Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fannie Farmer

Life was complicated by health problems for Fannie Farmer but with perseverance and encouragement from her family she overcame them.

Fannie was born in 1857 to a middle class family in Boston, Massachusetts. The eldest of four daughters, education was prized in Miss Farmer’s home. Fannie attended high school and graduated at the age of 16 years old. Shortly after her graduation she suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed. Unable to walk, her doctor’s discouraged her from finishing her formal education.

She remained in her parent’s home where her intelligence and creativity found an outlet in the kitchen. She became a mother’s helper and eventually regained her ability to walk.

At the age of 30, her parents encouraged her to attend cooking school. Fannie enrolled at Boston Cooking School. BCS taught more the theory of cooking rather than the actual practice of cooking.

Fannie excelled at her studies, including taking summer courses at Harvard Medical School, and graduated in 1889. She was then invited to stay on as assistant director at Boston Cooking School eventually taking over the head directorship in 1894. Fannie published the Boston Cooking School Cook Book in 1896, giving the cooking world a much needed update. Previous cookbooks had used measurement amounts such as “…a piece of butter the size of an egg” or “a teacup of milk”. Her update gave us more standardized measurements of level cups and level teaspoons so that recipes would turn out with more consistency.

The BCS Cook Book covered recipes from basic milk toast to more classical items including Zigaras a la Russe, an elegant puff-pastry dish. Also included were articles on housekeeping, nutritional information and drying and preserving foods. The book eventually became known simply as the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

In 1902, Fannie left the Boston Cooking School and started Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery. The new schools focus was on the average American homemaker. Fannie began by teaching the basics of ‘plain and fancy’ cooking but eventually was led into developing better cooking styles for the ill. She eventually published her work in a second cookbook, entitled “Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent.”

Miss Farmer advocated the necessity of attractive and well made food for the ill, understanding better than most that good tasting, attractive and nutritious food was an important part of the healing process.

Her influence was felt far and wide. She was published in newspapers and a national magazine, entitled Women’s Home Companion. She was also invited to lecture at Harvard Medical School and taught doctors and nurses about nutrition and diet for their patients.

Fannie Farmer was creative and innovative; truly a woman ahead of her time. Sadly, her life was cut short at the age of 57. Her impact on the world of cooking and nutrition for the sick and convalescing, however, is not forgotten.

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