My older sister Ann, introduced me to the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I don’t remember when she bought it – probably sometime in the 1980s – but when she began cooking from the recipes in the thick hardcover, our lives dramatically improved.
Our family’s Thanksgiving roll recipe came from the pages of this cookbook and my sister’s expert hands. So too did many other recipes that became family staples over the years.
This cookbook was the only one that I bought as a hardcover for myself and still use almost every day. Each weekend, in fact, I cook a new recipe from the cookbook and share the photos on Instagram and Facebook. It’s one of the most popular posts each week (especially the bread I’ve baked) (always the bread!)
Sharing My Fannie Farmer Adventures with You
It suddenly occurred to me, after yet another request for a recipe after posting pictures of my weekend cooking adventure, that it would be fun to cook my way through the Fannie Farmer cookbook, like Julie did in “Julia and Julie”, and blog my cooking adventures here.
So, this section of Home Garden Joy is now dedicated to Fannie Farmer & Me, or cooking with the 1896 Boston Cooking School.
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I will be cooking with the 13th edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which is coincidentally the 100th Anniversary edition, too. All page references are to this edition.
Who the Heck Was Fannie Farmer, Anyway?
Fannie Farmer was born in 1857 in New England. Although she lacked formal education, she went on to write the first cookbook with standardized measurements – a big plus for people trying to follow along with her recipes.
Wait? People Didn’t Have Standardized Measurements Years Ago?
Not in recipes, no.
If you’ve ever tried to follow an old family recipe, perhaps one written by your great grandmother or a relative even further back in the family tree, the lack of standard measurements can be very frustrating.
We take it for granted that a tablespoon or a half cup is just that, but before Fannie standardized written measurements in her cookbook, everyone had a ‘granny glass’ that was the reference point, so cooking was a lot less standardized than now.
The First Successful American Cookbook
Anyway, Fannie’s cookbook was a success, eventually selling 360,000 copies during her lifetime. It is not without controversy – in the 1960s, critics had a field day attacking the recipes for roast chicken, turkey, and lamb, and it is said that any well-bred Boston lady over the age of 65 will not touch an edition published before 1925, when Ms. Farmer was succeeded as editor over the cookbook by a variety of people.
- I am not a well-bred Boston lady over the age of 65. I’m a middling oddball 50+ year old former New Yorker who loves to cook.
- I’m not cooking for the Ladies’ Aid society, I’m cooking for myself and my husband, and occasionally friends. We aren’t high society.
- We’re on a specialized food plan that has to be low in salt and cholesterol. So, many of the recipes that I’ll be cooking I must adapt to this food plan. I’ll share my adaptations. In my experience, cutting back both salt and cholesterol, or both, doesn’t hurt the recipe, but be aware that it will taste different.
I’m not going to cook the recipes in order. If I did that, we’d eat nothing but soups or cookies for weeks a time, which I wouldn’t mind but would probably make my husband sick. Instead, I’ll jump around, sharing our family favorites first, then moving into new territory.
Recipes Adapted for Low(er) Salt and Cholesterol
And lastly, I reserve the right not to cook anything that includes disgusting body parts of animals that are best fed to dogs (tongue, anyone? liver?) or that I have to drive more than half an hour away to find the ingredients for. Seriously, once I moved to rural Virginia, I found my ingredient choices a little more limited than they were on Long Island.
Thankfully, though, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook really does use common ingredients for the most part, and you can find them in your local grocery story or big box store. And, if something special is needed, Amazon is a great place to find it.
So who is ready for my cooking adventures? Let’s get cooking!
The Fannie Farmer Cooking Experiment
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.