Fannie Farmer, the mother of level measurements

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Fannie Farmer was the author of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, the first cookbook to use strict standardized measurements. Called “the mother of level measurements”, Fannie was also a teacher and lecturer who helped to popularize a more scientific approach to cooking and housekeeping, and inspired doctors and nurses with her innovative teachings on convalescent diet and nutrition.

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

Fannie was born in 1857 in Boston to a mother and father who believed in education for women. Her family planned on sending her to college, but a stroke at the age of 16 left her paralyzed and forced her to stay at home with her parents instead.

To help support her family, Fannie took up cooking and housekeeping. Eventually she was able to walk again though she still had a limp. She decided to enroll in the Boston Cooking School at the age of 30.

The Boston Cooking School believed in a scientific approach to cooking and housekeeping. They taught not only how to cook, but also about nutrition, sanitation, chemical analysis, and household management. Fannie excelled in her classes, and upon graduation she took a post as assistant to the director. Only two years after she graduated, she was made principal.

In 1896, Fannie approached the published Little, Brown & Company with her book, The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. They didn’t think it would do very well, so they only agreed to print a limited run of 3,000 books if Fannie would cover the costs.

The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook included not just recipes, but also housekeeping tips, instructions on cooking techniques and food preservation, nutritional information, and scientific explanations of the chemical reactions that occur in cooking and baking.

It is my wish that it may not only be looked upon as a compilation of tried and tested recipes, but that it may awaken an interest through its condensed scientific knowledge which will lead to deeper thought and broader study of what to eat. Fannie Farmer

The book was an immediate success. It become a best-seller across the United States, selling over 4 million copies during Fannie’s lifetime.

Fannie continued as principal for 11 years at The Boston Cooking School before she left to found her own school, called Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery also in Boston. In addition to teaching, she traveled across the United States giving lectures. She began to focus on convalescent diet and nutrition, and was even invited to teach the subject to doctors and nurses at Harvard Medical School.

Fannie’s approach to convalescent cooking was innovative in its empathy and compassion. She emphasized the importance of appearance, taste, and presentation in food for sick people with poor appetites. In 1904, she wrote a book called Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent, which is the book she thought she would be known for.

Men and women are certainly but children of an older growth, which fact is especially emphasized during times of sickness and suffering. Fannie Farmer

Fannie gave lectures on cooking and nutrition until the final days of her life in 1913, though she suffered from several more strokes and had to speak from a wheelchair. The school she founded, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, stayed open until 1944. A revised version of her book, now known as Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook, is still in print today, over 100 years after its first printing.

Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Hot Cocoa Recipe

Visit the Women's History page at for Fannie Farmer's Hot Cocoa recipe!

Visit the Women’s History page at for Fannie Farmer’s Hot Cocoa recipe!


Featured image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn Engel is a Connecticut freelance writer, professional blogger for hire, and author of Amazing Women In History: 20 inspiring stories of women the history books left out.

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