The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> Cookery
Fannie Farmer

author of the first book of precise recipes

Fannie Farmer

Fannie Merritt Farmer was born in Boston on March 23, 1857, the eldest of four daughters born to J. Franklin Farmer, a master printer, and Mary Watson Merritt Farmer. The family moved to Medford when Fannie was still a child. Although they were not always financially secure, Fannie's parents made sure their girls received the best education they could afford, and Fannie proved to be a good student. She was expected to go on to college, but a paralytic stroke soon after her high school graduation left Fannie bedridden for months. She eventually regained most of her movement, but was left with a permanent limp. Once she had regained most of her strength, Fannie became a mother's helper, and it was in this capacity that she developed an interest in and aptitude for cooking.

Fannie's aptitude for cooking led her to enroll at the Boston Cooking-School, where she studied under Mary J. Lincoln. There, she demonstrated such ability that she asked to stay on as assistant director after graduating in 1889; she became director of the school in 1894. It was as director that she began to develop and "preach" the concept which made her famous -- exactt recipe measurements and directions.

Farmer objected to the casual way that the cookbooks of her day listed recipe measurements -- "a nut of butter," "a handful of flour," "a pinch of salt," etc. She believed in bringing a "laboratory-like" precision to the kitchen, and, as director of the school, insisted on the use of standardized measurements. In 1896, she published The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, in which every recipe included precise measurements for every ingredient and specific preparation and cooking instructions. She also made sure that everyone knew that "...A cupful is measured level. A tablespoonful is measured level...., " and encouraged would-be cooks to purchase of "tin measuring cups and tea and table spoons of regulation sizes." Farmer's cookbook made her a celebrity, and by the time of her death over 360,000 copies had been sold.

In 1902, Fannie resigned from the Boston Cooking-School and opened Miss Farmer's School of Cookery, which focused on training housewives (the Boston Cooking-School primarily trained people to become professional cooks). She also wrote food columns in popular magazines, including Woman's Home Companion, and lectured widely not only to housewives but also to such unexpected audiences as students at the Harvard School of Medicine. Having been bedridden for several months herself, Farmer was particularly interested in the preparation of food for invalids, and, as a result, developed preparation methods, recipes, and cooking equipment specifically for the sick and the physically disabled.

Fannie Merritt Farmer died in Boston on January 15, 1915. The school she founded continued operation until 1944.

Her Books

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896)
Chafing Dish Possibilities
Food and Cookery for the Sick and Convalescent (1904)
What to Have for Dinner (1905)
Catering for Special Occasions, with Menus and Recipes (1911)
A New Book of Cookery (1912)

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Cookery

This page was last updated on January 15, 2019.