February 6, 2007

Fanny Farmer

And the woman behind the brand is...
Fannie Farmer

Fannie Farmer hated to cook with “a pinch of salt.” It wasn’t the salt she found distasteful; it was the pinch she could never abide. She set out to eliminate guesswork in cooking by codifying measurements in teaspoons, tablespoons and cups.

The “Mother of Level Measurement” was 17 years old when she suffered a debilitating paralytic stroke in 1874 which ended her dreams of a college career. She turned to cooking during her convalescence and eventually entered Boston Cooking School where she taught and, in later years, became director.

In 1896 Farmer wrote the Boston Cooking School Cookbook. When she took it to venerable Boston publisher Little, Brown & Company they were not interested. The cookbooks of the 19th century could contain anything from recipes for face cream to potions to kill vermin. The manuals were written for servants and Farmer was out to train housewives.

Undaunted she persuaded Little, Brown and Company to publish 3000 copies of her book which she would pay for herself. They were the first of more than four million that were sold - and are still selling. Farmer went on to start her own cooking school, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, with five assistants and five maids.

Blessed with unbridled energy Fannie Farmer maintained an impossible schedule of lectures. Too impatient to cook an entire meal she lectured while an assistant cooked. When she suffered another stroke she continued to deliver her lessons from a wheelchair. Her final lecture was only ten days before her death in 1915 at the age of 58.

Frank O’Connor admired Fannie Farmer’s career and when he started his first candy shop in Rochester, New York in 1919 he wanted to name his emporium in honor of her. He was granted permission, provided he spell the first name “F-A-N-N-Y” and not as Miss Farmer had spelled it. The Fanny Farmer Candy Company never sold any candy using a recipe by Fannie Farmer.

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