Radical Woman of the Day: Fannie Farmer

I have decided to start an ongoing series of posts on important women from history, shamelessly stealing from Radical Women’s History Project. Every day I post, I will select one of the women mentioned in their summary for that day, read about her briefly on Wikipedia (or wherever I can find information), then pass on a few facts to all of you lovely people.

Today: Fannie Farmer, author of the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.

Prevented by a paralytic stroke at the age of 16 from attending college, which her family wanted her to do (in the 1870s!), Farmer began learning to cook while convalescing at home. She then attended the Boston Cooking School.

Farmer trained at the school until 1889 during the height of the domestic science movement, learning what were then considered the most critical elements of the science, including nutrition and diet for the well, convalescent cookery, techniques of cleaning and sanitation, chemical analysis of food, techniques of cooking and baking, and household management.

She became the Principal of the school in 1891, and in 1896 published her famous cookbook, which sold so well and became so ubiquitous that people started referring to it simply as “Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook”. You can still buy it today.

Although she expected to be remembered most for her contributions to the art of preparing food for the sick and convalescent, her most lasting gift to us was the use of standardized measuring cups and spoons. She explicitly assured readers that “a cupful is a measured level” at a time when other cookbooks suggested measurements such as “a piece of butter the size of an egg”.

As someone who has never been comfortable eyeballing measurements and likes to know I’m following a recipe exactly, I thank her.

Via Radical Women’s History Project.