Fannie Merritt Farmer
"The Mother of Level Measurement"
And The Book That Began It All

Fannie Merritt Farmer  

(The following information is provided by Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc.)

"At the earnest solicitation of educators, pupils, and friends, I have been urged to prepare this book, and I trust it may be a help ... 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 throught and broader study of what we eat."

     —Fannie Merritt Farmer, from the Preface to the first edition of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book 1896.

A CENTURY later, Fannie Merritt Farmer would be delighted to see how fully her wishes have been realized. But with the original publication of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, even Farmer herself could not have imagined how profound the effects of her work would be. After all, one hundred years ago, a woman's place may have been in the kitchen, but culinary greatness was strictly the domain of men-as were the fields of science, and the relatively new concept of "nutrition." and yet Farmer delved in, producing the work that set the standards for every cookbook since published, and revolutionizing the way Americans cook.

M.F.K. Fisher referred to it as "a ripe peach of a book," and James Beard dubbed her a "gastronomic deity." and today, contemporary professionals still sing the praises of Fannie Merritt Farmer. Now, to commemorate the centennial of its publication, Hugh Lauter Levin Associates announces the publication of THE ORIGINAL BOSTON COOKING-SCHOOL COOK BOOK (Distributed by Simon & Schuster; February 1996; $18.96/hardcover), a facsimile of the original 1896 edition.

Fannie Merritt Farmer was the principal of the Boston Cooking-School, and her skills as an educator are evident throughout the book. Not all of the book's 39 chapters are just recipes. The first chapter, simply titled "Food," presents an overview of the science and chemistry of food, including discussions of water, salts, starches, sugars, fats and oils, milk, butter, cheese, fruits, vegetable acids, and condiments. To credit her as a pioneer in nutrition, one need only note that this chapter also includes a discussion of daily required average rations in terms of proteins, fat, starch, salt, and water-some nine decades before anyone used the term "food pyramid"!

In Chapter 2, "Cookery," Miss Farmer discusses the preparation of food from the basis of three essentials: heat, air, and moisture. The chapter covers how to build a fire, different ways of cooking (including temperatures for boiling, simmering, and frying), food preparation, deboning poultry, combining ingredients, preserving, and-perhaps what she is best known for-the proper way to measure ingredients. She concludes the chapter with a table of weights and measures and time tables for cooking.

The heart of the book—and perhaps the greatest historic record of American cookery—are the 35 chapters of recipes. Starting with Chapter 3, "Beverages," (in which tea comes before coffee!) and going through Chapter 37, "Recipes Especially Prepared for the Sick," Farmer tackles-quite literally-everything from Soup to Nuts. There are authentic American recipes and refined instructions for making Breads, Griddle Cakes, Cereals and Eggs; Soups, Stocks and Chowders; Fish, Shellfish, Meats and Poultry; Sauces, Vegetables and Salads; Puddings, Frozen Desserts, Pastries, Pies and Cakes; Cake Fillings and Frostings, Confections, Sandwiches and Fruits (Canning and Preserving, Pickling).

Finally, Miss Farmer closes with two chapters which, although originally aimed at making the culinary arts more accessible to the home cook of the late 19th century, are still applicable to households of the late 20th century. Chapter 38, "Helpful Hints to the Young Housekeeper," includes instructions for removing stains, seasoning iron cookware, and treating a burn, while Chapter 39, "Suitable Combinations for Serving," presents dozens of menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including special occasion meals for the likes of Thanksgiving and Christmas. A list of "Necessary Utensils and Stores for Furnishing A School Kitchen for a Class of Twenty-Four," a Glossary, reproductions of product advertisements, and information on the Boston Cooking-School Course of Instruction and Practice Lessons round out the book, offering further enlightenment for those whose appetite for knowledge has not been thoroughly sated in the 500 preceding pages.

The Original Boston Cooking-School Cook Book is the kitchen bible that provided generations of grandmothers and mothers with treasured recipes, culinary hints and sound household advice. Still, one hundred years later, the relevance of Miss Farmer's volume is undeniable. Cooks today will celebrate this unique re-publication, evoking the nostalgia of seasonal favorites and family traditions and bringing a bit of history and warmth into their own kitchens.


Chocolate Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding


  • 2 cups stale bread crumbs
  • 4 cups scalded milk
  • 2 squares Baker's chocolate
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Soak bread in milk thirty minutes; melt chocolate in saucepan placed over hot water, add one-half sugar and enough milk taken from bread and milk to make of consistency to pour; add to mixture with remaining sugar, salt, vanilla, and eggs slightly beaten; turn into buttered pudding-dish and bake on hour in a moderate oven. Serve with Hard (or Cream Sauce).


Hard Sauce


  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2/3 teaspoon vanilla

Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, and flavoring.


Clam Chowder

  • 1 quart clams
  • 4 cups potatoes cut in 3/4 inch dice
  • 1-1/2 inch cube fat salt pork
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 tablespoon butter
  • 4 cups scalded milk
  • 8 common crackers

Clean and pick over clams, using on cup cold water; drain, reserve liquor, heat to boiling point, and strain. Chop finely hard part of clams; cut pork in small pieces and try out; add onion, fry five minutes, and strain into a stewpan. Parboil potatoes five minutes in boiling water to cover; drain and put a layer in bottom of stewpan, add chopped clams, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and dredge generously with flour; add remaining potatoes, again sprinkle with salt and pepper, dredge with flour, and add two and one-half cups boiling water. Cook ten minutes, add milk, soft part of clams, and butter; boil three minutes, and add crackers split and soaked in enough cold milk to moisten. Reheat clam water to boiling point, and thicken with one tablespoon butter and flour cooked together. Add to chowder just before serving.

The clam water has a tendency to cause the milk to separate, hence is added at the last.


Recipes from:
The Original Boston Cooking-School Cookbook 1896
by Fannie Merritt Framer
(Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc.;
Distributed by Simon & Schuster;
February 1996;
ISBN: 0-88363-196-2
Reprinted with permission.

This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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This page modified January 2007

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