For a woman who taught generations of people to cook…she’s often forgotten. But this cook, teacher, administrator, author, and businesswoman has a lot to teach all of us, and not just about cooking!
Fannie Merritt Farmer was born on March 23, 1857, in Boston Massachusetts. She would live her entire life in the Boston area, but her mark was left around the world. Although her parents, John and Mary Watson Merritt Farmer strongly believed in education for their girls, Fannie’s proper schooling ended before she could even graduate high school. A debilitating illness left her left leg paralyzed, but a gift for cooking and a charming and encouraging personality set her life on another path.
At the age of 31, she enrolled in the Boston Cooking School, graduated, was asked to stay and teach…and in just a few short years she had worked up to principal of the school that taught cooks to, well, cook. One of the first things she did was take the textbook, written in the early 1880s by the then principal, Mrs. Mary Lincoln, and reworked it. Gone were the generalized instructions for measuring ingredients (seriously? How much is a pinch? A handful?) Fannie replaced those with exact measurements using tools that were already available but not often purchased: measuring cups and spoons. Like the original, there was a heavy dose of science to the book, showing anyone who read it what food did for a person’s body but Fannie loved to eat so cooking wasn’t just the science to her, there was art and enjoyment.
In the episode, we go into the history of the Boston Cooking School, the Domestic Science movement, and several of the women who helped both become established.
Shortly after the publication of Fannie’s The Boston Cooking School Cookbook was published in 1896, 40-year-old Fannie opened her own school in Boston that not only offered classes for cooks, but also for nurses, dieticians, and many classes for housewives.
Fannie followed her original book, renamed The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, with several more books that were all globally successful. Fannie continued to lecture up until 10 days before a major stroke ended her life on January 15, 1915.
Her legacy lived on in kitchens around the world, and generations of people who learned to cook with her exacting directions and love of her materials.
Time Travel With The History Chicks
The Boston Cooking School Cookbook (the 1896 Grandmama of cookbooks)
Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent is also digitized for your reading pleasure.
Her Overlooked No More obituary from the New York Times
An article on, and recipes from Fannie’s Last Supper by Christoper Kimball
Fannie’s Last Supper is on Amazon Prime Streaming for $1.99. It’s fun. Nerdy.