Cultural Literacy: Fannie Farmer

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Fannie Farmer. I knew so little about her that I confess I cannot honestly say (to my chagrin) that I understood that she was even a real person.

Rest assured she was: in fact, she possessed the kind of indomitable spirit that makes for interesting and inspiring reading. At age 16, she suffered a paralytic stroke, which prevented her from finishing high school in Medford, Massachusetts. At age 30, with a limp she would endure throughout her life, Ms. Farmer enrolled in the Boston Cooking School. When she submitted her famous cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, to Little Brown for publication, the publisher couldn’t imagine a market for the book and so limited the first edition to 3,000 copies; moreover, the book was published at Ms. Farmer’s expense. Unsurprisingly, there appear to be no true first editions of this book for sale in online used book sites–but quite a few reprints, to the annoyance of this bibliophile, identified as firsts.

I asked two friends of mine about Fannie Farmer, both of whom are talented and adventurous cooks. They responded immediately. The first noted that Ms. Farmer’s cookbook is “The first cookbook I ever bought and I still use it from time to time. Basic and reliable.” This friend also sent along a photograph of the copyright page of her copy, which shows, as of 1968, that the book had been through 18 printings (HA! Take that, Little Brown!). My other friend declared himself agnostic where Ms. Farmer is concerned: “My thoughts on Fannie Farmer? I don’t have any. She’s more an historical allusion but I’m late coming to the cooking game.” At least he knows she’s a real person, which, again, was more than I could say for myself before I prepared this post.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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