Fannie Farmer's Art

January 7: The first "Fannie Farmer Cookbook," officially titled The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, was published on this day in 1896. In her preface, Farmer graces her culinary guide with a quotation from John Ruskin's 1866 book on mythology, Ethics of the Dust:

Cookery means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe and of Helen and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices, and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves and savory in meats. It means carefulness and inventiveness and willingness and readiness of appliances. It means the economy of your grandmothers and the science of the modern chemist; it means much testing and no wasting; it means English thoroughness and French art and Arabian hospitality; and, in fine, it means that you are to be perfectly and always ladies—loaf givers.

As described in Christopher Kimball's just published and highly praised Fannie's Last Supper, the loaf-giving could sometimes get elaborate. In the excerpt below, Kimball explains his subtitle, "Re-creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook":

And so, in 2007, with Fannie Farmer's original 1896 Boston Cooking School cookbook in hand, using a twelve-course menu printed in the back of the book and an authentic Victorian coal cookstove installed in our 1859 Boston townhouse, I set out on a two-year journey: to test, update, and master the cooking of Fannie Farmer's America, re-creating a high Victorian feast that I hoped to serve in perfect succession to a dozen celebrity guests….


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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