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Monday, August 06, 2007

Fannie Farmer: The woman behind the cookbook

Fannie_FarmerOf all the cookbooks on the kitchen shelf, my favorite is my 1979 edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. The recipes are well-written and easy to follow, and the results are always tasty. It's a heckuva resource, and if I could only have one cookbook this would be it.

I've always been aware that Fannie Farmer was a real person, but it wasn't until just recently that I decided to do a little research on her. What I discovered was that she was a remarkable woman who was largely responsible for standardizing the system of measurements used in modern recipes and who contributed greatly to the understanding of convalescent diet and nutrition.

Farmer was born in Boston in 1857 into a family that valued education and expected their oldest daughter to go to college. However, she suffered a paralytic stroke when she was 16 and still in high school and was unable to continue in school.

It took her some time to recover from her stroke, and at the age of 30 she enrolled in the Boston Cooking School. Her time at the school coincided with the height of the domestic science movement, which evolved into what is now known as home economics — cooking and nutrition, cleaning and sanitation, and household management.

Two years after Farmer graduated from the school, she became its principal. It was there that she wrote her best-known work, The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, in 1896. The book became so popular that later editions were commonly referred to as "the Fannie Farmer cookbook," which the book eventually came to be named.

While Farmer is best know for popularizing standard measurements, she devoted most of her career to developing diet and nutrition for the ill, and she wrote another book called Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent. She was invited to lecture on the topic at the Harvard Medical School, where she educated doctors and nurses about convalescent diet and nutrition. She strongly valued presentation, and understood that an ill person with no appetite would be more likely to eat a bread-and-butter sandwich trimmed into the shape of a heart than to bother with a piece of bread and a lump of butter.

Farmer suffered two more strokes late in her life, but continued to invent recipes and to lecture from her wheelchair up until 10 days before her death at age 57 in 1915.
M. Zane Grey, 11:28 AM