My Friend Fannie Farmer

My Friend Fannie Farmer

Fannie Farmer isn’t really my friend, but if you are a home cook or know something about cooking in America, this should get your attention. In my mother’s kitchen, when she baked a pie and it emerged from the oven bubbling with juice, she would wonder aloud, “Would it meet Fannie Farmer’s standards?” Her The Fannie Farmer Cookbook was the reference for all good meals in our home.

That book was the successor to the original Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, published in 1896. I learned this and more from an article by Julia Moskin in The New York Times last week. The headline called Fannie “Modern Cookery’s Pioneer.” Right away, I went to my shelf of cookbooks – did I mention that I’m an avid collector and reader of cookbooks? — to see if I could find the one book I have with Fannie’s name on it. Yes, there it is. The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham.

Ms Cunningham was an American food writer who started studying cooking with James Beard when she was in her 50’s. At Beard’s suggestion, she was hired by Alfred A. Knopf, the book publisher, to rewrite the classic The Fannie Farmer Cookbook for modern audiences. Thus, Fannie made Marion Cunningham a kitchen star, just as Knopf made Julia Child a kitchen star. And, Ms. Moskin told me, as in my mother’s kitchen, Fannie Farmer’s cookbook was the primary reference in Julia’s mother’s kitchen, and she learned to make pancakes, popovers and fudge from its recipes.

Fannie assumed at first that all women learned basic culinary skills at home and did not need to be told what pie dough should feel like or how to roast beef. Before the Boston Cooking School, women relied on the taste and feel of the foods they prepared. I have a favorite bread recipe from my grandmother written on the back of an envelope that says “Bread: soft yeast, warm milk, a pinch of sugar and flour until the dough feels just right.”

Fannie soon learned when she started trying to teach others to cook that feminine intuition did not translate easily. So she insisted that scientific methods and precise measurements should be used. Thus, her cooking style was born, and her cookbooks were written.

For more about the life of Fannie Farmer see Ms. Moskin’s article “Overlooked No More: Fannie Farmer, Modern Cookery’s Pioneer.”  For more about cookbooks in our food culture, take my OLLI course on cookbooks beginning September 27 in the OLLI Fall 2018 Semester.


Jane Applegate, retired professor and Dean of USF’s College of Education, joined OLLI in 2012.  She has taken OLLI classes in literature, art, history, lifestyles, nature and technology.  Jane is a member of the Hiking SIG and the Faculty Support Team. She teaches A Course is Born: From Concept to Classroom, an OLLI course for prospective instructors.

One Reply to “My Friend Fannie Farmer”

  1. I’m a “survival cook” myself, so I rely on written recipes. My mother was a fabulous cook and never used a recipe, so she was not able to teach me much: she always thought I was too impatient to teach! We own several dozen cookbooks, but not Fannie Farmer!

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