INDIANAPOLIS — Growing up, Purdue senior Seth Workman was not among the legions of kids who could easily recall the faces of Felicity, Josefina, Kirsten, Addy, Samantha, or Molly.
The adventures of these American Girls, beloved by people growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, who became captivated by their forays through specific parts of U.S. history, weren’t a hallmark of his childhood the way he knew they had been to other people.
“I personally didn’t have an American Girl doll as a child. I didn't really get introduced to them until we were in quarantine. I really have always been into history. I just never knew that the girls had a historical basis to them,” Workman said.
Yet, there he was - deep in the discount section of an online bookseller from Texas on a random February afternoon - considering, seriously, whether he should add two American Girl Cookbooks to his repertoire.
Addy and Felicity’s cookbooks boasted easy-to-prepare, historically accurate recipes from their respective time period. Workman checked their price - $2.98 each, marked down from an original $5.95 - and hit "add to cart."
“I took a lot of cooking classes all throughout high school and in college and I thought it'd be really fun if I cooked my way through these cookbooks, especially since the American Girl dolls have made such a resurgence,” Workman said.
Soon, he was on the hunt for more.
While American Girl series enthusiasts may recall characters like Kit Kitteridge or Kaya’atonmay made appearances within the larger historical characters doll line, Workman only sought the six who had made their debut as part of The Pleasant Company’s original collection in 1986.
That original, elite group were the only ones with their own cookbooks. Molly and Samantha’s were in his possession within weeks. He tracked down Josefina’s cookbook at a local library. Kirsten’s remained elusive.
Feeling his collection was complete as it could be for a series of niche cookbooks that had not been in circulation since, he estimates, “1994 or something like that”, he set out to make a recipe series.
Felicity’s cookbook - and the necessary ingredients required to make a breakfast of apple butter, Johnnycakes and fried ham with gravy, in hand - Workman hit record on his phone.
“Every girl’s cookbook has three different sections - breakfast, dinner, then favorite snacks,” he said. “I worked my way through them all. It's also a good way to kind of get my feet wet with historical cooking without going too much of a deep dive.”
The first TikTok video he posted of cooking the meals wracked up 835,700 views, and tapped into memories of now-grown American Girl fans.
“I woke up from a nap and I had like, a few thousand likes and shares. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn't expect this to happen so fast,’” Workman said.
His TikTok account now boasts more than 31,000 followers. Most of them, including actress Holly Madison, are awaiting the recipes of one doll in particular.
Samantha Parkington, the high class, Victorian-era doll, has a cookbook offering gingerbread, Saratoga potatoes and cream of carrot soup recipes.
“I’m excited for Samantha’s. I looked through all the books and hers seem to be what I’m most used to. And, it looks like the most flavor out of most of the cookbooks,” Workman said.
Workman takes care to ensure his dishes are as historically accurate as they can be and, at one point, called every butcher in the greater Lafayette area to try and get his hands on some veal for Felicity’s dinnertime veal balls. He eventually had to mix beef and pork, per the suggestion of his followers who, he said, are quick to call out any historical inaccuracies.
“My comments got mad at me for using honeycrisp apples. I really didn’t think about the type of apple I was using at first until everyone was like, 'What are you doing Chris? Felicity didn’t use honeycrisp,'” Workman said.
Still, Workman said the critiques only come from a place of deep love for what the dolls and book series meant to people growing up. One TikToker so loved the series that they sent their own worn copy of the hard-to-find Kirsten cookbook for Workman to document, completing the set of six.
“I kind of fell into it from the history standpoint, but I think people really resonate with it because a lot of the dolls have such varying personalities, I think everyone is really able to find some character that they could relate to,” Workman said.
The actual recipes aren’t always relatable, or even particularly palatable. Workman fought hard to like Felicity’s chicken pudding - an alleged favorite of George Washington - but labeled the meal a miss. He made Felicity’s whipped syllabub, raspberry flummery and Sally Lunn bread to varying degrees of tastiness.
“Felicity had a lot of really interesting colonial recipes. She had this sweet potato casserole, I really liked that a lot. They're very typical - no seasoning. Just like straight chicken and some flour kind of stuff,” he said.
Now that Workman has completed Felicity’s cookbook, he said her Almond Tart snacks were the best recipe.
He’s ready to go through another cookbook and, despite the wish of his followers, Ms. Samantha Parkington will have to wait her turn.
“I’m going in historical order. Next up will be Josefina. I actually cannot find a physical copy of her book anywhere, because she was like the last one to be printed,” he said. “There’s only like two copies in the whole state.”
Workman said he is only the owner of two American Girl dolls now because of a chance Goodwill find on behalf of his mother, who wanted to pay homage to his successful series.
He appreciates, though, the enthusiasm from people who held on tight to these dolls well into adulthood, and understands the series’ continued appeal for millennial and Gen Z children.
“I mean, it was your favorite childhood toy. It's kind of hard to forget,” Workman said.