Monday, January 07, 2008

A Special Day for Fanny.

January 7

The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook by Fannie Merritt Farmer was first published on this day in 1896 in the USA. It rapidly became a best-seller, and in fact has been constantly updated and is still in print, becoming one of the best selling cookbooks in history. I wonder how many celebrity chef-authors of today will still be in print in a hundred years’ time?

What was the secret of Fannie's success?

Fannie was the child of enlightened parents, and was destined for college until a stroke at the age of 16 left her an invalid for several years, with a permanent limp. At the age of 30 she enrolled in the already famous Boston Cooking School where she studied nutrition and related food sciences as well as cookery and household management. She was a star pupil and almost immediately became principal of the school, and her book was published a few years later.

Fannie was required to pay for the first print run, in return for which she retained ownership of the copyright. The publishers paid dearly for their lack of faith, for the success of the book delivered the proceeds largely to her, not themselves. A story to warm the hearts of many authors, I would say!

No doubt the association with the famous cooking school helped with the first few sales, but the book would not have become a best-seller on that basis alone. Fannie’s book succeeded because she took a lot of the guesswork out of cookery. She explained the science behind cooking processes, and standardised the system of measurements – there was no ‘dash of this’ or ‘little of that’ in her book. Fannie became known as the ‘mother of level measurement’, and The Boston Cooking School Cookbook was referred to as The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

As the United Nations has declared this the International Year of the Potato, I intend to give you more potato recipes – and perhaps even get on with that Potato Timeline I have previously promised. From Fannie’s book, a classic recipe:

Shadow Potatoes (Saratoga Chips)
Wash and pare potatoes. Slice thinly (using vegetable slicer) into a bowl of cold water. Let stand two hours, changing water twice. Drain, plunge in a kettle of boiling water and boil one minute. Drain again, and cover with cold water. Take from water and dry between towels. Fry in deep fat until light brown, keeping in motion with a skimmer. Drain on brown paper and sprinkle with salt.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Leprosy in the time of Potatoes.

Quotation for the Day …

Cookery is the art of preparing food for the nourishment of the body. Prehistoric man may have lived on uncooked foods, but there are no savage races today who do not practice cookery in some way, however crude. Progress in civilization has been accompanied by progress in cookery. Fannie Merritt Farmer.

1 comment:

T.W. Barritt said...

Oddly enough, this is one cookbook I don't own, and it is indeed, an American classic. I think I will have to get a copy, if only for the historic significance.