OTD Fannie Farmer

March 30, 2021

March 23, 1857

The birthdate of the woman who revolutionized the way we cook … and why her recipes are still being used to this day.

Before Julia Child … there was Fannie Merritt Farmer.

Fannie Merritt Farmer

  • 1857: Born in Boston.
  • Suffered from paralysis (later thought to be polio) as a teen. Wanted to be a teacher, but was unable to work for yrs.
  • Enrolled in the Boston Cooking School in her early 30s; hired as the school’s asst. director after her 1889 graduation.
  • 1896: Published The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. It quickly became a bestseller due to its reliable results & use of precise measurements.

“Correct measurements are absolutely necessary to ensure the best results. Good judgment, with experience, has taught some to measure by sight; but the majority need definite guides.”

Fannie Merritt Farmer, “The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” (1896). Before her cookbook, recipes used general measurements such as “a handful” instead of “1 cup.” Farmer, who admitted to not being the most skilled cook, believed precision was the key to success in the kitchen.

Why She Matters:

  • Farmer wanted everyone, no matter their occupation, to understand the science of nutrition.
  • She has been “widely credited with inventing the modern recipe” (NYT) and is one of the few American women whose cooking influence has spread worldwide.
  • In 1902, she founded Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery. It operated & trained chefs for about 40 years.

Farmer’s Legacy

  • Her cookbook is in its 13th edition & can still be found in stores today under its updated title, “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook”.
  • She is accredited with publishing one of the first chocolate brownie recipes.
  • Julia Child, another widely-known American cook, regularly referred to “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” while growing up and followed it for recipes such as fudge & pancakes.

21.5 million printed cookbooks were sold in 2020 as people opted for more meals at home amidst the pandemic – a 17% increase compared to 2019. But whom do we have to thank for the modern day recipe – whether in a cookbook or online? Fannie Farmer, the Boston cook who was born on this day in 1857.

A great read on Fannie Farmer from the Library of Congress

An overlooked obituary by the NY Times

Here’s a link to her cookbook in our SmartHER Shop on Amazon.com

by Jenna Lee,