Overlooked No More: Fannie Farmer, Modern Cookery’s Pioneer

She brought a scientific approach to cooking, taught countless women marketable skills and wrote a cookbook that defined American food for the 20th century.

Comments: 24

  1. Growing up in the Bronx Ny in the early 1950’s I recall I was probably in the first grade and they took us on a field trip to the Fannie Farmer chocolate factory in the Bronx. I now remember vividly the chocolate candy running down a conveyer belt and overweight women with white hairnets picking out the ones which I assume were defective. I remember my mother yelling at me for not eating supper as I had stuffed myself with samples that day. Funny, I haven’t thought of this in 70 years but when I saw the Fannie Farmer name it all came back.

  2. Thank you for the informed commentary. Although I am a trained chef and former restaurant owner, I still have occasion to reach for my mother's 1943 copy of Farmer's cookbook. This was presented to her by her aunt, a student at the school in the 1930s, which she attended to escape the life of a small town librarian. After graduation, her intention was to cook in resorts in the most beautiful vacation spots in the U.S. She retired from the kitchen when she got older, and returned to library work at Smith College. She always claimed The Boston Cooking School Cookbook to be the best of her generation.

  3. Thank you for this short history of Ms. Farmer. Her cookbook is one of my favorites.

  4. Raised in New England, every household I knew had a Fannie Farmer cookbook. The first things I ever cooked were from my mom's copy. Still have a copy in my kitchen along with "Joy of Cooking." The rest of my cookbooks are in another room.

  5. Lovely tribute. What an interesting woman, I had no idea.

    Fresh out of college and on my own for the first time, I found The Fannie Farmer Cookbook at a used book store. It taught me so much. Later, a friend gave me The Fannie Farmer Baking Book as a gift, and from then on I made cakes and cookies, pies and brownies, and anything my homesick friends could ask for.

  6. I use my Fannie Farmer cookbook. I have way too many cookbooks but this is one I have used for many basic needs.

  7. Growing up in the 50's, my mother used this cookbook all the time. Then later she branched out to Julia Childs and ethnic cookbooks. Still Fannie Farmer is as much of my childhood as was Vin Scully.

  8. Her Lazy Daisy Cake -- possibly the easiest home-made cake in America -- was a staple when my kids were little. Served with strawberries & whipped cream, or just plain with vanilla ice cream, it's perfect. I always buy her cook book at book sales, in case I ever lose the recipe.

  9. Many thanks for your piece on Fannie Farmer. Her cookbook was always my mother’s favorite and remains mine. Add to your list of basics her Lightning Cake and corn bread!

  10. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook was my mother's food "bible" long before Julia Child cam along.
    As a child, I had no interest in Ms. Farmer's Cookbook, but an extremely keen interest in Fannie Farmer chocolate candy. Too keen, actually. Sugar became my first addiction with others to follow - and I finally put the sugar down 18 years ago - with no regrets. Chocolate candy at its best, just not for me!

  11. When my wife and I divorced in the early 1980's we had two children. We shared custody of our children and for the first time in my life I needed to cook for them. I knew nothing about cooking. My mother was a wonderful cook and she gave me a copy of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook. I followed it religiously and still have it. So, Fanny Farmer also made it possible for men to put a meal on the table, further democratizing cooking.

  12. I bought a paperback edition of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook when I got married almost 50 years ago. I used it so much it began to fall apart so I tossed it and started using other “more modern” cookbooks. But my family missed Fannie Farmer’s griddle cakes and I couldn’t remember the recipe. I found a 1959 edition at an used book store and welcomed it back into my home. A plus; this book has a few of the previous owner’s recipes in the back- one of which is now a Christmas staple.

  13. Thank you for publishing this "overlooked no more" tribute to Fannie Farmer. Her book taught my mother to cook and I remember its place of honor in our kitchen. There is much about Miss Farmer's life to admire and it's great to see this recognition of her accomplishments.

  14. Thank you for this wonderful, in depth article about Fannie Farmer and for including her in the "Overlooked No More" category.

    The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and Baking Cookbook are staples in my cookbook library. I would be lost without them. Many, many times each year I trek to my library to either research or get confirmation or clarification on a recipe, technique or ingredient I am wavering over. Her recipe for dark fruit cake is one of the best recipes I have ever found. My husband, the Brit, practically salivates when he smells it baking in the oven during the holidays.

    She was a pioneer and an incredible role model for cooks and bakers and continues to be so, at least in rural areas where I grew up. I do not mean any disrespect when I write that Fannie Farmer was to farmers what Julia Child is to modern cooks and bakers - a wonderful source of knowledge and inspiration.

  15. one of 3 great cook books all time.

  16. I read this article and wondered to myself why she would be lecturing at Harvard Medical School. I looked her up in Archive.org and found my answer. She was impressive to say the least. Her book, Food and Cookery for The Sick and Convalescent, is worth a look. Thank you, to the New York Times for these Overlooked No More articles.

  17. Then Harvard was progressive in their curriculum. Most medical school graduates get no nutrition course at all. Keep that in mind when your doctor gives you nutrition advice.
    In my baccalaureate nursing program in the early 60's we had two: normal nutrition and therapeutic nutrition.

  18. I have my great-great grandmothers copy of the "Boston Cooking School Cook Book." It's a bit dinged up and the binding is half-original and half duct tape but my wife and I like like to check some of the classic old recipes and see how they changed over the decades.

  19. Yes! My tattered old Fannie Farmer cookbook is still my go-to for tried and true basics like pumpkin pie and roast turkey.

  20. My first and beloved cookbook. Oh, I'd check with others but always came back to the simplicity and perfection of FF.

    She "saved my life": while briefly living in Chile with a Peace Corps member who was transitioning out, I was to host a gathering of people from the Forestry Institute. No refrigerator and limited Spanish at the market; her recipe for olive oil pastry was just the thing for little nibbles filled with a variety of things.

    Finally, I had always hated macaroni and cheese as dry but her recipe for it with more of a cheese sauce was perfect.
    And the brownies!!

  21. Thank you for publishing this belated tribute to one of the mother's of modern American home cooking. As a 1970s Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, the paperback version of Fannie Farmer was my link to home. I bought the hardcover version shortly after returning, where it has remained front and center on my kitchen bookshelf for the past forty years. Nothing beats it for straightforward reliable information on how to make the delicious and affordable staples of American cuisine in your own kitchen.

  22. Mine has had the covers fall off but it's still in use today.

  23. I use the recipes in my paperback copy of Ms. Farmer's first edition for their simplicity and precision even now.

    Laura Shapiro's Perfection Salad is a fascinating history of the beginnings of "home economics" in the US.

  24. Fannie Farmer has never failed me. People ask for recipes which came from that cookbook... no others. It's the Bible... what else do you need?