients;
but this book does not have a single Chinese recipe,
Finally in 1899, the United States government publishes
a forty-eight page stapled pamphlet by Walter C.
Blasdale titled: A Description of Some Chinese Food
Materials. It has no recipes but does tell how to use
many Chinese vegetables, seeds, grains, fruits, flowers,
fungi, and algae; and it has a few b/w photographs or
line drawings, and the nutritive and economic value of
many Chinese ingredients.
The earliest cookbook published in the US with all
Chinese recipes was published in Detroit in 1911. It
was written by Jesse Louise Nolton, and has thirty-six
recipes. It also discusses thirteen ingredients, and
does have a few suggested Chinese menus. The recipes
are for Chop Sooy, Egg Fo Yong, and several Chinese
rice and noodle dishes.
In 1914, two Chinese cookbooks were published, one
with sixty-two Chinese recipes and a few Japanese
ones. It is by Sara Bosse and Onoto Watannabe. Ms.
Watanabe is not Japanese but is an American assuming
a Japanese name. The other book includes ten
Chinese recipes, is by William Edward Garner, and it
titled Reliable Recipes for Many Chinese Dishes. It
includes recipes for chop suey, noodle, rice, and other
Two other Chinese recipe books were published in
1917, one an eight-page pamphlet with an illustration
on its cover and twenty-seven recipes within. Some
of them are titled chop suey, chow mein, fo young,
and variations thereof. There are also rice and
noodle dishes and variations of the other recipes.
The other book, a hardbound, has one hundred fiftyone
recipes and includes Chinese food history, mail
order sources, noodles shops, prices and names of
sixty-two foods, and the needed calories and hours
to digest them. Two have b/w photographs, another is
of most common Chinese ingredients. The others are
for Chinese dishes.
The following decade, the 1920s, have ten more
Chinese cookbooks published. There are also Chinese
recipes in books of several other cultures. In the
years thereafter, two extensive Chinese cookbooks
are published. Each has a thousand recipes, one with
more than nine hundred pages. Completed in 1966,
it is authored by Glorai Bley Miller. The other one has
more than five hundred pages and written by Wonona
Chang, Irving Beilin Chang, and the Kutschers. That
book was published in 1970; and both are hard bound.
Many, many more Chinese cookbooks have been
published in English since. There are more than five
thousand Chinese cookbooks published in English or
in English and another language; not all published in
the US. Copies of every one of them donated to Stony
Brook University can be found and looked at in that
Long Island town at the State University there. They
are in their Special Collections area in the Jacqueline
M. Newman Chinese Cookbook Collection at Stony
Brook University. Citations and annotations of each
one can also be found and accessed in their Special
Collections and the “Stars University’s Computer
Catalogue on their web site.
For additional information about them and how to
access this site, do contact Kristan Knytray, the Special
Collections librarian by phone at (631) 632-7119.