Friday, August 03, 2007

Fannie Merritt Farmer and Her Cookbook

Upon finding three early versions of my favorite cookbook...

Today I discovered several online volumes of Fannie Farmer's cookbook: the original 1896 edition, the 1911 edition, and the 1918 edition of The Boston Cooking-school Cookbook. Finding them was like running into a dear friend unexpectedly -- a really nice surprise.

Fannie Farmer and Me

My cookbook collection takes up a couple of bookcase shelves, but my Fannie Farmer cookbook is my all-time favorite.

My mother had a copy of The Fannie Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook (10th edition) which I used sometimes, when I was growing up. Later, when I had a little place of my own, I bought my own copy, the 11th edition, which was named The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

I turn to Fannie Farmer every time I make cornbread, baking powder biscuits, pancakes, waffles, ginger snaps, brownies, and more. In the previous sentence, I linked to the recipes in the 1918 cookbook; their ingredients are similar, but not identical, to the recipes in my 1965 cookbook.

Some of my favorite Fannie Farmer recipes -- applesauce spice cake and peanut butter cookies, for example -- aren't in the 1918 edition. Those recipes were apparently added by her heirs. Her immediate family did early revisions, and later, her niece by marriage, Wilma Lord Perkins, revised several editions. Perkins writes in the preface of the 11th edition about upholding "Aunt Fannie's" standards of clear, dependable, basic recipes.

Marion Cunningham took over in the late 1960's as the reviser/author of Fannie Farmer cookbooks. It's now in its 13th edition, completely rewritten with many new recipes, but personally, I don't intend to buy it. I'm going to stick with the edition I know and love.

I have the Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham, and it has not become a favorite of mine, though I've tried to give it a fair chance. I admit I may have a bit of attitude. Some cooks think she's done great things with the Fannie Farmer cookbooks.

Who was Fannie Farmer?

Fannie Farmer (1857-1915) was a pioneer of scientific cookbook writing and the study of nutrition. In her recipes, she used standardized level measurements -- cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, etc. -- rather than the lumps, pinches, dabs, and dashes common to recipes of her era.

In the two decades after her cookbook was published, she saw it reprinted nine times. She surely would not have guessed that 110 years later, it would still be in print and considered a masterpiece and a classic.

Fannie Farmer's life

Fannie suffered a stroke when she was only 16 years old. She was unable to walk for several years and she was unable to complete the college education she had planned. Though she learned to walk again, she always had a limp.

During her years of recovery from the stroke, she became interested in food preparation. When she was about 30 years old, she enrolled in the Boston Cooking School, a school for professional cooks, where she became a star pupil, an assistant, and finally, the school's director. Thus the title of her cookbook was the Boston Cooking School Cookbook.

Later she started a cooking school for housewives, Miss Farmer's School of Cookery. She wrote a book about proper nutrition for sick and handicapped people and became a lecturer on that subject at the Harvard Medical School, as well as running her own school, writing a newspaper column on cookery, and authoring several other books.

As a young person, Fannie Farmer had red hair. She never married, and she died when she was only 57. She suffered another stroke that paralyzed her legs again, but she continued working from a wheelchair, giving her last lecture just ten days before her death.

A note from Fannie Farmer

My Fannie Farmer cookbook was revised and updated by her niece, Wilma Lord Perkins, but it still has a foreword from its original author. I quote a paragraph from it:

At the earnest solicitation of educators, pupils, and friends, I have been urged to prepare this book, and I trust it may be a help to many who need its aid. It is my wish that it may not only be looked upon as a compilation of tried and tested recipes, but that it may awaken an interest through its condensed scientific knowledge which will lead to deeper thought and broader study of what to eat.

-- FMF
Yes, Fannie, the book has been a good help to me every time I needed its aid.

Fannie Farmer and my daughter

My Fannie Farmer cookbook isn't in very good condition. It's well-worn, inside and out. Some of the most damaged pages are the ones with Keely's favorite recipes. She learned to bake from this book.

A few years ago, I found a nice clean copy of the 11th edition on eBay, bought it, and gave it to Keely. It has all her favorite recipes, so she was delighted to get it. She's been using it, she tells me, and impressing people with how she can cook and bake.

I also bought a fresh copy of the 11th edition for myself, but I haven't used it. I'm fond of my old Fannie Farmer that opens to all the right pages automatically. I think of little Keely every time I open it!

Fannie Merritt Farmer Biography
About Fannie Merritt Farmer
Fannie Merritt Farmer at Wikipedia
Fannie Merritt Farmer
Fannie Merritt Farmer, Mother of the American Cookbook
Fannie Farmer Biography
Seven centuries of cookbooks - treasures and pleasures

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loridoo said...

I have the twelfth edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It's my favorite: concise, dependable, complete. Enjoy your site.


Genevieve said...

The classic Fannie Farmer cookbooks just can't be beat. They are the best. Thanks for visiting, Loridoo. I hope to see you here at Prairie Bluestem again.

terri p said...

HI, I had a FF cookbook, and lost it, but I am wondering if you have the recipe for the buttermilk dumplings that are rolled out....they were a part of a chicken and dumpling recipe in one of the cookbooks. I would love to find the recipe as I made for for 30 yrs. Thanking you in advance.

Genevieve said...

Terri, the dumplings recipe that appears in my Fanny Farmer Cookbook is essentially the same as the one at this website. It doesn't use buttermilk. Sorry!

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

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