One of our families favorite cookie recipes is called “Buffalo Chips”. As a new wife I asked my husband’s grandmother for the recipe so I could surprise him with this ginger molasses goodie. I was surprised to find that it had very few measurements, in fact it called for 1 handful of flour, a dash of this and a mound of that but surprisingly it still said it made several dozen cookies.
We can thank Fannie Farmer and her cookbook for the ability to adjust any recipe to be more accurate. Most people know of her cookbooks but not many people know of her tenacity or her contribution to the science of measurements. March 23th, 2013 is the 156th anniversary of her birth.
Fannie was born in 1857 in Boston, Massachusetts and lived in Medford. Her life was an adventure in challenges but she never quit trying to pursue what she believed in. Her father was a printer by trade so knowledge and the printed word was a part of her life. And maybe that is why her parents believed in girls getting schooling and going to college. At age 16, Fannie suffered a stroke which paralyzed her. She spent the next months in bed and the next 15 years recovering. She never got rid of her limp. At 23 years of age she started working for the Shaw family to help her own family financially. She also turned her mother’s home into a boarding house where she served well liked delicious meals. At the suggestion of Mrs. Shaw and her folks she enrolled at age 30 to the Boston Cooking School where she excelled. This school taught “domestic science” which meant learning about science, theories and cooking. She was one of their best students and when in 1891 the principal died unexpectedly she took over the job. She wrote her first cookbook in 1896 with 1,800 recipes in it. Her goal was to make being a housewife something you could train for and excel at. Young women at that time learned their skills by word of mouth from their mothers. Most cooks at that time used phrases like a pinch of this, a dash of that and “add flour until it thickens” in their recipes. Fannie put science into measurements and transferred estimates into teaspoons, tablespoons and cups.
Later she started her own school and called it Mrs. Farmer’s School of Cookery. From there she taught housewives and women the art of caring for a home in an efficient manner as well as learning to cook simple meals to please their family. With her history of being an invalid for part of her life and loving to invent new recipes she also worked on ways to make nutrition a part of the ill and handicapped diet. She also worked on designing cooking equipment for those same individuals. In those years of teaching she wrote six cook books, revised those editions, gave lectures and wrote a weekly newspaper column. For the last six years of her life she was confined to a wheelchair because of a second paralyzing stroke. Despite her infirmity she continued to dedicate her life to modernizing cooking including giving a lecture ten days before her death at age 57 in 1915. So, as my husband and I measured and transposed Grandma’s recipe into leveled cups, teaspoons and tablespoons we can thank Fannie Farmer for the ability to do so. Happy birthday Fannie and thank you for changing the lives of so many.
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