Fannie Farmer: With strict measurements, she revolutionized cookbooks

Fannie Farmer’s “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook,” first published in 1896, is more popularly known as “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” and is still in print today. CONTRIBUTED BY BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

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Fannie Farmer’s “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook,” first published in 1896, is more popularly known as “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” and is still in print today. CONTRIBUTED BY BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

Were it not for the work of Fannie Farmer, cookbooks today might look much different.

Fannie Farmer was born on March 23, 1857, near Boston. Although she lived during a time when most women weren’t formally schooled, Farmer’s parents believed in education. They enrolled her in high school, but during her teens, Farmer suffered a paralytic stroke that kept her homebound for years. Although she was ultimately able to walk again, the stroke left her with a permanent limp.

Farmer did not complete high school, but when she reached her early 30s, she attended the Boston Cooking School, one that took a scientific approach to cooking and household management as it trained women to become cooking instructors. After Farmer graduated from the school in 1889, she took a job there as an assistant to the director. Two years later, she became the school principal.

In 1896, Farmer published “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook.” The book contained approximately 1,800 recipes. What was unique about the recipes is that they included precise measurements, a first for cookbooks. The book also included information about cooking and sanitation techniques, housekeeping and nutrition.

The publisher of the book, Little, Brown & Company, did not expect the book to sell very well, so Farmer paid for the first run of 3,000 copies. She also retained the copyright for the book, which ended up becoming a best-seller.

Farmer left the Boston Cooking School in 1902 to found her own cooking school, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery.

In 1904, she published “Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent,” a cookbook geared toward cooking for the sick and diseased.

Farmer died in 1915. Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery continued to operate until the mid-1940s. The cookbook that first garnered Fannie Farmer fame is still in print today.

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