Fannie Farmer’s Groundbreaking The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook

Fannie Farmer – Background

The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook was written by Fannie Farmer in 1896 and quickly became one of the most popular cook books in the United States.

Fannie Farmer was born in Boston in 1857. Although destined for medical school, a serious illness forced her to change her plans and she, instead, attended the Boston Cooking School studying under Mary Lincoln. She graduated in 1889.

Within a short time she was appointed Director, a position she held until 1902. While in that position she complied and edited the now famous Boston Cooking-School Cook Book and justifiably less well known Chafing Dish Possibilities.

On leaving the Boston Cooking School she established her own venture which she called Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery.

She went on to write such books as Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent (1904) and Catering for Special Occasions with Menus & Recipes (1911).

Farmer became an expert in the preparation of food for the ill and infirm even being invited to lecture at the Harvard Medical School on the topic.

Fannie Farmer – The Book

It is interesting to consider part of her preface when she was explaining why she had written the book:

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.

Fannie Farmer was also one of the pioneers of writing recipes in terms of standard measurements – a practice not well known at the time although some of her progenitors, and particular British writer Eliza Acton, had been publishing precise and tested recipes fifty years earlier.

An example of the exactitude with which her recipes were written is exemplified by her instructions for a batter to coat tripe.

Tripe Batter. Mix one cup flour with one-fourth teaspoon salt; add gradually one-half cup cold water, and when perfectly smooth add one egg well beaten, one-half tablespoon vinegar and one teaspoon olive oil or melted butter.

In the 1896 inaugural edition of the book there were 39 long chapters each devoted to a specific topic. The first chapter tackles the topic of food. No other cookbook in history has started by diving into the depths of the chemistry of food and our bodies.

FOOD is anything which nourishes the body. Thirteen elements enter into the composition of the body: oxygen, 62 1/2%; carbon, 21 1/2%; hydrogen, 10%; nitrogen, 3%; calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, chlorine, sodium, magnesium, iron, and fluorine the remaining 3%. Others are found occasionally, but, as their uses are unknown, will not be considered.

Food is necessary for growth, repair, and energy; therefore the elements composing the body must be found in the food. The thirteen elements named are formed into chemical compounds by the vegetable and animal kingdoms to support the highest order of being, man. All food must undergo chemical change after being taken into the body, before it can be utilized by the body; this is the office of the digestive system.

The Chapter goes on to examine each of the elements we absorb from food and the chemical compounds that they form.

The Chapters then cover topics such as Cookery, Beverages, Bread and Bread Making, Biscuits, Breakfast Cakes and Shortcakes and so on.

She also promoted her recipes via her long-running column in the national magazine Woman’s Home Companion.

Before her death in 1915 she had overseen 21 editions of the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.

Try the Boston baked beans which emphasises – this is a great recipe that has stood the test of time.

We think her contribution to standardising recipe quantities and the clarity of her recipes have earned her a place in the Foodtourist Top Fifty Cookbooks.

There is a short, but interesting story about Fannie Farmer’s life which you can read by clicking on the following link.

Fannie Farmer Opens Cooking School

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