The Cookbooks on Their Shelves: The First English-Language French Cookbooks in the United States, or, Who was Sulpice Barué?

Much has been made of Thomas Jefferson’s influence on the “Frenchification” of cuisine in the young United States and in American diplomatic circles. Just take a look at “The French Touch,” a chapter in Even Jones’s American Food: The Gastronomic Story (1990) or Karen Hess’s “Thomas Jefferson’s Table: Evidence and Influences,” in Dining at Monticello (2005).

But, as we have seen, other factors — including the hiring of French chefs by the British upper-class and the arrival of the French in Virginia, Louisiana, and South Carolina  — also accelerated the adoption of French cuisine in the American colonies.

English-language French cookbooks began to appear — for instance, Vincent La Chapelle’s The Modern Cook (1733, three volumes, printed in English and later translated into French) and William Verral’s A Complete System of Cookery (1759). The first French cookbook published in the United States was Louis Eustache Ude’s The French Cook (1828, originally published in London in 1813).

Ude’s recipe for roast beef includes instructions for carving. Obviously, he meant for this meal to serve quite a crowd:

182. Roast Beef.

The author would recommend to the cook, to choose, in the first place, a well-covered sirloin, not weighing more than twenty or twenty-four pounds; a larger piece is never well roasted, the time which it requires causes the outside to be too much done, while the middle remains quite raw. The meat must be covered for one hour only with paper, to prevent its taking too much colour; it is necessary to observe, that for large pieces the fire must not be too sharp, or the meat will be burned, before it is warm through; just before you take it off the spit, spread some fine salt over it, and send it up very hot with gravy only. This joint is often spoiled for the next day’s use, by an injudicious mode of carving. If you object to the outside cut, take the brown off, and help yourself to the next; by thus cutting it only on one side, you preserve the gravy in the meat, and the goodly appearance likewise: by cutting it, on the contrary, clown the middle of the joint, all the gravy runs out, and it remains dry and void of substance, besides exhibiting a most unseemly aspect when brought to table a second time.

And then the first American (and a woman, at that) dared to publish a cookbook on French cuisine. Domestic French Cookery, by Eliza Leslie, came out in 1832, based on a book supposedly published in Belgium by someone named Sulpice Barué.  No one seems to know who Sulpice Barué was, some critics and commentators even suggesting that Miss Leslie made it all up.

Take a look at Miss Leslie’s recipe for roasted beef:


Rub your beef all over with salt, and lard the lean part of it with slips of fat bacon. Cover the meat with sheets of oiled or buttered paper. Roast it in proportion to its size, between three and four hours.

Serve it up with its gravy, and have some onion sauce in a boat.

In 1846, an English translation appeared of Madame Louise-Beate Augustine Utrecht-Friedel’s La Petite Cuisiniere Habile, originally published in French in New Orleans in 1840. The English translation renders the title into “The Clever Little Cook.” Her recipe for roast beef uses the term ” done to a turn,” making it quite clear where that phrase likely originated:

Rosbif, a l’Anglaise
English Roastbeef

Take the second piece of the sirloin (it is necessary that the piece should be large), put it on a spit, baste with butter, and make it turn before a brisk fire, which must be kept up constantly to the same degree. Take care that your meat does not cease dripping, for it must be done to a turn. Take up your rosbif, and serve with potatoes, boiled whole, steamed, or fried.

Note that these books utilize the hearth as the cooking medium.

Newspapers of the day like the Baltimore Gazette ran advertisements for Miss Leslie’s book. Or rather booksellers listed her book along with others. In 1843, The Ladies’ Companion (vols. 19 -20) commented on the book:

Domestic French Cookery.—This invaluable housewife’s companion, by Eliza Leslie, comprises over two hundred French receipts for making every species of soup, sauce, vegetable, mets and entremets. We here see the dissection of a great many dishes which we have often desired, but could never find, any where but in the French cuisine. As we have despoiled the French of the best parts of their beautiful language, and as one good turn deserves another, it is no more than reasonable that we should also learn the delicious art of French cookery. The book now before us, which contains every thing necessary to he known on this subject, is published by Carey & Hart.

Because Mrs. A. P. Hill mentioned Miss Leslie’s French Domestic Cookery in her book, Mrs. Hill’s Southern Practical Cookery and Receipt Book (1872, reprinted as a facsimile in 1995), we can be fairly sure that Mrs. Hill and others often grabbed Miss Leslie’s book off a kitchen shelf. In fact, according to Evan Jones (and he doesn’t give the source, too bad), “In the South generally, cooks who had been born as well as  trained in France were common enough in the mid-nineteenth century to cause one lady of a great Charleston family to point out that cookbooks published especially for the use of those cooks — and in their own language — were ‘to be found in every book store.’ “

But I still want to know where Miss Leslie originally found Sulpice Barué’s book. Several sources seem to have a tough time getting the spelling right, Bance, Barné, etc.

Or did she copy  from authors like Louis Eustache Ude, who cooked for Louis XVI … 

© 2011 C. Bertelsen