Throwback Thursday: Fannie Farmer’s Revolutionary Cookbook Was Published Today
The next time you’re rummaging through a drawer in your kitchen on the hunt for a half teaspoon, you can thank Medford native Fannie Merritt Farmer.
The format of a modern recipe—teaspoons and all—has roots in Farmer’s influential cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Published on January 7, 1896, it was one of the first cookbooks to emphasize the importance of standardized measurements—and millions of copies later, it’s still in print.
“Correct measurements are absolutely necessary to insure the best results,” she wrote. “Good judgement, with experience, has taught some to measure by sight; but the majority need definite guides.”
Farmer was a no-nonsense type. Remembered as “the mother of level measurements,” she underscored the importance of cooking as a science.
“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,” reads the cookbook’s preface.
Born in 1857, Farmer had been on track to attend college. But as a teen, she suffered what was thought to be a stroke (later guessed to be polio) and her plans for an education were dashed. She persevered, overcame her physical disabilities, and enrolled in the Boston Cooking School at the age of 31. Within two years of graduating, she became the principal of the school. Later, she opened her own cooking school at 30 Huntington Avenue, in addition to giving lectures on nutrition across the country.
Farmer ultimately taught the country how to cook (and eat) correctly. Aside from immortalizing many classic dishes, she introduced a variety of recipes to Americans, and is credited with printing the first recipe for brownies. Although she died at the age of 57, her lessons have lived on, with her original cookbook continuing eleven editions before being revised in the 1970s. Farmer is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.