Overlooked No More: Fannie Farmer, Modern Cookery’s Pioneer
She brought a scientific approach to cooking, taught countless women marketable skills as well as wrote a cookbook which defined American food for the 20th century.
Since 1851, obituaries within the fresh York Times have been dominated by white men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable people whose deaths went unreported by the newspaper.
Recipes in 19th-century cookbooks relied on measurements like a “handful” of rice or a “goodly amount” of molasses — on the assumption which women largely knew how to cook.
Fannie Merritt Farmer changed all which. Widely credited with inventing the modern recipe, Farmer was the first professional cook to insist which scientific methods as well as precise measurements — level teaspoons, cups as well as ounces — produce better food, as well as also the first to demonstrate which cooking classes could be mass-market entertainment.
These were just a few of her contributions as the foremost cooking teacher, writer as well as lecturer of her day. Chiefly, she was responsible for “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.” First published under her name in 1896, which was a best seller as well as remains in print, with more than seven million copies sold. The book’s popularity as well as longevity has made Farmer a primary source for generations of American cooks.
“Correct measurements are absolutely necessary to ensure the best results,” Farmer famously wrote.
Julia Child, one of the only American cooks to become as widely influential as Farmer, said which “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” was the primary reference in her own mother’s kitchen, as well as which she cut her teeth as a cook on its pancakes, popovers as well as fudge recipes.
Both women were famous as teachers as well as writers, not as brilliant cooks. Child as well as Farmer were considered unusual in their time: Both were ambitious, charismatic media titans; purveyors of domestic wisdom who led unconventional domestic lives; as well as privileged fresh Englanders having a strong sense of how things ought to be done.
Born in Boston on March 23, 1857, Farmer was raised in nearby Medford by genteel however financially struggling parents, John Franklin Farmer, a printer as well as editor, as well as Mary Watson Merritt. A great-niece described them as “Unitarian as well as bookish.” The eldest of four daughters, Fannie planned to attend college as well as become a schoolteacher, one of the few professional avenues open to women at the time. however after she suffered some paralysis in her lower body at age 16, probably coming from polio, the prevailing medical wisdom dictated which she could not leave home or apply herself intellectually.
In her 20s, Farmer was finally allowed to work, becoming a kind of governess within the home of a wealthy family friend. which was her employer who encouraged Farmer to expand her culinary knowledge, according to Laura Shapiro, author of “Perfection Salad: Women as well as Cooking at the Turn of the Century” (1986).
At 31, Farmer enrolled within the august Boston Cooking School, which was founded as a philanthropic venture to enable women of modest means to find work as cooks in private homes as well as institutions. Its stated promised was “to lift This kind of great social incubus of bad cooking as well as its incident evils coming from the households of the country at large.” She joined the staff just after graduating, in 1889.
The concepts of “domestic science” as well as “home economics” were in their infancy, however these factors — bolstered by the work of women like Farmer, her colleagues Mary Lincoln as well as Maria Parloa as well as Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman to be admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — were already shaping the field.
This kind of fresh scientific approach to cooking made culinary expertise accessible to anyone willing to study. as well as as Farmer’s knowledge of food deepened throughout her career, she became a respected expert on the topic of diet as well as health.
She became a multimedia culinary force, a frequent figure on the lecture circuit whose weekly lectures were published within the Boston Evening Transcript. (She was one of the first women to lecture at Harvard Medical School.)
Her charisma as well as energy at the podium brought women of higher social strata under her sway, as well as she expanded her knowledge to encompass dishes for dinner parties, ladies’ luncheons as well as more.
In 1902, she commenced Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, which was not only educational however also profitable, allowing her to buy land, build a house as well as support her parents, sisters as well as various other family members.
She also acted as food editor for the influential magazine Women’s Home Companion as well as promoted standards of detail as well as precision which survive to This kind of day.
Measuring cups as well as spoons were already available, suggesting which she was not the inventor of such standards however rather an effective evangelist for them. as well as powerful fresh products like baking powder as well as compressed yeast were doing precision in recipes much more important.
“I’m sure the fact which her cake as well as pie recipes actually worked was a huge part of her success,” Ms. Shapiro said in an interview.
Farmer died of complications of a stroke on Jan. 15, 1915. She was 57.
Even after her death, her cookbook was frequently revised, most thoroughly as well as successfully in 1979 by Marion Cunningham, who took its classic recipes into the modern era.
Earlier books, including previous editions of the “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book,” assumed which all women were taught basic culinary skills at home as well as which they did not need to be told what pie dough should feel like or how to roast beef. however much of which changed after the Industrial Revolution. Traditional skills like preserving, cheese-doing as well as bread-baking ebbed, as well as Boston as well as various other cities became magnets for fresh kinds of Americans: single women, young people as well as immigrant families, all in need of homes, jobs as well as food.
Under a fresh name, “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” has sold three million more copies; many cooks still rely on which for basics like Parker House rolls, scalloped potatoes as well as waffles. (“The Joy of Cooking,” with its more cosmopolitan as well as friendly tone, gradually displaced the Farmer cookbook as the standard kitchen bible after which was published in 1931.)
however Farmer’s enduring legacy will be a simple one: exactitude in cooking.
“She made which possible for any woman to put a meal on the table, even if she couldn’t cook at all,” Shapiro said. “There’s nothing more democratizing than which.”